President Havel and The Tibetan Book of the Dead

On January 6, 2012 I had the privilege of attending a very moving tribute to the late Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic held at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) here in Washington, D.C.  The National Endowment for Democracy, in cooperation with the Embassy of the Czech Republic, Washington, DC and the Vaclav Havel Library, Prague, Czech Republic, called it a Memorial Tribute honoring the life and work of Vaclav Havel.

I know something about President Havel having read about his thoughts there and there; I even had the honor of seeing him at a Tibet conference in Prague some years back.  However, the greatness of an individual may be seen as much as from what he or she has said to how these have impacted people.  The testimonies by different individuals at the event: from NED President Carl Gershman to former secretary of state Madeleine Albright; from political and human rights activists in China, Ethiopia, Syria, Cuba and East Turkestan to Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi, were enough reasons to know why President Havel has been given a high moral position by the international community.  There was even a statement by President Barack Obama that testified to this.

Personally, of course, I was very moved by how His Holiness the Dalai Lama expanded on his relationship with President Havel, in a message (see text below) to the event that was read by Mr. Gershman.  Indeed, His Holiness summed up the feelings of people by recalling “President Vaclav Havel’s fundamental humanity and integrity and reflect that, in his consistent concern for the welfare of others, this was a man who lived a truly meaningful life.”

It appears that President Havel’s interest in Tibet was not just his solidarity with the struggle of the Tibetan people.  He also seemed to have been interested in Tibetan spiritualism, if I can call it that.  Here is how John Keane, author of “Vaclav Havel: A Political Tragedy in Six Acts” puts it:

“Havel told a television interviewer curious about his recent introduction to the Czech edition of The Tibetan Book of the Dead (Bardo Thotrol). ‘We know about death.  We know that we all die, and that this [knowledge] distinguishes us from other beings,’ he continued, before drawing his key conclusion; ‘The individual must first of all think about if and why s/he either acts only within a given time on earth or tries to behave, as Masaryk said, sub species aeternitatis, that is, reckon upon eternity when acting, as if everything is being recorded and evaluated [Zhodnoceni], and as if each one of our actions may or may not be an event that can for ever change the universe.’ “


His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s message at Vaclav Havel’s Memorial Tribute In Washington DC

With the death of my dear friend Vaclav Havel, the world has lost a great leader, whose steadfast and unflinching determination played a key role in establishing freedom and democracy in what was then Czechoslovakia.

Gentle, honest, humble and full of humour, he was motivated by the idea that truth must ultimately prevail. It was this insistence on the truth that got him into trouble with the authorities when he was young.  The same quality inspired his people to choose him to be the President when they threw off totalitarianism during the Velvet Revolution, which Havel led with an extraordinary display of people power.

His abiding concern for human rights meant that once in a position of authority himself he did not indulge in rancour or vengeance, but instead worked to bring about reconciliation.  He was also a strong advocate of the Tibetan people’s right to justice and freedom.  Not content with articulating his support in words, he also marched to show solidarity with Tibetans.

Charter 77, the Human Rights charter he co-authored, had far-reaching ramifications in his homeland and even further afield, inspiring, more recently, Charter 08 in China.  Like a true friend he went to great lengths to defend its author, Chinese human rights activist, Liu Xiaobo.  Indeed, I am told that 6th January marks the anniversary of his launch of the successful campaign to give Liu Xiaobo the Nobel Peace Prize.

When he established Forum 2000, it was on the principle that it would be good if informed and concerned people, from different continents, different cultures, from different religious circles, but also from different disciplines of human knowledge could come together to talk calmly with each other.  This, it seems to me, is the most appropriate way to promote democracy in non-democratic countries and to support respect for human rights and  religious, culture and ethnic tolerance in young democracies. I have assured the Forum 2000 foundation that I shall be very happy to do whatever I can to contribute to its work and keep alive the spirit of freedom that Vaclav Havel made such efforts to promote.

President Havel honoured me with an invitation to visit Czechoslovakia in February 1990, apparently his first foreign guest, soon after he became president of the country.  I will never forget the emotional crowd who greeted me, men and women jubilant in their new-found freedom.  President Havel himself impressed me as being utterly free of pretence and on the many occasions that we met overt the years, he remained a true champion of human rights and freedom everywhere.  On that first evening of our meeting, he told me how much he identified with one of my predecessors, the Sixth Dalai Lama, who had a reputation for worldliness and literary flair.  Most recently, I was touched that he made time for us to meet once more, in spite of his failing health, on International Human Rights Day, a week before he died.  Since this time I seem to have been his last foreign visitor, I cannot help thinking that from a spiritual point of view there was a strong connection between us.

On the occasion of this service of remembrance in Washington, I would like to recall with admiration President Vaclav Havel’s fundamental humanity and integrity and reflect that, in his consistent concern for the welfare of others, this was a man who lived a truly meaningful life.




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