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WHO Goodwill Ambassador's Newsletter For The Elimination Of Leprosy

ENCOUNTER: A Date with the Dalai Lama

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama shares a message that all of us should heed.

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In order to effect change, we must make an effort, the Dalai Lama told me when we met on August 27.

In late August I traveled to northern India for an appointment with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala. I have met the Dalai Lama on previous occasions. He has been a great supporter of my annual Global Appeal to End Stigma and Discrimination against People Affected by Leprosy, endorsing it in 2006 and again in 2009.

On this occasion, he had kindly agreed to record a video message. I believe his words will help to bring closer the day when we can live in a world free from leprosy-related stigma and discrimination.

As we talked, he told me of a visit he had made to see the late Indian social activist, Baba Amte. Baba Amte had set up an ashram for the treatment and rehabilitation of people with leprosy in Maharashtra state. What impressed the Dalai Lama most, he told me, was how everyone there lived with self-respect.

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In 2009, the Dalai Lama joined other faith leaders in signing the Global Appeal.

He also mentioned a visit he had made to Orissa state some 20 years ago with his brother. At the time, they were told some half a million people with leprosy lived in Orissa. "It is quite encouraging that the number of patients in India has now come down. That is good news. Wonderful," he said.

But on the topic of lingering discrimination, he noted there was still much that needed to be done. "It is not good that people continue to be discriminated against even after they are cured. These things are social habits. We must change them. In order to effect change, we must make an effort," he said.

He suggested there was role for religious leaders to speak out and reassure their followers that people affected by leprosy pose no threat and there is no reason for them to be isolated, "which is totally wrong."

"If society rejects a person affected by leprosy, then society is losing one member of society," the Dalai Lama said.

'BROTHERS AND SISTERS'

In the video message he recorded in my presence, the Dalai Lama said, "Seven billion human beings are essentially brothers and sisters. We are born the same way and we die the same way. Everyone wants a happy life and has the right to achieve a happy life."

"We are social animals," he continued. "Each individual's maximum happiness remains within society as a member of the community… Any social animal, one single being, when separated from the community of the group, is unhappy."

The Dalai Lama said it is important for people affected by leprosy to be accepted by the rest of society as part of the human family. "That is the human way, and spiritually speaking also, it is a real act of compassion."

"Seven billion human beings are essentially brothers and sisters," the Dalai Lama said.

He also noted that while people are always talking about love and compassion, these sentiments are often betrayed by unnecessary discrimination. People of religious faith must live according to what they profess, he said. Even those who do not believe, as members of the seven billion-strong human community, must reach out to every other human being. "At a human level, it is, I think, a really important practice of secular ethics," he said.

I feel certain the Dalai Lama's message will touch many people. I, for one, left his presence inspired - and determined to work even harder to bring about a world without leprosy.

AUTHOR: Yohei Sasakawa

Yohei Sasakawa is chairman, The Nippon Foundation, WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination and Japanese Government Goodwill Ambassador for the Human Rights of People Affected by Leprosy.