Boston, MA, USA 14th October 2012
There was a chill in the air and the roads were wet with rain as His Holiness the Dalai Lama set out early this morning to drive to Burlington airport and from there to fly on to Boston. He was received on arrival by Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay and Ven. Tenzin Priyadarshi, Founder and Director, The Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and transformative values.
In a meeting with the Deans of Admission of several Universities and Schools His Holiness was asked about his philosophy of education. He replied that every sentient being, beings who have experience of pleasure or pain, has a desire to live a happy life. Human beings have a brain that allows them to see that some emotions are destructive, while others are helpful. We tend to focus on appearances, but there is often a gap between appearance and reality. Education’s role is to help us bridge that gap and help us cultivate a more realistic approach to whatever we do.
“I left Tibet unwillingly, but my departure provided me with an opportunity to become acquainted with different peoples and cultures and so develop a more realistic view of the world,” he said.
He mentioned that although it is often called the Roof of the World, Tibet is also referred to as the Third Pole, because of its significance as the source of rivers that provide water for about one billion people across Asia. For this reason Tibet’s fragile natural environment needs preserving, as does Tibet’s peaceful and compassionate culture. Education can further these goals. His Holiness noted with irony that communist Chinese leaders sending their sons and daughters to study in the US, which they otherwise criticise as an imperialistic power, is a recognition of the value of education.
Asked why it is important that Tibetans become experts in various fields, His Holiness said, “In order to be able to take responsibility for protecting Tibetan culture and the environment.” He also pointed out that as China has many experts, Tibetans need some if they are to enjoy equal regard. Questioned about what he considers to be leadership qualities, he answered, “Warm-heartedness, vision, determination and an ability to take a holistic view.”
In the afternoon, His Holiness was invited to speak about Ethics, Values and Well-being in the company of two old friends and Christian brothers, Fr. Thomas Keating and Br. David Steindl-Rast. They arrived as veteran singer-songwriter James Taylor was playing. His Holiness raised a laugh when, having put on a visor to shield his eyes from the strong lights, he suggested the two Christian monks likewise pull their cowls over their heads. He began as follows:
“Our main aim is to promote human values with a view to creating a more peaceful world for its seven billion human inhabitants. The purpose is not to wield power and influence, but to create inner peace.”
He suggested that the human values of love and compassion can be seen separately from religion, because they have biological roots in the love and affection we each receive from our mothers. He feels this is necessary because there are many people with little real interest in religion who nevertheless are part of humanity and should have a chance to contribute to creating a better world. His Holiness added another consideration to this.
“Here in the twenty-first century, when we find we need to make a special effort to promote compassion, we should recognise that women have a greater sensitivity to compassion and considering others’ needs. After all, historically, war heroes and murderers, perpetrators of violence, tend to be men. When, as now, compassionate leadership is required, women should take on a greater role.”
He said that while he did not expect to see these goals achieved in his lifetime, it’s important to look ahead to future generations. In the meantime, we have to take such action that when death comes we have no regret.
The venerable Christian monk Fr. Thomas Keating approved of seeking some basic principles that everyone could agree to on the basis of being human. Br. David Steindl-Rast meanwhile picked up on a reference to the French and Bolshevik revolution’s having challenged religious institutions, saying that Jesus would have approved of challenging elitism and promoting fraternity, liberty and egalitarianism. The problem he saw was how to bring these big ideas from the head to the heart.
His Holiness added that encouraging inter-religious harmony is another of his commitments. He feels that the main practice of love and compassion is largely the same in all major religions. And where Christianity and faiths who believe in a creator achieve humility through complete submission to God, Buddhists employ the theory of selflessness. Our intelligence helps us regulate our emotions. Fear, for example, is based on mistrust and a lack of self-confidence. If, on the other hand, we remain honest and truthful, open and tolerant, we will have greater self-confidence and overcome fear.
To the question, are we good or are we evil? Fr. Thomas replied that scripture states we are good; everything is good. He proposed that science suggests we are as yet unevolved. Brother David picked up on this to agree that perhaps we are not yet good, but that we are evolving. He suggested we look on human beings through the eyes of a mother who says, ‘You can do better.’
His Holiness’s final thoughts were,
“I believe that of the seven billion human beings alive today, no one wants to suffer and no one chooses to have problems. Yet, many of the problems we face are our own creation. Why? The answer is ignorance. We can solve this through education. Ignorance is not permanent, but whether we overcome it depends on whether we make the effort.”
Ven. Tenzin Priyadarshi spoke touching words of thanks to everyone who contributed to making the event possible, with special gratitude to Fr. Thomas, Br. David, Rev. Liz Walker and His Holiness for sharing their thoughts.