Dharamshala: This morning, His Holiness the Dalai Lama was invited to a discussion via video link with members of EdCamp Ukraine, an educational NGO that is Emory University’s official Social Emotional Ethical (SEE) Learning partner in Ukraine. He arrived, saluted members of the panel he could see on the screens in front of him and wished them, “Good morning”. Dr Oleksandr Elkin, Head of EdCamp Ukraine offered His Holiness greetings. He recalled that a group of Ukrainian educators had had an audience with His Holiness last year and the present meeting, the first time he has had the opportunity to address people in Ukraine directly, flowed from that.
Dr Elkin introduced three co-hosts: Liliia Hrynevych former Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine; Taras Topolya, UNICEF Youth Ambassador to Ukraine and a well-known Ukrainian singer and Nataliya Moseychuk, a TV host recognised nationwide. He invited His Holiness to open the conversation.
“This is the first time I’ve been able to talk to friends in Ukraine,” His Holiness began, “but I consider all of us, all seven billion human beings on this planet, to be physically, mentally and emotionally the same. Your country used to be part of the Soviet Union, during which time you’ll have learned about socialism. I’m a Buddhist, whose country is under Chinese communist domination, as a result of which we have been compelled to study Marxism and Leninism.
“When we are born, we only survive because of our mother’s milk — because of her kindness. On that level too, we are all the same. Some scientists say that it’s human nature to be compassionate because we are social animals with a natural concern for our own community. We can say that we have a sense of altruism and concern for others from birth.
“In human history there has been great suffering, conflict and violence because of a tendency to see others in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’. Young children don’t divide their companions up in this way. They give no importance to their companions’ religion, nationality or affluence. These are things they seem to learn once they start going to school.
“Today, things have improved somewhat. A good example is the establishment of the European Union (EU). After a history of being arch enemies, the European states led by France and Germany put their differences behind them following the Second World War and formed the European Union. They realised that over-emphasising differences of language and nationality is out of date. Instead it’s better to live peaceably together and to help each other. This is a spirit I admire and that we could do with in other parts of the world. Without the EU, war might well have broken out again, but since its foundation, peace has prevailed among its members.“
His Holiness gave a summary of what he considers his commitments, starting with how he feels committed to sharing with others the importance of recognising the oneness of humanity. Secondly, he’s dedicated to highlighting religious traditions’ common message of loving-kindness, forgiveness and so forth. He feels harmony and unity among religious traditions is important and that India, where all the world’s religious traditions live together, sets an example that inter-religious harmony is possible.
He explained that he’s also a Tibetan in whom the Tibetan people place their trust, but that he has retired from political responsibility now that an elected leader can take up that role. However, he remains committed to trying to preserve Tibetan culture that has kept India’s Nalanda Tradition, with its rich knowledge of psychology, alive. It’s a tradition that emphasises the use of reason and analysis, never hesitant to ask why.
“On the basis of this system of reasoning, I have developed close relations with modern scientists,” His Holiness declared. “Modern science doesn’t include a deep understanding of the workings of mind and emotions, but some scientists are now showing an interest in finding out. I point out to them that at the same time that physical hygiene is important for our health, we also need to cultivate mental or emotional hygiene — learning how to cope with and reduce anger, anxiety and fear. The key is learning how to cultivate peace of mind.
“Scientists do have a good understanding of the brain and some now see that the mind and changes in our state of mind can effect changes in the brain.”
His Holiness added that he is also committed to drawing attention to the urgent need to preserve the ecology of Tibet. The Land of Snow, which is also referred to as the Roof of the World, is where the major rivers of Asia rise and so is the source of water for millions across the continent.
“I’m very happy to be able to hold discussions with people from Ukraine today. We are all essentially the same. We all want to lead a happy life and, consequently, we all need to know how to find peace of mind.”
Members of the panel put questions, submitted by people across the country, to His Holiness. The first was about how teachers should develop skills like compassion in themselves and their students. His Holiness observed that destructive emotions like anger and fear are based on our misapprehension that the way people and things appear to us is the way they really are. This is why, he said, we need to pay attention to psychology.
“Ask children whether they prefer to see smiling faces or stern ones. Obviously, the way to bring about harmony and friendship is to smile. We need to cultivate such childlike attributes that are actually the basis of human values. We must remember that as human beings we are the same and that we have to live together.
“When it comes to creating unity in society, we need to remind ourselves that we are all the same. I’m a Tibetan, but I’ve spent the major part of my life living in India. However, I describe myself as just another human being. Wherever I go, I think of myself as just like other human beings.
“The totalitarian system you used to live under is out of date. It doesn’t suit our human nature. Now, in addition to preserving your language and culture, you can exercise your freedom.”
With regard to the coronavirus pandemic, His Holiness agreed that it is really unfortunate. However, he observed that it has also served to remind us that we live in an interdependent, globalised world. We need to exercise precautions and engage in research for the means to deal with it with courage and confidence. He stressed that allowing ourselves to become demoralized will only lead to failure.
“I lost my country and, although an immense amount of suffering has taken place there, I’ve never lost my courage and determination. I find warm-heartedness gives us strength.”
His Holiness recommended that for teachers to teach about compassion and responsibility they should pay attention to inner values and ways to cultivate inner peace. He remarked that ancient Indian knowledge can help us understand how to control disturbing emotions like anger and fear. And although this information is to be found in religious texts, it can definitely be redeployed in a secular, academic context.
He acknowledged that sometimes a small harsh action can be helpful in averting or overcoming a greater disaster. He alluded to the way a small amount of a toxic substance can have medicinal value. So, to achieve the greater good or to control otherwise difficult people, taking some tough action may be helpful, but it is important that it should be motivated by kindness and compassion, not by anger or contempt.
Asked how to live under the shadow of terminal illness, His Holiness noted that like anything else, life has a beginning and in due course must end. In between those two events the important goal should be to live meaningfully, not to create trouble for others. If people can do that, when the end comes, they can go feeling at peace. He added that when someone is dying it’s good if their family or friends can remind them to think of compassion and retain their peace of mind.
Dr Elkin told His Holiness that the next question came from the EdCamp Ukraine community. He mentioned that they have been introducing Emory University’s Social, Emotional, and Ethical Learning (SEE Learning) programme — an educational programme based on universal human values, to Ukrainian schools. Over the last 18 months, they have translated the curricula, launched a Ministry-approved nation-wide school experiment in 26 Ukrainian schools with 195 practising teachers, and have given online introductory sessions on SEE Learning to approximately 20,000 educators.
The teacher’s question was — ‘Do you have a dream?’ His Holiness replied that every human being wants not be disturbed, but to live a happy life. “I’m just a simple Buddhist monk,” he said, “but I’m trying to help others lead a happy life, to learn to appreciate what a difference it makes to find peace of mind. That’s my dream. One of my main practices is the cultivation of altruism, it’s what I think about the moment I wake up. Therefore, until my last breath, I will try to help other people find peace of mind.
“To achieve that, it’s important to have patience and it’s people who are hostile and antagonistic rather than our friends who teach us patience. It’s not difficult to make your friends smile, but bringing a smile to your enemy’s face is a real achievement.”
Asked whether he needed any help, His Holiness told his listeners:
“Wherever you live, try to create a happy community. I pray that every human being, indeed every sentient being, should be happy. So, if you come across individuals facing problems, help them. Share their problems and try to bring them peace of mind. My work is to promote compassion on the basis of the oneness of humanity, to encourage inter-religious harmony and preserve Tibetan culture. If you think about these things, you can share them with others. That’s how you can help me.”
His Holiness suggested that the aim of education should be to train happy individuals who will make up a peaceful society. It requires warm-heartedness and taking a broad-minded, holistic and far-sighted approach that enables people to cope, whatever happens. This entails focussing not only on self-satisfaction, but on the good of the community. Wise self-interest takes the needs of others into account.
“A farmer takes care of his land not out some sentimental affection for the soil, but because his livelihood depends on it. We, likewise, have to look after the community we live in. Our world has become smaller and more interdependent — therefore having a sense of universal responsibility is not only relevant, it brings satisfaction.”
His Holiness remarked that, because it has affected so many people, the pandemic has enhanced our sense of community and the need to take steps to protect that community. He expressed appreciation that there have been doctors and nurses who sacrificed their lives in the care of their patients.
Dr Elkin brought the meeting to a close by thanking His Holiness for taking the time to talk to the panel and the wider audience. “We have a dream that when the pandemic is over, you will be able to come and visit us in Ukraine. Following this meeting, we are going to hold three round-table discussions to talk about what you’ve said and how to make SEE Learning a success in our country.
His Holiness replied, “We are truly brothers and sisters. We all face the same kind of problems and we all have the ability to overcome them. That means putting our human brains to good use, combined with a strong sense of warm-heartedness. — Thank you.”