His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Madison, WI - May 16, 2010

May 16th 2010

Madison, WI, USA, 16 May 2010 - His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s first program this morning was to participate in a meeting on “Behavioral and Neuro-Scientific Investigations of Contemplative Practices: Research Update” held at the Waisman Center of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 

His Holiness’ appearance marked the opening of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison dedicated to researching healthy qualities of mind like kindness and compassion.

His Holiness gestures as he talks with University of Wisconsin - Madison neuroscientist Richard Davidson. Photo/AP

Dr. Adam Engle of the Mind & Life Institute made a brief welcome remark. Thereafter, Dr. Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin, who moderated the meeting, gave an introduction. He first showed a photo of the late Francesco Valera, (one of the scientists who had first participated in the Buddhist-Scientist dialogue) who he said provided vision for the Mind & Life Institute. Upon seeing this image, His Holiness remarked that his impression was that while the photo showed Dr. Valera physically weak he seemed full of spirit, which showed that he had a healthy mind.

Thereafter, Dr. Richardson and three other scientists, Dr. Barbara Fredrickson of the University of North Carolina, Dr. Clifford Saron of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Antoine Lutz of the University of Wisconsin, would be presenting recent research findings relating to human emotions. Four scholars from the contemplative field, Ven. Matthieu Ricard from Shechen Monastery, Ms. Sharon Salzberg from Insight Meditation Society, and Dr. John Dunne from Emory  University, commented on the findings and posed questions. His Holiness the Dalai Lama shared his thoughts on the findings and made comments. He was assisted in this by Dr. Thupten Jinpa of the Institute of Tibetan Classics.

At the conclusion of the meeting, His Holiness explained his reason for encouraging such a Buddhist-Scientist dialogue. He said he had two reasons. First, he said human knowledge in terms of matter was at an advanced stage and western scientists were focusing on matter. He said he wanted the scientific research to extend into fields of Buddhist study that had lots of explanation about mind and emotion. Here His Holiness said he divided Buddhism into three categories, Buddhist science, Buddhist philosophy and Buddhist religion. He said Buddhist religion was the business of Buddhists, but that Buddhist philosophy and science had universal application. His Holiness said knowledge of these need to be made available to a wider audience. 

Secondly, His Holiness said that there was the need to change the mindset that felt that money, gun, and power would bring about happiness. He felt that there was the need to develop concern for others and to counter the feelings of anger, fear and jealousy. This could be achieved through compassion. Therefore, His Holiness felt more research needed to be conducted on emotional-level problems.

His Holiness said initially in the past when science had not made much advance, people could only pray to God to resolve problems. With the advancement of science and technological development people could find solution through these. At that stage, praying to god became less and less. He said in the 21st century, there is indication that there was limitation to the ability of science to understand the inner world.

His Holiness said it was because of these reasons that he had been encouraging the discussion between Buddhists and scientists.  He expressed his appreciation at the involvement of the experts and scholars in this. Following this meeting, His Holiness attended a luncheon reception by the Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Carolyn Arthur “Biddy” Martin, at her residence. At the venue, His Holiness was received by Governor of Wisconsin state, Jim Doyle and Chancellor Martin. 

In a brief remark to the guests at the reception, His Holiness talked about the unique relationship between India and Tibet and how after coming to India in 1959 he had the opportunity to meet a variety of people, including scientists. His Holiness talked about the Buddhist-Scientist dialogue, which he said was focusing on four fields, cosmology, neurobiology, physics and psychology.

Governor Doyle spoke next and thanked His Holiness for visiting Wisconsin and spoke about Dr. Richard Davidson’s project. He said that meditation would be introduced to schools in Wisconsin in the fifth grade and that such education would also be extended to prisoners and veterans from war zones. He said these would build upon the research that Dr. Davidson was conducting.

Following the reception, His Holiness went to the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center to address the Tibetan community. There were over one thousand Tibetans from Madison as well as Minnesota and Chicago who had gathered there. The program began with the singing of the Tibetan national anthem and a song in praise of His Holiness the Dalai Lama by children from the Wisconsin Tibetan Association. In between the President of the Association, Jampa Yonten, presented a written report of their activities to His Holiness.

His Holiness meeting with the Tibetan community in Madison and surrounding areas. Photo courtesy/Sherab Lhatsang

His Holiness began his address first by recognizing two students from the Madison area, who were listed in the Association’s report, for their achievements. The first one was Tenzin Sonam, who along with three other students from Madison West High School won the first place in the Team America Rocketry Challenge (according to a news report the team's model rocket reached 749 feet in 41 seconds and 740 feet in 44 seconds in two launches for the victory). The other was Tenzin Yiga, who is among the topper in the examinations in Dane County in Wisconsin.

In his address, His Holiness talked about the importance of the Tibetan identity. Terming Tibetans as “Gangchenpa” (denizens of the Land of Snows), His Holiness said that in general we enjoy a good reputation throughout the world for our good character. He said he even heard from Chinese scholars who felt that the Tibetan values could contribute much to the development of the Chinese society, too. However, he said there were indications that unless everyone remained alert this character could face degeneration. His Holiness reminded the gathering that at a time when Tibetans in Tibet were making efforts to preserve this identity under great challenge, the Tibetans in the free world should feel their responsibility equally. His Holiness told the younger generation of Tibetans the importance of being educated about their language and religion. He said the youngsters could initially study about Buddhism in the English language. Also, there could be discussion sessions on Buddhist topics in a non-ritualistic format.

Talking about developments in China, His Holiness felt that things will eventually change in terms of the authoritarian system that is prevalent today. He said it is encouraging that an increasing number of Chinese scholars are concerned about the Tibetan issue. He talked about the over 900 articles in Chinese that have appeared since 2008 that have positively commented on the Tibetans. His Holiness said ultimately the Tibetan problem has to be solved between Tibetans and Chinese and therefore said it is important to reach out to the Chinese people. 

His Holiness talked about the dialogue process with the Chinese leadership. He said even though the Chinese side had only chastisement in response to the initiatives through his Envoys, his commitment to a Middle Way Approach was on account of a broader consideration. His Holiness said this approach was based on a win-win situation rather than one side winning with the other side losing. His Holiness reiterated what he had said in Strasbourg that the Tibetan people themselves, particularly the majority of Tibetans living in Tibet, must be the ultimate deciding authority.

His Holiness advised the Tibetan people to maintain peace of mind and friendship. He said that Association should strive to come to the aid of anyone needing assistance. He also advised the younger Tibetans to pay particular attention to their studies. He said they should work to undertake specialized studies.

As he prepared to depart, His Holiness told the Tibetans that he had his annual medical check up at Mayo Clinic yesterday and the doctors had told him that he was in excellent health. The conference hall was filled with a resounding applause as His Holiness told them about his health condition. His Holiness then joked that while his overall physical health was excellent, he had some slight irritation in his eyes. Following the Tibetan audience, His Holiness went to the Capitol Theatre of the Overture Center for the Arts, where he participated in a dialogue with Dr. Richard Davidson on Investigating Healthy Minds. Daniel Goleman, author of "Emotional Intelligence" and "Ecological Intelligence" moderated the dialogue.

Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle made an introductory remark referring to His Holiness the Dalai Lama as a “friend of Wisconsin.” He then spoke about the new research initiative of Dr. Davidson through the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds in the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

“The new Center for Investigating Healthy Minds is another shining example of how research based here in Madison can change the world,” Governor Doyle said. The Governor said this fall schools in Madison will teach mental exercises under the Center’s initiative to fifth graders to promote qualities like attention, relaxation and empathy. Similarly, the Center plans to work with veterans returning from the wars inmates who are preparing to leave prison to help them readjust to society. "It is groundbreaking research on how transforming the mind can change the brain and body and improve the quality of life for everyone," the Governor said. The Governor then presented the Madison Youth Choir, which performed some songs as His Holiness, Governor Doyle, Dr. Davidson and Goleman, sat at the side of the stage. Following the performance two members of the choir presented a red Wisconsin Badgers (name of the baseball team) hat to His Holiness, which he wore immediately on his head to the joy of the audience.

His Holiness and Dr. Davidson discussed contemplative neuroscience, a new discipline that explores the intersection of Western science and Eastern contemplative traditions. They responded to questions by Mr. Goleman concerning relationship between happiness and physical health. His Holiness explained from a Buddhist science and philosophical perspective why inner peace had an impact on external attitude and physical condition. Similarly, Dr. Davidson said it has been well established that there is relationship between the two.

His Holiness said that a self-centered attitude is associated with an unhealthy mind. A focus on others is at the heart of compassion, he added. He advised people to be a “wise selfish” rather than a foolish one. His Holiness said that people get more benefit from taking care of other people than merely thinking of themselves. Complementing this view, Dr. Davidson described a study with two sets of college students where members of one group were given $50 to spend on themselves and come back and report how happy it made them while members of another group was given $50 to spend on gifts for other people. He said the study found that those who used the money to buy gifts for others were happier than those who bought things for themselves.

His Holiness then returned to the Deer Park Buddhist Centre. His Holiness departs Madison on May 17, 2010 for Cedar Falls in Iowa for his next leg of the program.

This is the eighth time His Holiness has visited the Madison area since 1979.

 

 

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