His Holiness the Dalai Lama in California - Day 5

October 16th 2010

Palo Alto, California, USA, 15 October 2010 - On his last full day in Palo Alto, His Holiness  participated in the full day academic conference on “Scientific Explorations of Compassion and Altruism.” This conference brought together distinguished researchers under the auspices of the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) to examine issues such as, what are the key evolutionary and neurobiological underpinnings of compassion and altruism? What compels us to take risks at a cost to act on behalf of others? How does one potentiate such behavior?

His Holiness the Dalai Lama and panel members at Thte all day conference entitled "Scientific Explorations of Compassion and Altruism" held at Stanford university, October 15th, 2010. Photo/Linda A. Cicero/Stanford News Service
The Conference focused on new findings in psychology and the neurosciences, including the emerging field of neuroeconomics. It was divided into four sessions, two in the morning and two in the afternoon.

Before the first session began, Dr. Gary Steinberg, Director of Stanford Institute for Neuroinnovation and Translational Neuroscience (SINTN), Chair, Department of Neurosurgery, Bernard and Ronni Lacroute-William Randolph Hearst Professor in Neurosurgery and Neurosciences, made introductory remarks. He welcomed the interaction of scientists with His Holiness the Dalai Lama saying that although he was not a Buddhist, he admired Buddhism’s emphasis on reason and seeking empirical facts.

Dr. James R. Doty, Director of CCARE and Clinical Professor of Neurosurgery, Stanford University, spoke next and expressed his gratitude to His Holiness the Dalai Lama for his encouragement.

The Conference Moderator, Dr. Arthur C. Zajonc, Professor of Physics, Amherst College, first invited His Holiness to make some remarks.

His Holiness gave a comparative history of scientific development and his own life and showed how it had impacted him.  He said he was born around the time when World War II was about to begin. In the course of that War, the world witnessed the use of nuclear bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama and panel members during the conference at Stanford University on October 15th, 2010. Photo/Linda A. Cicero/Stanford News Service
His Holiness said nuclear physics was one of the great advances of science. He said scientific development continued to impact people’s lives. Even the September 11 attacks in the United States witnessed the use of a technological development of a civilian airplane being used as a weapon of destruction.

His Holiness concluded that it was clear that scientific and technological development was no guarantee for happiness and reiterated his call for scientists to increase attention to the inner mind.

The first session was on “The Role of Compassion in Education and Wider Societal Context” with Prof. Linda Darling Hammond, Professor of Education, and Dr. Philip Zimbardo, Professor of Psychology Emeritus, both of Stanford University, as panelists.

It focused on the place of compassion, both in individuals’ lives and in larger societal contexts, such as understanding across peoples and cultures as well as the future course of education.  It examined how compassion and altruism can be brought into social and educational systems and what the benefits might be. Dr. Hammond spoke about experiments in some schools in Palo Alto where the students were given education in compassion and how this has positively impacted them.

Some of the audience at Memorial Auditorium who came to listen to the conference "Scientific Explorations of Compassion and Altruism" held at Stanford university, October 15th, 2010. Photo/Linda A. Cicero/Stanford News Service
The Second session was on “Research and Experiments on Compassion” with Dr. Karl Deisseroth, Associate Professor of Bioengineering and of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University, Dr. Bill Harbaugh, Professor of Economics, University of Oregon, and Dr. Brian Knutson, Associate Professor of Psychology, StanfordUniversity.

This session saw the presentation of findings from CCARE’s research on the neural, genetic and behavioral mechanisms associated with compassion, altruism and other pro-social emotions.  It explored the evolutionary origins of mammalian nurturing as well as neuropsychological and neuroeconomic models of compassion.
The third session was also on “Research and Experiments on Compassion” with the following panelists. Dr. Phillipe Goldin, Research Associate, Department of Psychology, Stanford University;  Dr. Erika Rosenberg, Consulting Scientist, Center for Mind and Brain, University of California, Davis; and Dr. Jeanne Tsai, Associate Professor of Psychology, Stanford University. Subjects raised included the potential of altering the brain through altering of genes.

This session saw the presentation of CCARE research projects on the effects of cultivating compassion through affective training.  It examined how cultivating qualities of compassion is possible and introduced a secular protocol for Compassion Cultivation Training developed by Dr. Thupten Jinpa, Adjunct Professor, Religious Studies, McGill University, and Visiting Scholar and Executive Committee, CCARE, Stanford University,  for CCARE.

The fourth session was on “Exploring Scientific Questions for Future Research on Compassion and Altruism” with Dr. James R. Doty, Dr. Paul Ekman, Professor of Psychology, Emeritus, University of California, San Francisco.  In this session the panelists touched on some of the issues raised in earlier panels. They talked about a proposed standard of measuring compassion and the need for more discussions on this.

During his interventions in the course of these sessions, His Holiness called for the need to understand that cultivating compassion also had benefit for the self. He said we need to dispel the misunderstanding that compassion means sacrificing one’s own interest.

He also talked about efforts he was making in encouraging the Tibetan community to look at many of the issues that have been raised in the conference. He informed the gathering that currently a project is underway to bring out a compendium of sciences in Tibetan that incorporated both ancient Tibetan Buddhist thoughts as well as modern scientific views. He said this compendium would include areas found within Buddhist scriptures so that people interested in such issues (who may not be Buddhists) do not have to the Buddhist texts to study them.

Dr. Arthur C. Zajonc gave his concluding reflections.  He talked about the new attention to the inner mind by scientists as “a new marriage” between science and spiritualism. He also talked about the potential for an integrated education in which external and internal development had equal importance. He thanked His Holiness for encouraging scientific research in this field and recognized the role of Dr. Thupten Jinpa saying this is a gift from Tibet to the United States and the world.

In his concluding remarks, Dr. James R. Doty said that today there is a recognition that love and compassion are no longer a luxury but a necessity. He expressed his gratitude to His Holiness for his inspiration that has also impacted many people throughout the world.  The Stanford School of Medicine, Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, and the Office for Religious Life have been the host of His Holiness the Dalai Lama's visit to the University.

His Holiness departs Palo Alto for Atlanta on October 16 morning for the next leg of his tour.

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