His Holiness the Dalai Lama Speaks about Finding Common Ground - Ethics for a Whole World at Middlebury College

October 14th 2012

Middlebury, VT, USA, 13 October 2012 - To start the day His Holiness the Dalai Lama gave an interview to the Student Reporter of Middlebury College. The interviewer asked about His Holiness’s intention in pursuing a dialogue with scientists. He told her he felt that the Buddhist way of thought, open-minded, sceptical and questioning, was similar to a scientific approach. Both traditions are seeking to understand reality through investigation.


His Holiness the Dalai Lama being interviewed for Middlebury College's "Student Reporter" in Middlebury, VT, on October 13, 2012. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL
However, from the outset scientists have tended to say that mind is just a function of the brain. In the face of this somewhat dogmatic challenge, His Holiness once asked a scientist to explain the following; although we experience different feelings in our day to day lives, we may sometimes find that with no change in external conditions, a memory or thought occurs that provokes a complete change in our feelings. He wanted to know if this was not a case of a mental event provoking a physical one. 

An important factor in promoting warm-heartedness, as His Holiness does, is that people understand its worth, otherwise why would they want to develop it. Because we are social animals, we naturally seek the help of others.

“Imagine being shipwrecked,” His Holiness suggested, “and washed up on a remote island. If, after some time, we came across another human being, our natural inclination would be to approach them and seek their help.”   

His Holiness was met at the door to the Nelson Arena today by his old friend Senator Patrick Leahy. He then introduced him to the public in the hall, describing him as the face of Tibet throughout the world. He praised His Holiness not only for his determined promotion of non-violence, but also for his unflinching pragmatism. In his turn, His Holiness greeted his friend Senator Leahy, his wife, the College President and his brothers and sisters in the audience, saying,


His Holiness the Dalai Lama with Senator Patrick Leahy at Middlebury College's Nelson Arena in Middlebury, VT, on October 13, 2012. Photo/Brett Simison
“Firstly, I want to say a few words to the respected Senator. I was 16 when I lost my freedom, 24 when I lost my country, so my life has been quite difficult and yet throughout that time the people on Capitol Hill have shown a consistent support for freedom, liberty, democracy and the rule of law. The United States is the greatest democratic country and the leader of the free world. There may be an economic crisis now, but we will eventually recover from it. You have great creativity - the US must succeed. I want to thank you for your long-standing and stalwart friendship.”

In seeking to create a happy world, His Holiness said, our approach must be realistic. If it is unrealistic, it will not bear fruit. To understand reality, we have to look from different angles, from a distance as well as close up. We must take account of our interdependence. In the past, victory involved the destruction of your enemy, but now the reality is that the destruction of your enemy is the destruction of yourself. Consequently, concept of war as we have known it is completely out of date. Our blueprint for the future, His Holiness declared, should be a demilitarised world; the money and resources saved would be immense.

“Of course, we are driven by self-interest, it’s necessary to survive. But we need wise self-interest that is generous and co-operative, taking others’ interests into account. Co-operation comes from friendship, friendship comes from trust, and trust comes from kind-heartedness. Once you have a genuine sense of concern for others, there’s no room for cheating, bullying or exploitation,” he said.


His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaking at Middlebury College's Nelson Arena in Middlebury, VT, on October 13, 2012. Photo/Sonam Zoksang
When someone we help shows appreciation we both benefit. His Holiness has noted that even when he patiently allows a mosquito to drink his blood, it does so with complete disregard, prompting him to wonder how big a brain you need to show appreciation as human beings and even dogs and cats can do.

“This marvellous human brain has the ability to judge which of our emotions is beneficial and which is harmful and to take appropriate action. If we observe our minds we can see the flaws of anger, which helps to reduce it. Self discipline is about protecting ourselves in the long run. This too is part of secular ethics, the need to lead our emotions in the right direction.”

His Holiness lamented the inadequacy of ethics teaching  in our existing educational institutions. By leaving it to religion we place it beyond many people’s attention. Our secular institutions should include a moral training that has universal appeal, suitable to everyone’s needs. He concluded,

“My dedication is to serve the 7 billion sentient beings on this planet and the other creatures with whom we share it. If you can, help and serve others, but if you can’t at least don’t harm them; then in the end you will feel no regret.”


Members of the audience, including Middlebury College President Ron Liebowitz and Senator Patrick Leahy, enjoying His Holiness the Dalai Lama's talk at Nelson Arena in Middlebury, VT, on October 13, 2012. Photo/Brett Simison
A student said she thought it important to stay abreast of current events, but often finds them too dispiriting. His Holiness recommended the 8th century Indian master Shantideva’s advice: when faced with a problem, if you can solve it there’s no need for anxiety and if you can’t solve it, anxiety won’t help. Dealing with external problems is complicated, but dealing with our emotions is even more complicated. We need to distinguish between our sensory awareness and conceptual thought. His Holiness pointed out that in the dream state we only have mental consciousness and even our thoughts are more subtle. The mind can be trained to be as alert then as it is in the waking state. This is something worthy of investigation.

Another questioner asked how, given the great ideological divide in the political world, we can work together. His Holiness chuckled and said politicians may be smart at finding differences with their opponents at election time, but in government there isn’t much to distinguish between them.

To an enquiry about whether he encouraged visits to Tibet, His Holiness replied that he always regards any help in the fields of education and health care in Tibet as good. He also feels it is good for foreigners to visit Tibet to see the situation for themselves and to report back when they return. It is also good for Tibetans’ morale to feel that they are not alone. In addition, he said it’s important to make friends with Chinese students and business people and raise their awareness about Tibet. Once they understand the truth, their support for the Tibetan cause grows. And inform them, he said, that although the Dalai Lama may be a demon, he is a warm-hearted demon.


Middlebury College's Nelson Arena, venue for His Holiness's talk in Middlebury, VT, on October 13, 2012. Photo/Brett Simison
Asked if he has any regrets, His Holiness recalled that in the years before he accepted political responsibility for Tibet at the age of 16, he had the opportunity to study, but neglected it. He now regrets that. However, he was clear that he has no regrets about spiritual or political decisions he has made since then. Asked about the power of prayer, he said,

“In my daily practice I make prayers to the Buddha and higher beings that are helpful to me, but whether they do anyone else any good is questionable. I don’t believe peace in the world will come about through prayer; it will only come about through the action we take. Sometimes I think we pray due to our own lack of confidence, But for us Buddhists, the Buddha said you are your own master, He showed the path, but we have to follow it.”

Over lunch at the College’s Atwater Dining Hall people at each table were called upon to discuss some of the points His Holiness had raised. As the meal came to an end student representatives reported back to him what had been said and he responded. After brief audiences with College Staff and the Organizing Committee, Interfaith representatives and local Buddhists, His Holiness visited the College’s Organic Garden. From there he came to the Mead Chapel to speak to a gathering of Tibetans who he encouraged to keep up their spirit and identity. He particularly stressed keeping the Tibetan language alive, both in its spoken and written forms, because this is the lifeblood of Tibetan culture.
 

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