His Holiness the Dalai Lama Interacts with Students and Gives a Public Talk on Ethics for a Whole World in Dunedin

June 11th 2013

Dunedin, New Zealand, 11 June 2013 - There was a brisk chill in the air today when more than 30 local church leaders and representatives of various religions and faith communities belonging to the Dunedin Interfaith Council gathered on the steps of St. Paul's Cathedral to welcome His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Dunedin.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama with members of the Dunedin Interfaith Council on the steps of St. Pauls Cathedral in Dunedin, New Zealand on June 11, 2013. Photo/Jacqui Walker
From there it was short drive to the University of Otago Clocktower Building where he was met by Vice-Chancellor Prof Harlene Hayne. A group of Maoris sang and an elder declaimed a traditional Maori welcome. Afterwards His Holiness quizzed them about Maori accounts of life after death, creation and their place in the natural world. On the walk to the University’s St David Lecture Theatre a bagpiper led the way.

In the theatre the Vice-Chancellor introduced His Holiness, pointing out that he was making his first visit to a New Zealand university by visiting New Zealand’s first university. He proceeded to respond to a series of questions before an audience of 550 students and staff.

The first question was about the Buddhist view of creation. His Holiness explained that Buddhists like Jains have no concept of a creator, instead they believe in causality and that the world is beginningless. The universe comes about, persists and eventually disappears, only to reappear again in a continuing cycle

“However,” he said, “much more relevant to our lives today is how to make this a century of peace.”

Another questioner asked when you’re asleep who observes your dreams? His Holiness replied that Buddhism teaches there is no independent self, but that this does not mean there is no self at all. There is a conventional self designated on the combination of body and mind.

“Just now we are using our sensory consciousnesses, but when we are asleep and dreaming they are turned off. This indicates that there is a subtler level of consciousness that continues to function when the sensory consciousnesses don’t. Another example of this was the monk who died here in 2011, and whose body remained fresh for 17 days after clinical death. This is a phenomenon that scientists are beginning to take an interest in that suggests there is a yet deeper level of consciousness that is not dependent on the brain.”

University of Otago's St. David Lecture Theatre, venue for His Holiness the Dalai Lama's interaction with students in Dunedin, New Zealand on June 11, 2013. Photo/Jacqui Walker
Regarding the relationship between religion and science, His Holiness recalled that in the 1970s he wanted to learn more about science and paused when an American friend warned him that science was the killer of religion. He thought about the Buddha’s admonition to his followers not to accept what he taught only on the basis of respect or faith, but to investigate and test it. He felt this healthy scepticism was like science’s approach to reality. Consequently he began a series of conversations with scientists that has led to the establishment of the Mind & Life Institute and the introduction of science to the curriculums studied in the great Tibetan monasteries.

Asked what bearing death has on our lives, His Holiness pointed out that things in general are not permanent but change from moment to moment. Where there is birth there will be death. Given the certainty of death, His Holiness explained that practitioners like him visualise the process of death in meditation several times every day in preparation for the actual event, to make themselves familiar with the process of dissolution. He said that if you disregard death it is likely to catch you unawares.

Another questioner wanted to know if he really wanted to separate Tibet from mainland China; he replied:

“In 1974 we decided that eventually we would have to talk to the Chinese authorities and that it would not be realistic to seek outright independence. In 1979 a message from Deng Xiaoping said that everything was open to discussion barring independence. Under the leadership of Hu Yaobang we might have solved the issue of Tibet, but he was removed, the Tiananmen event took place and hardliners took charge. Chinese friends have told me that if the Chinese public understood our stand, our Middle Way Approach that seeks not independence but genuine autonomy, they would support it wholeheartedly. Tibetan Buddhist culture is a culture of peace, compassion and non-violence and as such is of great value to the world. We urgently wish to preserve it.”

His Holiness the Dalai Lama responding to questions from students at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand on June 11, 2013. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL
Finally, His Holiness was asked for one word of advice. His immediate reply was, “Impossible,” but he then he made an appeal to the audience:

“Please think seriously about our inner values which are the source of peace of mind. And because we can’t rely on the use of force, please think about resolving conflict through dialogue. I am convinced of the importance of acknowledging the oneness of humanity, so try not to think only of New Zealand, but think instead of the whole world.”

After lunching with the Vice-Chancellor and university officials at the Executive Residence, His Holiness drove to the Town Hall to speak to an audience of 2100 about ‘Ethics for a Whole World.’

“Brothers and sisters I’m happy to have this opportunity to share some of my thoughts and experiences with you. My day began with a period of inter-faith silence on the steps of St. Paul's Cathedral. We need to make an effort to foster religious harmony, acknowledging that our different traditions evolved at different times, in different locations with different ways of life, but sharing a common goal. We can learn from each other. Personally we need faith in our own tradition, but at the same time we need to cultivate understanding and respect for others’.”

He explained that in the past religious institutions, as opposed to religious doctrine, have been targeted because of their tendency to manipulate and exploit. If we ask why this occurs, he said it is due to a lack of ethics. Ethics are a source of peace. Ethics are opposed to corruption, bullying and exploitation. They lead to living life honestly and truthfully, which gives rise to trust. Trust is the basis of friendship and friendship thrives on warm-heartedness.

“Who sows the seed of compassion in us?” he asked, “not religion but our mother. We are all born from a mother and receive unconditional affection from her. This is a deep source of happiness for the rest of our lives. Those who receive less affection, or are abused as children, tend to grow up feeling insecure and troubled by fear.

The Dunedin Town Hall, venue for His Holiness the Dalai Lama's talk on "Ethics for a Whole World" in Dunedin, New Zealand on June 11, 2013. Photo/Jacqui Walker
“Affection, the seed of compassion, is a biological factor. It is the basis of secular ethics. We can apply common sense and observe those around us. It’s clear that those families who while not wealthy are full of trust and affection are happier, while others who are materially well-off, but lack trust and affection are unhappy. Mistrust leads to suspicion and suspicion to fear, loneliness and unhappiness. Real happiness does not derive from material wealth, but from inner values. Scientific findings show that warm-heartedness has an improving effect on people’s physical well-being, while anger and fear eat into our immune system.”

His Holiness said we need to promote ethics through education, a system of secular education that has universal appeal and which anyone can adopt.

A question was asked about how to prevent others’ behaviour disturbing our inner peace. His Holiness replied that we need patience to protect our peace of mind, our compassionate mind. Patience is part of our defence, as is forgiveness. Enemies and troublemakers are helpful in that they give us the opportunity to exercise our patience and forgiveness. To a question about guilt he said that regret can be helpful in a way that guilt may not.

Asked to name the biggest change he has seen in his life, His Holiness replied that the fall of the Berlin Wall was momentous. Today, we hear more leaders using the word ‘compassion’ and where people once only spoke of religion, nowadays they naturally speak of religions. As to the keys to cultivating peace of mind, he recommended taking a more holistic long-term view and nurturing compassion.

From the Town Hall he returned the Otago University, where he gave a televised and webcast interview to Rev. Professor Sir Lloyd Geering that touched on his early life, his concern to promote secular ethics and his sense that real strength lies in truth.

Tomorrow, early in the morning His Holiness flies to Auckland, where in addition to several meetings he will speak on ‘The Path to Happiness.’

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