Monday, April 20, 2015

Dalai Lama: Helping Others is 'Wise-Selfish' Since all are Connected

DECATUR, Georgia – The Dalai Lama, appearing in his role as presidential distinguished professor of Emory University, where he helped to found the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative, anchored a day of discussion about ethics, science and creating a more peaceful world on Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013.

Some of the Dalai Lama's teachings Tuesday were surprising: Meditation can double the body’s ability to fight infections. With more education, religion might disappear in the next 1,000 years. Selfishness is good – if it is wise selfishness. Looking to the secular ethics that undergird all of the major religions is one path of uniting humanity. Compassion can be taught – and women have a special responsibility to promote affection.

The Dalai Lama, considered the reincarnation of the founding teacher-saint of Tibet, Gedun Drub, and also an emanation of the compassion of the Buddha, has dedicated his life to promoting the way of compassion and peace. His rambling talks Tuesday, in a public event at the Gwinnett Center attended by more than 8,000 people, were frequently interrupted by his laughter. He pointed to the possibility of teaching compassion and promoting peace by untangling ethics from religion and emphasizing the common sense of secular ethics.

“Destruction of neighbor is destruction of yourself – everything is interdependent,” The Dalai Lama said.

The Dalai Lama’s secular ethics, outlined in his 2011 book, “Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World,” points to the basis of ethical behavior as stemming from three factors: common experiences of human beings; common sense that good relationships are based on friendship, trust, respect and honesty; and scientific findings.

In the last 20 years, the Dalai Lama has also led discussions about the intersection of science and religion. At his initiative the Drepung Loseling Monastery schools have modernized the teaching of science. With the help of Emory professors, new science textbooks have been produced, replacing ancient texts that taught that the world was flat.

Healthy mind, healthy body

The Dalai Lama has also reminded the scientists that building a healthy body is dependent upon building a healthy mind.

“It is a scientific finding that fear, anger, hatred is actually eating the human begin,” the Dalai Lama said.

“In order to build a healthy body, we must pay more attention to a healthy mind. An education system oriented around material value is inadequate.”

Human beings may naturally be selfish, but they are also naturally compassionate, science shows. Helping someone else does make a person feel good – but that is a wise kind of selfish, the Dalai Lama said.

“By nature, every human being loves oneself,” the Dalai Lama said. “But by helping another, you are building your own happy future. We should be wise-selfish rather than foolish-selfish (like someone who takes drugs).”

The Dalai Lama himself attributes his earliest lessons about love and compassion to his mother. He remembers riding on her back and tugging at her ears like she was a horse to get her to go the way he wanted.

“No one ever saw my mother’s angry face; they saw my mother’s gentleness,” the Dalai Lama said. “My mother was so kind.”

While he said one can’t always generalize, he himself generalized to say that women have a special role in promoting human affection.

The afternoon’s presentations were made by researchers at the Mind and Life Institute, the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory, and the Department of Religion at Emory University.

Research is showing that the incidence of cooperation, compassion, helping and empathy among animals, particularly mammals, offers a corrective to the simplistic generalization that evolution progresses through the survival of the fittest.

Animals are demonstrating a sense of fairness and empathy, the Mind and Life Institute is developing a curriculum to teach secular ethics, and mindfulness meditation can significantly affect the ability of the brain to recover from trauma and of the body to fight diseases.

Presence of peace

But perhaps the most enduring impression of the day is just the power of the lovingness of the Dalai’s personality.

“Is there a better ambassador of peace?” asked Augusta Kantra of Mobile, Ala., as she and some friends waited in the line that wrapped around the immense Gwinnett Center, inching through security. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, to be able to see someone who has had that influence over so many people. We want to be in the presence of a man who’s spreading peace.”

Bhavani Kakani, the founder and director of AshaKiran, a non-profit in Huntsville, Ala., that seeks to strengthen families and to fight domestic violence, particularly in the Southeast Asian immigrant community, traveled with friends for the event. She admired how the Dalai Lama was interested in science and would ask questions, not taking results at face value just because they supported his teachings.

Kakani said coming now was particularly appropriate since Huntsville has just become, by resolution of the City Council, the first city in Alabama to begin the process of becoming certified as a Compassionate City with the International Campaign for Compassionate Cities, and Birmingham is fifth on a list of compassionate U.S. cities released by Forbes last week.

For Kakani, the Dalai Lama’s message that changing the world begins with one’s self, not with government systems or large organizations, resonated.

“If we have empathy and compassion in our heart, we become that,” said Kakani, who is Hindu. “The Buddha teaches: What we think, we become – and what we become, the world becomes.”

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