Monday, April 11, 2016

Dalai Lama & Secular Ethics

New Delhi, India, 7 April 2016 - To start the day in Delhi this morning, His Holiness the Dalai Lama gave an interview to Sonia Singh of NDTV Dialogues before an audience of Indian and Tibetan students. It will be broadcast first tonight. Topics included what he had learned from Nehru, the prospects for his reincarnation and whether he still hopes to see Tibet again in this life.

For the remainder of the day His Holiness participated in a meeting convened to hear and discuss results of the first steps to implement guidelines from a curriculum entitled ‘Secular Ethics in Education’ compiled and published by the Emory-Tibet Partnership towards the end of 2015. Prof Meenakshi Thapan introduced the occasion recalling that His Holiness has emphasized the importance of warm-heartedness in education stating that compassion is a core educational ideal. She noted that his stressing a secular approach is particularly attractive.

She explained that teachers who had shown an interest in trying out the new material had been advised to see how two modules - Emotional Awareness and Forgiveness - would work in practice. She requested His Holiness to address the gathering and he opened with words of gratitude:

”First, I would like to thank you for taking these issues seriously and for attending this meeting. Right now we’re all comfortable here together and yet in other parts of the world people are killing each other - the violence is unthinkable. Meanwhile millions of children are dying of starvation, while elsewhere preparations go ahead to prepare ever more dangerous weapons. The urge to employ violence is very much alive. Corruption thrives and the gap between rich and poor continues to grow. Here in Delhi some people enjoy fine facilities, while there are beggars on the street. Is there any way to change our habituated ways of thinking?

“Fortunately, as a result of experiments, scientists have concluded that basic human nature is positive. At the same time there are findings that suggest that constant anger, fear and suspicion undermine our immune system. We all share the common experience of our mother’s giving birth to us. This is even true of ruthless dictators. Without their mother’s love and affection they too would not have survived. Since scientists conclude that basic human nature is kind and affectionate, there is hope.

“By deploying our intelligence we can expand and develop our education. We can look into the value of warm-heartedness and enquire whether anger has any worth. We can extend our natural sense of warm-heartedness by applying our intelligence. We need to learn about our emotions and develop a kind of emotional hygiene. My friend Paul Ekman has been working on developing a map of emotions to help us do this. Many other scientists used to be sceptical that there was any mind apart from the workings of the brain, but their understanding has changed. They have discovered neuroplasticity. This meeting here is not an academic forum so much as an opportunity to discuss how we can change the world.”

Representatives of the team at Emory University, who compiled the draft curriculum on secular ethics, spoke about their work. Geshe Lobsang Tenzin cited the reference in the World Happiness Report 2016 Update to what His Holiness has said about the need for a secular ethics. Jennifer Knox showed how examining responses to different photographs of people can help teach us about the judgements we make. She illustrated this with two different photos of Kelly Gissendaner, an American woman who was executed in September 2015, after many years on death row. She suggested there is a need for trust to be able to change habituated ways of thinking.

His Holiness remarked that learning about inner values affects students. It is our common experience that when we are more compassionate our minds are calmer. Geshe Lobsang Tenzin noted that there are now ways to measure competency in relation to developing compassion.

Teachers from Springdales School, Pusa Road, Convent of Jesus and Mary, GD Goenka Public School, Ghaziabad, Bal Bharti Public Schools, Pusa Road and Rohini and Rishi Valley School, Andhra Pradesh made presentations of their experiences and findings during the pilot study of the secular ethics curriculum. Most of them are working with younger children and had opted to work with the module on Forgiveness of Others. They described using story-telling and role play to lead children to reaching their own understanding of forgiveness and its role in conflict resolution. One eight year old was quoted as saying, “When I say sorry I'm happy because a burden is lifted from my heart.”

His Holiness described the reported findings as ‘wonderful work’. Ven Tenzin Priyadarshi spoke about the work of The Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values at MIT and the potential for use of technological tools, gaming and apps. He remarked that we don’t want so much to teach values as to teach with values. On a practical point, it was noted that taking time for reflection was important for children and teachers alike to process and digest what had been learned.

Summing up the morning Meenakshi Thapan said that values had to be part of what is going on in the school. Where the good student has previously been the achiever in terms of grades, now a different model emerges. It was found that the curriculum needed to more flexible and less didactic. The project clearly requires taking a more holistic view. She concluded by asking how the curriculum conveys the idea of the good human being we are trying to be.

After a break for lunch His Holiness began the afternoon session:

“The long term purpose of our meeting is to examine how to create a more peaceful world through education and awareness. We need inner peace and we need joy. We need to introduce emotional awareness from an academic point of view. Everyone wants to live in a peaceful world, but it’s necessary to understand that what destroys peace is anger and hatred. This is why the long term goal is to create inner peace within individuals, so contributing to a more compassionate humanity.”

He mentioned that the curriculum in its present form is only a draft. It needs to be tried and tested, the results observed and the content, if necessary, amended. If it is successful it can be implemented more widely. If further meetings can be convened to exchange findings and experience a natural evolution will take place.

On behalf of the Foundation for Universal Responsibility Rajiv Mehrotra described projects to cultivate peace within and without - peace building, non-violence and co-existence, as well as ethics and education. His Holiness responded that he would like to see the Foundation extend the scope of its activities to other parts of India and neighbouring countries. He remarked that although he has several hands to help him, the time has come for those hands to be active. There is an urgent need to act now, to start now.

Dr Meenakshi Gopinath introduced a presentation of the activities of Wiscomp - Women in Security, Conflict Management Peace - but also wisdom and compassion. Wiscomp has been involved effectively in mediation and reconciliation of the Indo-Pak conflict and the troubles in Kashmir.

In the concluding discussion Geshe Lobsang Tenzin pointed out that the material for the curriculum had largely been drawn from His Holiness’s work such as ‘Ethics for a New Millennium’ and ‘Beyond Religion’. Ven Priyadarshi stressed the need to make ethics appealing and relevant. Geshe Lhakdor suggested there was a need to examine what are the obstacles to secular ethics in the 21st century. He also noted that most of the conversation had related to the aspects of method with little consideration of the discerning awareness or wisdom aspects. Naresh Mathur passed on the observation of a friend involved with the Aurobindo Ashram and working with integral values that the curriculum in its present form is too prescriptive. Geshe Ngawang Samten concurred with need for a more holistic approach.

In his conclusion His Holiness suggested that the important thing at this point is to try the ideas out and observe the results. When he proposed meeting again in a year, Meenakshi Thapan intervened and suggested that more frequent workshops in the coming weeks would be a more effective way of maintaining momentum and building on what has been learned so far.

The meeting was concluded with a vote of thanks acknowledging everyone who had participated and supported this ground breaking occasion.

Original link & photos

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