Talk about How to Develop the Heart and Discussion of Service
[dalailama.com] Princeton, NJ, USA, 28 October 2014 – Yesterday, on his way from Birmingham, Alabama to Princeton, His Holiness the Dalai Lama stopped in Philadelphia to visit his old friend Aaron Beck. Dr Beck is a psychiatrist regarded by many as the father of cognitive therapy. His Holiness frequently refers in his public talks to a conversation they had some years ago. Dr Beck explained then that when we are angry about something, the object of our anger seems entirely negative and yet 90% of that feeling is our own mental projection. This valuable insight corresponds to Nagarjuna’s explanation. Both Dr Beck, who is 94, and His Holiness were happy to be able to meet again.
Today, in Princeton University’s Jadwin Gymnasium, Dean Alison Boden introduced His Holiness to a 5000 strong audience of students and faculty and invited him to address them.
“Brothers and sisters,” he began, “it’s a great honour for me to have this opportunity to talk you today. Thank you for the invitation. As a Buddhist monk I dedicate the actions of my body, speech and mind to the service of others every day. Science and technology has brought much development, and yet we still face many man-made problems, for example the huge gap between rich and poor.
“We are social animals. We depend on the community in which we live. Therefore, we need a sense of global responsibility, because the well-being of humanity is our own well-being. We all want to live a happy life; none of us wants to suffer. So we need a sense that we all belong to one human family. Then there’ll be no chance to harm, exploit or cheat others.“
From a theistic religious point of view, he said, since we are all created by God, we all have a spark of God within us. In Buddhist terms this is referred to as Buddha nature. Either way it is a source of confidence. His Holiness mentioned that we have a variety of religious traditions, but that the crucial point is that although philosophically these traditions may differ, they convey the same message of love, tolerance, forgiveness and self-discipline. And yet of 7 billion human beings alive today, 1 billion claim to have no religious belief. To interest them in love and compassion we need to take a secular approach. This can follow the long-standing Indian tradition of secularism that entails unbiased respect for all religious traditions, and even for those who have none.
The basis for such a secular approach to inner values is our common experience of growing up under our mother’s affection and our dependence on others for our very survival. His Holiness reported:
“The first seed of compassion in my life came from my mother. I think this is true of nearly all of us. If our mothers had neglected us we wouldn’t have survived. A scientist called Bob Livingston once told me that in the first weeks of life, a mother’s touch is important for the proper growth of the brain. Later, it seems that while fear and suspicion eat away at our immune system, compassion is good for our health.”
Common sense tells us too that even if we are well-off, if we are filled with suspicion and anxiety we will be unhappy. Whereas if we are poor, but are filled with and surrounded by affection we are happy. His Holiness added that although money is necessary to live comfortably, money does not bring inner peace. Today, scientists and educationists alike acknowledge that our materialistically oriented education system is not adequate. There also needs to be a way to teach inner values. If there were a greater sense of the oneness of humanity, that we all belong to one human family, there would, for example, be no basis for quarrelling, killing and war.
“If you young people who today belong to the first generation of the 21st century make an effort now, you may be able to create a happier, more peaceful world,” His Holiness advised. “But you can’t take for granted that it will happen by itself, you’ll need to take action.”
His Holiness invited questions. Asked his greatest regret, he said it was that he had not studied as hard as he could when as a young teenager he was free to do so. He advised the students to read widely and take account of many points of view. To make life meaningful, he recommended that they not neglect inner values. Questioned about human rights, he said that the purpose of life is to be happy and this is our right. Our lives are founded on hope because there is no guarantee what will happen in the future.
He defined forgiveness as a way to defend ourselves from getting angry when wronged. It does not mean the wrong is forgotten, but he recommended distinguishing between the wrong action and the agent who can be forgiven. Pressed to explain how he resists negative feelings towards the Chinese authorities for their actions in Tibet, His Holiness said:
“As human beings we deliberately try to be compassionate towards those who do us harm. In 2008, when demonstrations broke out across Tibet, I felt apprehensive and helpless, much as I did during the 1959 uprising. I employed a mind training practice and visualised Chinese officials, imagining taking away their anger and hatred and giving love and affection back to them. Of course, it didn’t affect what was actually going on, but it helped me keep a calm mind.”
Another student wanted advice about investment banking and His Holiness remarked that he could not reply:
“But let me work in an investment bank for a year with that high salary, and then I’ll tell you.”
He clarified that when we read in some Buddhist texts suggestions that life as a man is preferable to life as a woman, we should remember that religion has three aspects, religious, philosophical and cultural and such references belong to the cultural aspect. Men and women are equal in their ability to reach liberation.
Asked the key to happiness, his quick answer, “Money and sex” brought laughter, but His Holiness went on to say that the real key is warm-heartedness, working with compassion and self-confidence. He said that if we conduct ourselves truthfully, honestly and transparently, we will earn trust and friendship. In addition, he commended using human intelligence to transform our negative emotions.
“Creating a better world,” he said, “requires vision and determination. Lincoln abolished slavery, Martin Luther King Jr worked to establish civil rights and today the President is a man with roots in Africa. This is wonderful. Thank you.”
His Holiness had lunch with Princeton University professors at Prospect House, which had been Woodrow Wilson’s house when he was President of the University. Following that he met with members of the Kalmyk community. The Kalmyk Three Jewels Foundation had been instrumental with the Princeton Office of Religious Life in organizing the morning’s public talk and afternoon discussion.
In the Library of the Chancellor Green Rotunda, he joined a panel including Professors Jill Dolan, Mitchell Duneier and Eddie S Glaude Jr discussing ‘service’ with 150 students. In his remarks His Holiness affirmed that if we are to help others we need to be motivated by love and affection. He referred to the ethics of bodhisattvas that include the ethics of restraint, the ethics of altruism and the ethics of actually giving assistance. He cautioned that good motivation needs to be accompanied by insight and understanding, noting that if our efforts are unrealistic they are unlikely to succeed. He pointed out that since we are all the same on the basic level of our humanity, there is no room for any kind of discrimination. What’s more it is that human sameness that enables us to wish our enemies well.
His Holiness acknowledged that we do have self-interest, but that he sees a difference between foolish self-interest that is narrow in scope and wise self-interest that takes others’ needs into account as well. He pointed out that we tend to think of suffering and happiness in physical and material terms, but agreed that service to others includes giving comfort, sharing a hug and a smile. Several times he stressed that giving others help is voluntary.
Finally, he said it is possible to accustom yourself to helping others, to offering them service. It takes courage and time. He reinforces his own determination every day by reflecting on a verse from the work of the 8th century Indian master, Shantideva, that says:
For as long as space endures
And for as long as living beings remain,
Until then may I too abide
To dispel the misery of the world.
He pointed out that the journey to becoming a professor begins with learning the alphabet; you have to keep up the effort. Pilots, who today fly immensely complicated planes, have to undergo a long and intensive training before the skill comes easily to them. He said, equipping yourself to serve others is like that.