AEI Symposium – Abundance without Attachment – day 1

[] Theckchen Chöling, Dharamsala, HP, 4 November 2015 – This morning the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington DC based think tank, brought a delegation of 38 to meet His Holiness the Dalai Lama at his residence in Dharamsala. This is the second symposium the AEI has held with him. This time the theme is Abundance without Attachment.

There was quiet in the room until His Holiness arrived, accompanied by AEI President Arthur Brooks. He smiled at the guests and remarked:

“Of course, India has long been my spiritual home, but for the last nearly 57 years it has been my physical home too – welcome to all of you. I’d like to say at the start that this is an informal meeting among fellow human beings.”

Akran Shah speaking during the second panel discussion of the AEI Symposium at His Holiness the Dalai Lama's residence in Dharamsala, HP, India on November 4, 2015. Photo/Tenzin Choejor/OHHDL
Akran Shah speaking during the second panel discussion of the AEI Symposium at His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s residence in Dharamsala, HP, India on November 4, 2015.
Photo/Tenzin Choejor/OHHDL

In his introduction, Arthur Brooks said he hoped they would be able to talk about purpose in their work, about enterprise and poverty, and how to lift people up. He suggested three pillars he’d learned from His Holiness – moral living, concentration and wisdom. He noted that His Holiness regards wisdom as something that arises from examining what is true. It is something about which we have to reach our own conclusions.

He reported four factors that His Holiness told American psychiatrist Howard Cutler constituted the secret of a happy life: enlightenment, spirituality, worldly satisfaction and wealth. He expressed surprise at the inclusion of the last two, but suggested that worldly satisfaction means we should enjoy our lives, but we should do so by serving others. As to a definition of wealth, he quoted the proud boast of someone he’d met in the Dharavi slum in Mumbai:

“I built something; I earned my living and I served other people.”

Brooks introduced the members of the first panel, Jay Panda, an Indian Member of Parliament representing Odisha, Paresh Shah, a Gujarati who now lives in LA, who is an executive and yogi and Robert Doar, now an AEI fellow, who was commissioner of New York’s Human Resources Administration. He asked them to consider ‘What is a meaningful life in the midst of poverty?’

Jay Panda said he had seen very poor people who rise above their poverty with dignity. He mentioned an old woman gave him a donation of Rs.10 (15 cents) because she liked what he was doing. He cited the simple homes of tribal families in Odisha that were as neat and clean as any middle class equivalent.

Paresh Shah suggested that if we see wealth as energy it has to flow. We have to share it and as we share it more comes. He said we are vessels for sharing wealth with which to lift, heal and inspire others. He continued:

His Holiness the Dalai Lama responding to Aurthur Brooks question during the AEI Symposium in Dharamsala, HP, India on November 4, 2015. Photo/Tenzin Choejor/OHHDL
His Holiness the Dalai Lama responding to Aurthur Brooks question during the AEI Symposium in Dharamsala, HP, India on November 4, 2015. Photo/Tenzin Choejor/OHHDL

“What we learn is that our inner world shapes our outer world. Through our own emotional hygiene we can touch everyone.”

Robert Doar spoke of a man he’d met when he was working in New York, a man who had been twice been released from prison and fallen back twice and faced real hardship. Then he succeeded and when asked how that happened replied: “I finally realized I could do it.” With regard to tackling poverty, Doar said there is a need for a safety net, but responsibility and dignity come first. He suggested a need to expect that people can help themselves.

When Arthur Brooks asked His Holiness what he had to say, he replied:

“We are all living beings with feelings of pleasure and pain. All beings love their own life, but different sizes of brain mean we have different levels of intelligence. We human beings are the most intelligent and it is by using this intelligence that we can change the world for the better.

“We all want to live a happy life; we don’t want to be miserable. But we have to see how we can overcome the problems we make for ourselves. These problems don’t come about because of our warm-heartedness, but because we give in to anger, hatred and self-centredness. Our intelligence allows us to look at things from a wider perspective, to see that anger and hatred disturb our peace of mind and shatter the warm atmosphere within our families. In fact, you might say that if the place is tense and full of suspicion it’s not really a home.

“We are social animals and we need to take the welfare of all humanity, all 7 billion human beings, into account. Today, we have achieved remarkable material development, but right now as we speak, there are people in other places wielding weapons and killing each other. Some do this in the name of religion. It’s unthinkable.”

AEI President Aurthur Brooks speaking at the start of the AEI Symposium at His Holiness the Dalai Lama's residence in Dharamsala, HP, India on November 4, 2015. Photo/Tenzin Choejor/OHHDL
AEI President Aurthur Brooks speaking at the start of the AEI Symposium at His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s residence in Dharamsala, HP, India on November 4, 2015.
Photo/Tenzin Choejor/OHHDL

His Holiness mentioned that he has come across several cities in America that have declared themselves cities of kindness or cities of compassion. He suggested that India follow suit. He remarked that he used to think that businessmen were only interested in profit and exploiting others. He suspects that this was true of the colonial powers who once dominated the world. However, he said, as human beings we need love, and money alone cannot provide love. He pointed out that whether you are rich or poor, the size of your stomach is the same and you only have ten fingers.

“We need to bridge the gap between rich and poor. We need to find ways to lift people up. Here in India as people continue to flock into the cities I think there is an urgent need to bring development to the rural areas. What the rich can do is to respectfully provide facilities and education. But the poor have to work hard and develop self-confidence. Wallowing in anger and resentment wins nothing.

“We can build a happier more compassionate world based on an appreciation of the oneness of all humanity. If we try, we can create a more equal, more compassionate world, although I don’t expect my generation to live to see it.

“People need to find a way to be useful while maintaining their dignity. If they can’t do that they are likely to waste their lives. I believe we each have the ability to do something to change the world, not from the top down, but starting as individuals. I don’t think praying to God will solve our problems, because God didn’t make our problems, we did. So we need to find a solution to them.”

Danielle Pletka, senior vice president of foreign and defence policy studies at AEI was the moderator of the second session. The theme was building businesses in India’s slums. The AEI has taken a special interest in one of the slums in Mumbai called Dharavi. It is more than 130 years old and is home to between 700,000 and 1 million people. The AEI has made friends with Asim Abid Shaikh, a travel agent, Murti Ramaswamy, a salesman, Mohammad Akran Shah, a tailor and Yusuf Galwani, a potter, all from Dharavi. They were part of this panel.

Asim Shaikh explained that people in Dharavi looked after themselves and tried to get an education to ensure they could live a good life. Murti Ramaswamy, who sells water purifiers for Hindustan Lever said that what he liked about his job was that he earned money, but was also able to give satisfaction. He added that because he earns a steady wage he can send his daughters to a private school, which he hopes will give them confidence. He denied being poor, mentioning not only that he does not beg, but also that he is contributing to a life insurance policy.

Yusuf Galwani, the potter, told the story of his grandfather arriving in Dharavi hungry and with nothing, taking up pottery for lack of anything else to do. He described Dharavi’s inhabitants as good people with many skills. They are achieving development not by begging, or because of government help, but through their own efforts.

Gurcharan Das, a former CEO and public intellectual, pointed out that what Galwani described was evidence that development in India starts from below which will make it more lasting, as opposed to China’s development that is handed down from above.

Akran Shah, who has been a tailor for 25 years, said that where the government could help would be in providing better health facilities and taking steps to combat illnesses like dengue fever. He praised the social harmony that exists in Dharavi with members of all the major religions living easily with one another.

Commenting on his experience of Dharavi Arthur Brooks noted five things: its potential, the opportunity that thrives there. The work that goes on. The faith that is part of a good life. The strong sense of family and the sense of community. Danielle Pletka encouraged the panellists to talk about their sense of fairness, but it did not seem to interest them. They were more eager to express their love for the jobs they do and the sense of community where they live. Asim Shaikh mentioned that when he visited Germany last year, 70 people from his neighbourhood saw him off at the airport.

Among several clarifications, such as that a slum is defined as an illegal settlement on government land, Jay Panda expressed regret that government schools in India often have good facilities but very poor teaching, whereas NGO and mission schools tend to have the opposite, poor facilities and excellent teaching. Sikyong Lobsang Sangay stressed the importance of compassion, suggesting that in education learning English is one thing, but inculcating compassion is even more effective.

A Tibetan member of the audience drew comparisons between what he had heard about Dharavi and the Tibetan settlement of Manjnukatilla on the outskirts of Delhi. He recalled that at one time the only business there was brewing liquor. Visionary leadership had encouraged the people to shift to other work and now it is a vibrant place that attracts a lot of interest.

Asked for his remarks, His Holiness said that since all his knowledge derived from Indian sources and since his body had been nourished by Indian rice and dal for more than 50 years, he considers himself a son of India. He listed aspects that make India important. It is the world’s most populous democratic country. It is by and large stable and peaceful. Religious harmony prevails as it has done for centuries. The rule of law exists. In contrast, in China there are neither free media nor freedom of expression.

“I often point out that existing modern education is not adequate to shape happy individuals living in happy families in a happy nation,” His Holiness said, “because there is too much focus on materialism. In the West people are affluent, but are beginning to realize that having inner peace is more important. Because no one religious tradition can have universal appeal, we need to adopt a secular ethics, a sense of respect for all spiritual traditions and even for the views of those who follow none.”

Finally, His Holiness explained that compassion can take two forms one that is like a natural instinct, a concern for the friends and family to whom we are attached. This is a limited and biased compassion. However, it can be the seed for something bigger. By employing reason and intelligence we can learn to extend our compassion to include others. An unbiased, genuine concern for others’ well-being, whoever they are. That is real compassion, and only human beings are capable of developing it.

The session broke for lunch. The delegates, and His Holiness, will all get together for a second and final day tomorrow.


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