The Dalai Lama Stresses Ethics and Values at MIT

Last week, I drove down to Massachusetts so that I could attend the inaugural event at MIT’s Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values.

My interest in attending the event was two fold:

  • First —  To hear the Dalai Lama speak because I feel he is one of the great spiritual leaders of our times.
  • Second — Because I feel strongly about the objective and mission of the Center, which is to “inspire a new generation of 21st century leaders with compassionate responsibility for the global and long-term social, economic, and environmental impacts of their decisions.”

The Center’s inaugural event at MIT was quite different from the large event at Gillette Stadium on Saturday that drew a diverse crowd of nearly 16,000.  

Dalai Lama

Peppering his talk on promoting ethics and compassion, with his wonderful sense of humor, my first impression of His Holiness, was that he possesses a quality of pure happiness and joy, that I would liken to the happiness that is reflected in a small child. When we are young we are far more open and joyful than we are as adults, because we are not burdened and encumbered with the problems that age and responsibility set upon us.

The Dalai Lama said that he thought the world is experiencing “some disturbances due to global economy,” and though the economy is “human created” it is beyond “human control.” There is he said, “too much greed” in the world and the environmental and ecology problems that we are faced with today, are “intertwined with the economy.” Add to that mix, the fact that “millions of people” are  genuinely “fed up” about violence.

He said that “education can increase our knowledge,” but he also believes that compassion and affection matter too and we must learn to be “compassionate without attachment.” The “objective is unbiased acceptance” as all humans “deserve love, compassion.”

“The infinite unbiased seed comes from compassion — the seed of the potential to increase that comes from compassion.”

A point he pressed upon was that it is not enough to have compassion for your loved ones and friends, what is important is to foster compassion for all, including those who you do not agree with. A prime example of this is the fact that the Dalai Lama has said he “loves” George W. Bush as a person. Some conservative journalists and bloggers have hit upon this and used that to press the point that Bush is a good person.

However, the Dalai Lama has made it clear that he does not agree with Bush’s policies, saying “I have reservations” about them. I know some of my liberal friends and readers might find the Dalai Lama’s affection for Bush hard to swallow, however, the Dalai Lama personifies compassion and acceptance and “loves” everyone. That is his nature, that is the crux of the Buddhist principle, that we can all practice tolerance, compassion and acceptance and in that the world would be a better place. 

In stressing the need for a more diverse secular approach to ethics, the Dalai Lama said that ethics are in “all religions” and in “no religions.” Family values do not comes from religious ideas, but by “nature.” To make his point he asked a Catholic monk in the audience whether secularism meant “rejection of religion.” The monk replied that “it depends on your experience of secularism.”

Laughing the Dalai Lama responded “Very wise answer,” and added, “We need to promote secular ethics through education.” He also stressed that he respects all religions and does not believe Buddhism is best for everyone. “Non believers are really wonderful,” he said, “Secular respects all religions and non believers.”

Imagining a more compassionate world in which science plays a role, the Dalai Lama mused that MIT scientists might someday “invent an injection of compassion” and shops might sell compassion. “I would want that,” he said.

“One good thing of human nature is the mind can change,” he said. “We must find ways to promote ethics and values in a secular way.”

“Religious persons, must be honest. Politicians, must be honest. Scientists, must be honest. Honesty is a rare quality. Religion is compassion. Equality of leadership comes from compassion.”

The Dalai Lama finished his talk at MIT by taking some questions from MIT students. One student asked if he felt there is a comparison of the Native American situation to that of the Tibetans. He responded with a great lesson is understanding past, present and future:

“The past is past. Buddhists – much suffering. No use to keep grieving. Past is past. Future is important. Future depends on present. Present is the seed of our future.”

Another student asked about how someone could apply ethics to working in the weapons industry. The Dalai Lama said he hoped for global demilitarization in this century and went on to say that he wished that scientists could invent a “bullet with consciousness that would not hit innocent people, but decision makers. That kind of bullet needs to be developed.” He wiggled his hand in the air like a traveling bullet and said “Wonderful.”

We may never come to see the day in our lifetime that compassion will come from an injection or bullets will avoid striking the innocent and aim instead for the decision makers, but we can all participate in striving for a more just and compassionate world where our leaders will make decisions based on honesty, understanding and true compassion.

“Ultimately,” the Dalai Lama said, “all trouble is created by humans.” The message that the Dalai Lama stressed throughout his talk at MIT is that through education coupled with science and ethical leadership, we can change that.

[*AP Photo/Steven Senne]

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