On Sunday, I drove into Boston to hear His Holiness the Dalai Lama speak on the subject of his latest book, Beyond Religion. A performance by Massachusetts’ own James Taylor national treasure, opened the event. The event was well attended with an estimated sold out crowd of 2500.
With everyone in the ballroom standing, as His Holiness stepped onto the stage, the Dalai Lama took his seat on the stage and signaled to the crowd to sit.
“Very strong light,” he said as he put on his customary visor cap that he wears often when speaking on a well lighted stage. He then walked over to Friar Thomas Keating and Brother David Steindl-Rast, the two Catholic priests also on the discussion panel and pulled their Monks’ hoods up to shield their eyes from the strong light as well. His Holiness is well known for his sense of humor which is often directed towards himself, and one finds him chuckling with glee when he steps into the mode of the holy trickster.
Expressing his joy in the Catholic Priests joining him for the discussion, the Dalai Lama said, “These days I feel I am quite old, but with them… I am young!”
His Holiness discussed the importance of human values and ethics with a sense of global responsibility.” A peaceful world “is better” he said. “Inner peace… attitude, make one ultimately more peaceful… calm.”
“Beyond Religion,” His Holiness explained, “means not relying on religious faith”… but on “the universal way — love.” He spoke about the importance of the “mother’s touch” as a major factor for human development.
“God creates humanity” he said, “Our whole world. The Creator himself, is filled with compassion. God means infinite compassion.”
His Holiness then went to talk about “cause and effect… cause and effect.”
“Feeling sadness,” he said, “is an experience — cause. Bring joyfulness, happiness” into life, he suggested to change “effect.” Personally, I have long believed that happiness is a choice, and in that, His Holiness resonated with my own belief that you must choose to change the cause and effect things have on your life.
All persons who follow their traditions (religious) “should be compassionate.” “Affection, compassion not religious traditions,” he told the audience, “these qualities are beyond religion.”
“Secular ethics,” he went on to explain, “some are offended by “secular. The word means respect all religions and non-believers. No preference to any religion.”
Brother David Stendl- Rast responded he felt there was an attitude against religion, or religious institutions. Stendl-Rast used the term “sacred secularities,” noting that the divine is in everything.
His Holiness noted that religion can lead way to the practice of hypocrisy, or as I would define it, the “my god” theory that leads people to work to convince others that their “god” is the only “god” or “way”.
With seven billion humans on the Earth, the Dalai Lama said, “many do not have a day to day concern with religion.” But they all ”share our responsibility to build a happier, more peaceful world.” Some of seven billion people may have a “self centered view” and that makes our society unhealthy. ”We are social animals, our self centered attitude exists from society.”
To better develop a ”sense of ethics” in all people, we need to educate with compassion using both common sense and science, from kindergarten up. Education must focus not only on physical health, but also mental health, which is equally important. His Holiness stressed that this was not about heaven or hell, or Nirvana, but how to build a better world — strictly based on a secular approach that. “That is the meaning of ‘Beyond Religion’.”
”Education brings more equality,” His Holiness explained.” “Now we are in the 21st century. We need some effort of compassion.” And he stressed that the “female should take a more active role in this,” as scientific studies show that women are more inherently compassionate.
Each person, should “make some kind of difference” in the world. “A worldwide movement starts with the individuals, not from government, not from religion.”
“Think more — keep enthusiasm to do something — make a difference.”
“Think of humanity — generation to generation.” There are “no regrets” at the time of death, knowing “I make attempts for a better world. Only memory of what you have done matters.” Ask the question… Have I had a meaningful life?
The event with His Holiness the Dalai Lama then shifted to a moderated conversation which featured Reverend Liz Walker as facilitator and Father Thomas Keating and Brother David Stendl- Rast responding on the theme of ‘Beyond Religion.’
Father Thomas Keating responding first, told the Dalai Lama, “your example of compassion is touching many people,” as evident by the crowd.
Pulling away from Christian dogma, Keating said, “Science has become a voice that needs to be heard.” “Nature is not just looking at a sunset — it is looking at the source, the creative force of nature. The brain is the master of the evolutionary process, capable of moving towards compassion and the mysteries of life.”
Ethics and values, he stressed are not dependent on religion. They are providing principles for globalization, and there is now an interdependence in everything, which is backed up by science.
“There are many ways” Keating said that, “God draws people to himself — religion is just one way. We can sum up this to move beyond — manifesting (now) in a technological way. Transcending the limitations of realization… To know there is a higher power — Science is telling us it (realization), is beyond our ancestors. The realization of there is no other — everything is a manifestation of the source.”
By way of a parable about getting along with one another, he went on to say, “Mystics can live in the womb of God. If you are in the womb with someone else, it is a good idea to get along with them. We not only respect other religions, but can love them for their manifestation of God.”
Moving on to Brother David Stendl-Rast – Rast, began by saying that ”God is a name for that mystery” that is at the center of religious traditions. If we use the term God, Stendl- Rast said, one must ”know that God isn’t somebody,” and he isn’t “somebody else. God is a word that stands for that mystery. We don’t know where we came from or where we are going. Life has its ups and downs — that is where faith comes in. Our relationship to God, in all religions is expressed differently.”
Stendl-Rast then asked the Dalai Lama, “How can we help people to bring this (understanding) from the head to the heart? And how can we stand up fearlessly in the world?”
The Dalai Lama responded, “First make clear all differences in an inter-faith discussion.”
Buddha, he said, “never enforced views, he taught views. It doesn’t matter, different philosophy or views, it is the same purpose.” “My view,” he said, is “one day all teaching the same, and (to include) science.”
“Destructive action comes from destructive emotions. Commitment to God reduces the self-centered attitude.” We, all human beings have the “same emotions. Our brains make us different from animals.”
“Too much tell lies,” His Holiness said, “No one trust. Be honest and truthful, life will be happier and healthier. Anger is bad for your health. Sometimes our intelligence is used wrongly — creates hatred. The greatest gift from God is this intelligence.”
”Compassion based on attitude — compassion is biased. Cherish oneself is simply — I want a happy life. Infinite love can be achieved.”‘
Brother David Stendl-Rast asked the Dalai Lama, How do we deal with fear?”
His Holiness replied, if there is “distrust within yourself” it is from a level of self-confidence. “Remain honest, truthful – then self-confidence comes.” Again, stressing truthfulness, he said, “Tell lie — more stress, more anxiety, more fear. Fear with reason is good — fear without reason is not.”
Reverend Liz Walker then asked Father Thomas Keating, “are we basically good or evil?”
Keating pointed to Adam and Eve and said “God invites everybody to become God on his terms. Humans don’t have the understanding of true happiness. Science is offering us another suggestion — we’re unevolved.” While we are indeed evolving as science proves, “when we are in trouble we regress.”
Reverend Liz Walker asked ”what about the human condition with this secular view developing, gives us hope?”
Brother David Stendl-Rast responded, “The mother looks (at her child) with eyes that say you can do better. We can look at the world with the eyes of a mother and say you can do better.”
Father Thomas Keating said, “Only love. We don’t have to attribute to Adam and Eve any longer, if a person is not too evolved yet… someone without compassion and understanding.”
Brother David Stendl-Rast also noted, there is “so much to be grateful for. When we choose happiness, we are too busy for negativity.” There is a hunger for “gratitude and mindfulness.”
His Holiness the Dalai Lama concluded saying, “I believe no one wants suffering, no one wants troubles. Destructive emotions — fear, attachment, make you suffer. Scientists say constant fear is eating our human systems. Education can reduce ignorance. Destructive emotions are the source of problems. The creator God, is full of compassion. The basic nature of human beings is positive. Ignorance is negative.”
The event was filled with so much food for thought and contemplation. Although it is well known that His Holiness the Dalai Lama has embraced science for some time, it was enlightening to hear Father Thomas Keating and Brother David Stendl- Rast also looking beyond the confines of their religion and acknowledge that there is so much more that science brings to the table.
As a longtime spiritualist, of a more secular nature as described by His Holiness in his talk on Beyond Religion, I felt a sense of hope that we can all work together to create a more peaceful world. It starts as a tiny ripple in the water, and it radiates outward like a heartbeat. Each of us must take the steps to learn inner peace and embrace happiness. Those are the gifts of God, the Creator, the Universe. We can each use those gifts to make a difference, to make the world a better place. That endeavor, to make the world a better place, has been my calling for as long as I can remember. If I touch just one person, open just one heart, enlighten just one mind, I have succeeded in some small way as His Holiness the Dalai Lama has.