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The Art and Science of Education of the Heart

His Holiness the Dalai Lama participating in a roundtable discussion with corporate CEOs in Vancouver, Canada on October 22, 2014. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL
Vancouver, BC, Canada, 22 October 2014 - After a stormy night, the morning was full of light as His Holiness the Dalai Lama drove across Vancouver to the University of British Columbia.

The trees along the way were ablaze with the red and gold shades of autumn. He was to participate in a panel discussion in the Chan Center for the Performing Arts hosted by UBC and the Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education.

An audience of 1000, mainly students, made His Holiness very welcome as he walked out onto the stage. In a short introduction, Victor Chan drew attention to His Holiness’s longstanding interest in science and technology and the efforts he has made to find common ground between the ancient Indian science of the mind and modern science.

Representatives of the Musqueam people invited members of the audience to hold hands as they chanted a welcome to “Uncle Ocean”, expressing appreciation of His Holiness’s advice. Dr Anthony Phillips, a world-renowned expert in brain function and behaviour, and a senior scientist at UBC moderated the proceedings. He introduced Kim Schonert-Reichl, who spoke of the work she is involved with, looking at what can be done to make a better life for children. She reported evidence that sometimes it is the children in the poorest neighbourhoods who are the most compassionate and are best at problem solving. She asked His Holiness to speak about his mother and the effect she had on his own childhood. He responded:

“My mother was illiterate, uneducated, a farmer’s wife. We were not so poor. Perhaps a family’s economic conditions do make a difference. The main source of happiness for the poor is just human love. I remember being at a conference in India with an old friend who came from an Indian royal family. I teased him that although his was a royal background, I may have received greater love and affection because my mother kept me with her. As she went about her work she carried me on her shoulders and I would steer her this way and that by pulling her ears. In his case, he was mostly in the care of a nanny. My childhood was full of joy.

“When it came to my education, our monastic system stressed the use of reason. The Buddha encouraged his followers to examine what he had taught in the light of reason, to investigate and experiment. I only developed a real interest in study when I was about 11 or 12, but I had an abiding curiosity. I always wanted to know how things worked. I dismantled and reassembled my toys. I worked with a Chinese monk to repair and maintain a movie projector that had belonged to the 13th Dalai Lama. This is how I learned the principles of electricity.”

His Holiness spoke of witnessing technology in factories and power plants in China in 1954, developing an interest that continued when he escaped to India in 1959. Twenty years later he initiated a dialogue with scientists focusing on cosmology, neurobiology, physics and psychology, which led to the establishment of the Mind & Life Institute. He suggested there needs to be a balance between understanding the external world and the inner world or consciousness. He also stressed the need for the application of scientific discoveries to be guided by moral principles. Looking out at the audience, he said:

“I may be nearly 80 years old, but I still consider myself to be a student like these young people.”

Prof Hillel Goelman talked about two areas of research the cases of premature infants who survive but who have a variety of disabilities and cases of older infants, 3 year olds, whose parents are anxious and depressed. Kylie Hamlin mentioned that the conventional view of 2 year olds is that they are not very generous; however, her research shows that children of that age are happy to share. She showed a video clip that to demonstrate this. His Holiness was quick to note that this showed only one child and asked about statistics. She told him that she had conducted hundreds of such experiments. She showed more video evidence revealing that young children show a preference for helping rather than hindering activities, from which she concludes that very young human beings are sensitive to basic goodness; they like it. Fostering this kind of behaviour has great potential for their positive development.

John Helliwal, who is an economist, expressed appreciation of His Holiness’s influence on science and research at UBC. He suggested that through his guidance about how to educate the heart you first have to understand the heart, he is steering research much as he steered his mother when he was young. He said that at UBC they are learning less about how to repair damage and more about how to find joy and creating better things for children. He pointed out that since Kylie Hamlin had shown that generosity is built into the human spirit, there is a need to learn how to develop it. There is a growing appreciation that material development alone is not the only source of happiness.

In his concluding remarks, His Holiness mentioned two questions that have puzzled him. One concerns turtles that lay their eggs in the sands of beaches in places like Hawaii, where the eggs hatch by themselves. He wonders if there is any sense of recognition or appreciation between the mother and baby turtles. The second question relates to mosquitoes. He jokingly explained that sometimes when in a good mood and when he is confident there is no risk of malaria, he allows a mosquito to drink his blood. He notices that once it is full, the mosquito flies off showing no sign of appreciation. Since other animals do show some appreciation he wonders how big the brain has to be before that occurs naturally. He said he put this question to professors at Oxford, but has as yet received no answer.

Finally, he addressed the young people in the audience directly. Conceding that the 20th century generation, to which he belongs, have created many problems on the planet, he suggested it will be up to the 21st century generation to clear them up. This is not a time to relax and take things for granted, he said. Too much self-centredness is a cause of the problem, part of the solution will be to acknowledge that our world is interdependent and to take the interests of all 7 billion human beings into account.

After lunch, in a 62nd floor apartment loaned by the Korean family Kim, the highest point in Vancouver, His Holiness was interviewed by Chris Anderson, curator of the TED conferences. He recalled among his earliest memories being scared by a large black camel when he was 3 years old. Asked what he learned from his mother, who, even after he was parted from her in Lhasa, used to visit him regularly with fresh bread she had baked, he answered, kindness and affection. He spoke of the way his natural curiosity was encouraged by the analytical aspects of Buddhist training. He agreed that there is a compatibility between Buddhism and science because the Buddha himself had encouraged investigation.

Chris Anderson repeated a question someone else had asked him - What is life for? His Holiness replied:

“At an ordinary level I say the achievement of happiness is the purpose of life. But happiness is of two kinds. There is the happiness of sensory experience that is relatively short-lived. But there is also a longer lasting happiness of the mind. And as human beings we have the opportunity to find that peace and happiness of the mind.”

He recollected a Spanish monk he met who had spent 5 years in retreat as a hermit in the mountains living on little more than bread and water. He asked him about his practice and the monk told him he meditated on love, and as he did so His Holiness noted a sparkle in his eyes of genuine happiness. His Holiness stated that whereas love brings self-confidence, anger brings fear. Therefore, love replaces fear and yields tranquillity. He mentioned the scientific evidence he had seen earlier in the day that children naturally respond more positively to helpfulness in others.

Anderson asked if humanity is getting better or worse:

“How optimistic are you?”

His Holiness replied:

“Look at the changes in the 20th century. In 1996 I asked the Queen Mother of England, who had lived through almost the entire century, whether she thought things were getting better, worse or were the same. She unhesitatingly said things were getting better, pointing out that when she was young there was no talk of human rights or self-determination, ideas which are now widespread. Similarly, in the early 20th century it was thought that problems could be solved by military force, which is no longer the case. Finally, at that time science and religion were far apart, whereas now there is much greater appreciation even among scientists of the value of warm-heartedness. In the 21st century we can continue to change, but it will take enthusiasm, determination and vision.”

His Holiness said he had no fear of his own death, referring to dying as a natural process. He said the key is to lead a meaningful life. Doing good for others brings tranquillity.

Regarding China, he acknowledged the PRC as the world’s most populous nation, an ancient nation of hard-working people. He said China has great potential to make a positive contribution to the good of the world, but to do so it must first earn the world’s trust. He noted that 1.3 billion Chinese people have a right to know reality and the ability, on that basis, to judge right from wrong. Therefore, censorship is a mistake. He also remarked that the Chinese judicial system needs to be raised to international standards.

Finally, Chris Anderson, curator of TED which deals with ‘ideas worth spreading’ asked what single idea His Holiness would like to spread and he replied:

“The oneness of humanity; the equality of all human beings as members of one human family. The importance of overcoming the division into ‘us’ and ‘them’.”

Meeting 20 leading corporate CEOs for a round-table discussion immediately afterwards, His Holiness maintained the theme, telling them that he considers himself just one among 7 billion human beings.


“If they are happy, I am happy. If they have problems, it’s a problem for me too. We are social animals and it’s clear to me that no matter if a family is wealthy, if its members are full of suspicion, they will be unhappy. Whereas in a poor family, in which kindness prevails, everyone is happy.”

He mentioned a Mumbai family who came to see him in India seeking his blessing. He told them he had no blessing to give, but that they had the means to create blessing themselves. He told them they had wealth and that they should use it to provide education and health care to the poor slum dwellers of their city and that that would create blessing for them.

Asked how to incorporate compassion into a business model, His Holiness pointed out that even animals display some sense of compassion. When it comes to human beings compassion can be combined with intelligence. Rational compassion can be extended to all 7 billion human beings. Compassion is a constructive emotion related to intelligence; destructive emotions are related to ignorance. Consequently, compassion can be taught and learned. He suggested that to make business kinder and more compassionate it is important to think about the nature of the global economy. He likened it to a canopy covering a large area, but supported by pillars that are businesses and national economies. This means there could be room for less secrecy and more positive rather than negative competition. Trust and a sense of responsibility are important.

His Holiness said that for him the real hope is in the coming generation, the generation of the 21st century who are growing and learning now. For them, training in warm-heartedness will be very important; therefore education is a key factor. He expressed great pleasure at seeing how seriously this advice is being taken in British Columbia. Asked how businesses could contribute to shaping the education system, His Holiness hesitated but then mentioned the example of a toy company that 10-15 years ago determined to no longer to produce toys related to violence and fear.

Time ran out and discussions came to an end. Tomorrow, His Holiness will be giving an introductory Buddhist teaching based on the ‘Eight Verses for Training the Mind’ in the morning and an Avalokiteshvara empowerment in the afternoon at the request of the Tsengdok Monastery Association and the Tibetan Cultural Society of British Columbia.

 

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