Washington DC, USA, 20 February 2014 - His Holiness the Dalai Lama returned to the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) this morning to participate in two panel discussions, the first involving members of the AEI and the second involving members of the Mind & Life Institute (MLI).
President of AEI Arthur Brooks' question for the morning was whether the free enterprise system is the best way to deal with our situation. His Holiness responded:
"We are seeking the right way to lead a happy life in happy families, in a happy nation, in a happy world. But where does this search for happiness begin? With the government? With the UN? No, the constructive work begins with the individual. No matter what profession people pursue or what expertise they exercise, people are human beings. In this city that some have told me contains too many politicians, the politicians too are human beings. As human beings we need to co-operate to meet challenges such as climate change and the population explosion.
"In the past, only Native Americans lived here until people from outside, immigrants, came to build this wonderful nation. But now the old patterns of thinking of 'them' and 'us' are out of date. Instead we need to think about the whole of humanity and remember that even if someone is strange they remain a human being. The 20th century was a turning point in many ways, but it was an era of violence and war. This century should be characterized as an era of peace, not as a result of prayer, but of action. Whatever our personal beliefs, we all have the potential to be more compassionate. My scientist friends here have more to say about this. I'm looking forward to our discussions."
Glenn Hubbard, Dean of Columbia Business School, asked why the whole world isn't rich and suggested that free enterprise is about dynamism. Brooks asked His Holiness how we can make free enterprise more effective. He replied:
"It's difficult. On the one hand the US capitalist system has generated a huge gap between rich and poor; on the other Nehru's post independence Indian socialist system was neither very successful nor efficient. Clearly both capitalist and socialist systems have shortcomings. We need to express more concern for others and consider the oneness of humanity. This will involve learning to change and adapt."
Dan Loeb, Hedge Fund Manager, said that no other system than free enterprise funds innovation and stated that the most important element he sees is education, with which even the poor can succeed.
Arthur Brooks asked His Holiness what can be done to lead more out of poverty. He replied that because things are interconnected, we have to look at the larger picture. We need education that is more realistic. We need the protection of a sound system of law and we need trust. To develop trust we need to be honest, truthful and transparent. He stressed that as long as we take care of others' well-being, there will be no room for cheating or exploitation. For the benefit of humanity we need a sense of universal responsibility.
Arthur Brooks continued by asking His Holiness for advice on how to help the poor benefit from the capitalist system. "I don't know," he replied. "Every day I engage in extensive analysis of the nature of self and phenomena. We are self-centred and selfish, but we need to be wisely selfish, not foolishly so. If we neglect others, we too lose. We have to support others. This is the common message of all major religious traditions. Because greed is dangerous, these traditions all advise contentment in our daily lives. We can educate people to understand that the best way to fulfil their own interest is to be concerned about the welfare of others. But this will take time."
As the second panel discussion began, Arthur Zajonc explained that the Mind & Life Institute served as a meeting point between science and the contemplative traditions of Asia. It has grown over a period of 30 years, during which there have been 27 major meetings and a wealth of publications. Today, MLI is actively engaged in developing education strategies and a project to map the mind.
Richard Davidson, who has known His Holiness virtually since the beginning of Mind & Life, began his presentation. He said that scientists are beginning to distinguish a difference between happiness and well-being. He mentioned genetics and the finding that 20/40% of our sense of well-being is accounted for by genetic factors. That said, the study of epigenetics shows that genes have something like a volume control, responsive to environmental factors, so their effect is not fixed.
Recalling the four factors that Arthur Brooks suggested have a role in well-being, faith, family, community and work, Davidson said that modern research shows that generosity and conscientiousness are important too. With regard to enhancing these factors through education, research shows that there are periods when the brain is especially sensitive to being trained. He concluded that well-being can be learned. The brain is plastic during early development, so programs can be designed to educate it in generosity and conscientiousness. Early investment like this brings a good return through education.
His Holiness joked that his old friend had mentioned that between the ages of 4 and 7 the brain was particularly sensitive to training and laughing explained that he had been a reluctant and anxious student until his early teens. However, he said that his training had then continued through his 20s, 30s and 40s. He felt that as long as the brain remains active, change can go on.
Diana Chapman-Walsh began by asking what price we pay in happiness when we focus too much on ourselves. She suggested that if we are to address the problems we face we will need a different kind of leadership: people skilled in leading with compassion.
His Holiness said: "Most of my life, I've lived as a refugee. Early on people were demoralized and I tried to encourage them. Self confidence is very important; indeed essential. I encouraged democracy. I've also encouraged Tibetans to understand the great value of their spiritual and cultural heritage. We can categorize Buddhist literature into science, philosophy and religion. I've pointed out that the discussion of mind and emotions is something that can form a basis for dialogue with modern science. This is something to be proud of."
Otto Scharmer's question to His Holiness was that having seen the effects of mindfulness on individuals, how can this be applied to the system as a whole? His Holiness' response was: "You know better than I do. But we need to begin our new approach to education right from the beginning, from childhood."