Dharamshala — Three different groups of students attended a talk on secular ethics given by the spiritual leader of Tibet, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, on May 19, at his residence in Dharamshala, India.
10 from the University of Minnesota are taking a short course in Tibetan Medicine at the Men-tsee-khang and 20 were from the University of Guelph, Canada, and are serving as volunteers within the Tibetan community in Dharamsala. They were joined by twenty-five students and staff from Tong Len a charitable trust whose vision is to support displaced Indian communities in the Kangra Valley, North India.
The Tibetan spiritual leader urged the students to make 21st century 'a more peaceful Century. His Holiness told the youngsters that whereas he belongs to the generation of the 20th century that is coming to an end, they belong to the 21st century and have the future ahead of them.
The Nobel Peace Prize Laureate also emphasized the importance of reason for raising awareness about the basic human nature of compassion which he said would create a peaceful world.
"My generation seems to have created a lot of problems on this planet that your generation will have to work to resolve. You'll have to work to create a more peaceful world. But since basic human nature is compassionate, there is hope. If our basic nature was anger, there would be none."
His Holiness introduced the students from Tong Len as originally children from slums with no prospects. He explained that Tong Len has helped about 300 children over the last 14 years, some of whom are now pursuing higher education.
One of the Tong Len staff described the program of holistic development and education in secular ethics they following with the students. She mentioned a Secular Ethics Yatra in which the students interact with children in other schools on the topic of secular ethics. A second project that is referred to as 'Marketing Secular Ethics' is more focussed on sharing these ideas with a wider public. It includes preparing placards and leaves with messages about, for example, the value of compassion.
Several students were invited to talk about their experience of training in secular ethics. One explained how anxious and challenged she was when she arrived at Christ University in Bangalore. She felt overwhelmed at being surrounded by students who were rich and fluent in English, but restored her confidence by thinking of what she'd learned about competency in self-acceptance/ courage.
Another spoke of her aspiration to train as a doctor and the value she had derived from competency in discernment, which helps her make good decisions. A young man mentioned his work with empathic concern, saying, "We are poor and have known suffering. We don't want others to suffer as we have. We want to create a peaceful, supportive society." Another young man following a B.Com course in Kangra said he used to be a beggar and has found his work with 'appreciating kindness' very helpful in calming his feelings of anger.
"Wonderful," His Holiness responded, "you are putting my vision into action. You are showing how we can share the idea of ethics with others, without having to rely on this or that religious tradition, but based on common experience and human values. Everybody appreciates kindness, but unfortunately our modern education system, with its materialistic goals, doesn't have much room for inner values. We need to make people more aware of such inner values on the basis of scientific findings, common sense and common experience."
His Holiness went on to explain his own commitments, firstly as a human being committed to promoting a sense of the oneness of humanity. Secondly, the fact that India is the one country where all the world's religious traditions live amicably side by side shows that harmony among religious traditions is possible and he is committed to promoting it. Thirdly, as a Tibetan, despite his retirement from political affairs, he is dedicated to preserving the ecology of Tibet. He pointed out that since great rivers like the Brahmaputra and Indus rise in Tibet, India is one among several Asian countries with a right to concern about those water sources.
Regarding Tibetan knowledge and culture, he said: "India is our guru. We are the chelas or disciples, but nowadays it seems we have kept the knowledge we received from you alive through rigorous and ongoing study, while it has been largely forgotten here. Today, I feel committed to encouraging a wider revival of ancient Indian knowledge. This includes a profound understanding of the workings of the mind and emotions and how to tackle our destructive emotions.
Dwelling on the subject of promoting secular values and ethics, His Holiness said: "If we can also train people in secular ethics we can put an end to problems like corruption, the gap between rich and poor, as well as social inequality. We can create a fairer more equal society."
He also answered questions from the students groups. His Holiness talked about the need to analyse whether there is any value in emotions like anger. He remarked that we never hear a doctor tell a patient that they need to be angrier; instead they advise them to be calm and relaxed. He said that if we think about it, it's clear that anger destroys our peace of mind.
Regarding contentment he observed that it's helpful on an individual level. On a community level, however, there is no place for a contentment that leads to complacency. Communities actively need development.
Asked how to cope with negative situations or experiences, His Holiness referred to Shantideva's advice to assess a problem realistically. If it can be solved there is a need to take the appropriate action—worry will not help. If the problem cannot be resolved to worry is of no use.
To a student who asked how to bring about positive change in the world His Holiness replied "a more compassionate education". In relation to China he said perhaps there is a need for another Cultural Revolution. The first was motivated by anger and hatred. What is needed now is a cultural revolution motivated by compassion. He added that more honesty and truthfulness would lead to less suffering and more kindness and compassion would lead to less anger.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama has become a source of spiritual comfort for growing number of students from around the world who are stressed by their fast paced modern life.