Amsterdam, the Netherlands - His Holiness the Dalai Lama flew from Malmö to Rotterdam. He was received at the airport by members of the Dalai Lama Foundation who have organized his visit to the Netherlands and drove into the city of Rotterdam.
About 200 Tibetans, many of them children, and other well-wishers were gathered in front of the hotel to greet him as he arrived. His Holiness walked the entire length of the barriers on which they leaned to return their greetings. Tibetan dancers performed on the hotel forecourt. He was offered a traditional Tibetan welcome just by the door to the hotel. More people were gathered in the lobby inside.
Once His Holiness reached his room, the Indian Ambassador to the Netherlands, H.E. Venu Rajamony and his wife paid him a brief courtesy call. His Holiness also met with four people representing a larger group of 12 alleged victims who say Tibetan Buddhist teachers have abused them physically or psychologically. They presented him with written accounts of what they say happened to them and appealed to him to address the problem.
Early this morning His Holiness drove more than 80 kms from Rotterdam to Amsterdam where he was received at the Nieuwe Kerk by the Director Cathelijne Broers. She escorted him into the 600 year old building before a congregation of 450. In her welcome address she mentioned that there were people from all walks of life, including the royal family, in the church and they were joined by many more around the world through live streaming of the event. “Let’s connect through compassion and technology,” she said, “and celebrate the life of the Buddha through works of art, ancient and modern, including Ai Wei Wei’s ‘Tree’, beneath which you’re sitting. We have assembled young people and scientists to have discussions with you.”
Moderator Christa Meindersma explained that there would be two panel discussions of about 40 minutes each—the first would focus on ‘Robotics and Telepresence’, while the second would deal with ‘Sickness, Aging and Death’.
After a short video about ‘Robotics and Telepresence’, she introduced a young girl from Britain, Tilly Lockey, who, as a result of meningitis when she was 15 months old, had lost her hands. She was expected to die, but survived. “I lost my hands so young, I have no memory of having had them,” Tilly told His Holiness, “but I’ve been working with technologists who are developing these bionic limbs. I don’t mind being different and I know that other people lose their limbs suddenly and the work we are doing can give them support.”
Tilly asked His Holiness how technology and compassion could be of help to other people around the world. He answered,
“Machines are very important, but they are controlled by human beings. We human beings are not only physical entities, we also have minds. When we are motivated by positive emotions our physical actions will be constructive. Modern psychology knows about sensory consciousnesses, but doesn’t distinguish them clearly from mental consciousness, which involves emotions like anger. I’m very appreciative of the comfort and relief that technology can provide, but I’d like to see its effects implemented in less developed countries where there is still great suffering.”
Christa Meindersma introduced scholar Prof Martin Steinbuch, who holds the Chair of Robotics at Singularity University, and practitioner Karen Dolva, the developer of AV1, the world’s first telepresence robot. A short video introduced Jade, in Britain, who suffers a chronic medical condition that prevents her leaving home for extended periods. The telepresence robot, which consists of a mobile head and shoulders, allows her to participate in classes at school even when she can’t go and enables her to stay in the loop with her friends. It has a two way audio connection, but only Jade, the operator, has access to a video feed. Her question to His Holiness was about whether there has been a female Dalai Lama and if not, could there be one in the future?
His Holiness replied that he had been asked this repeatedly over the years and has answered that if a female body would be more useful, why not? He qualified this by adding that whether or not there will continue to be a Dalai Lama in the future is something Tibetans, Mongolians and people of the Himalayan Region will decide.
When Christa Meindersma asked Jade what AV1 means to her, she was clear that it gives her freedom to go to school and keep up with her friends. Karen Dolva added that the telepresence robot, which can also be helpful to elderly people suffering Alzheimer’s syndrome, doesn’t replace human contact, but augments it and keeps it alive.
“Sophisticated machine,” His Holiness asked leaning over the robot, “can you read my mind? This technology is wonderful, but I don’t believe it can reproduce the human mind. Still, you may yet prove me wrong.”
Martin Steinbuch had brought a play robot with him, a dinosaur the size of a small baby.
“These machines are material devices,” His Holiness observed, “but we also have to think about consciousness. Our waking consciousness depends on our brain and sensory organs and is relatively coarse. When we dream the senses are at rest. In deep sleep, consciousness is subtler, as it is when we faint and so forth, but the subtlest, deepest consciousness manifests at the time of death. There are cases of practitioners, like my own tutor, whose body remained fresh for thirteen days after clinical death---the stopping of the heartbeat and death of the brain---because that subtle consciousness remained.”
His Holiness explained that psychologist Richie Davidson of University of Wisconsin–Madison has undertaken a project to investigate what is going on. He pointed out that while technology can improve eye and ear consciousness, it has little effect on the subtler level of mental consciousness that nevertheless can be extended infinitely. Inner values involve the mind and ancient India was rich in understanding the mind’s workings as a result of the practices for cultivating a calmly abiding mind (shamatha) and analytical insight (vipashyana). The Buddha’s attainment was a product of such practices.
Asked to talk about self-learning robots and whether they could develop empathy, Martin Steinbuch explained that they can learn rapidly about human behaviour and can develop acute intelligence. His Holiness asked if they could comfort someone who was sad and demoralized and he declared they could, somewhat to His Holiness’s surprise. As the first panel came to an end, His Holiness blew kisses to Jade via her AV1 telepresence robot.
For the second discussion of ‘Sickness, Aging and Death’ the moderator introduced members of the panel: scholar Kris Verburgh, a doctor and medical researcher, practitioner Liz Parrish, CEO of Bioviva Sciences, scholar Jeantine Lunshof, a philosopher and bio-ethicist and youngster Selma Boulmalf, a religious student at Amsterdam University and alumni of IMC Weekend School. The challenging question raised was, “Would you like to live to be 1000 years old?”