Holiness the Dalai Lama began his program in Long Beach on May 3, 2011 morning by meeting with members of the Board of the Gaden Shartse Thubten Dhargyeling Center as well as some of its long time practitioners. They were led by Gaden Shartse Abbot Jangchup Choedhen.
Thereafter, His Holiness left for the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles to give a public talk on “Secular Ethics, Human Values and Society“ organized by the University’s Student Interfaith Council and co-hosted by the Dalai Lama Foundation and the Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values.
The University’s Dean of Religious Life, Varun Soni, gave the initial welcome remarks before the talk, which took place in the University’s Galen Center. He said the University was grateful for His Holiness coming to the event despite being under the weather. His Holiness was introduced by Dr. James Doty, Chairman of the Dalai Lama Foundation and board member of the Brain and Creativity Institute at USC.
His Holiness began by talking about his recent ailments. He said it first started with a throat problem for which he had taken some Tibetan medicine and on account of taking more than the dosage he suffered problems, which he jokingly said was of his own making. However, His Holiness said since then he is well and was fit and because he is able to maintain a calm state of mind despite whatever situation developed, he was able to sleep well. He in fact told the gathering of around 5000 people that he had 10 hours of sleep the night before.
His Holiness referred to this situation to say that through his own experience he is able to see that it is very helpful to have a calm mind. He said at the age of 16 he had lost his individual freedom (a reference to his having to assume political leadership of Tibet at that young age then) and at the age of 24 he had lost his country (after China’s complete takeover of Tibet in 1959) as well as a little dog that he had. Even to this day even though there are occasional positive news from Tibet in general the situation there is sad one. His Holiness said despite these developments, he has been able to maintain a calm mental state.
His Holiness said although money, fame, power, as well as strong physical body were important he said ultimately the development of an individual depended on inner strength. He added that inner strength could never be brought about through anger.
He then talked about his commitments to promote human values and religious harmony. He said everybody wanted happiness and had the same right to happiness.
Talking of the role of religion in history, His Holiness said throughout history some kind of conflicts has taken place in the name of religion. He, however, added that it was absolutely wrong to use difference in philosophy or view to start conflicts. He said the main message of all religions were the same, namely practice of compassion, love and forgiveness.
His Holiness said the common aim of humanity is to have a happy world. Such a happy world will have to be based on the existence of a healthy community, which in turn needs to be based on a healthy family, which fundamentally depends on individuals, he said. His Holiness therefore added that without changing individuals a happy world is not possible.
He said while religion helps in this endeavor he felt that given the reality in the world there was the need to find a means for the objective without having to touch on religion. He said secular ethics was thus needed. Here he clarified that his definition of secularism was the one that was promoted in India where the Indian Constitution talked of secularism in the sense of respect for all religions. He said some of his Christian friends felt that secularism meant disrespect of religion, which he did not subscribe to. His Holiness said a former deputy prime minister of India had even told him that Indian secularism even included respect for non-believers, too.
His Holiness then talked about human capability in being educated about secular ethics and practicing the same saying that unlike animals human beings have intelligence to bring about calmness of mind. He talked about Pope Benedict XVI drawing attention to the need for faith and reason to go together and said that there is now a trend of making a connection between development of warm heartedness and external development.
His Holiness then answered questions, some of which were submitted through the Internet. The first question was on His Holiness’ emphasis on compassion as a basis of ethics. It asked whether in some situation ensuring justice is more important than being compassionate to the perpetrator of a crime. It referred to the news of the death of Osama Bin Laden and the celebrations of it by some, and asked where compassion fit in with this and ethics. In his response, His Holiness emphasized the need to find a distinction between the action and the actor. He said in the case of Bin Laden, his action was of course destructive and the September 11 events killed thousands of people. So his action must be brought to justice, His Holiness said. But with the actor we must have compassion and a sense of concern, he added. His Holiness said therefore the counter measure, no matter what form it takes, has to be compassionate action. His Holiness referred to the basis of the practice of forgiveness saying that it, however, did not mean that one should forget what has been done.
His Holiness then answered a few other questions, including one relating to how a student should approach the issue of holding on to one’s principles while facing the reality of having to repay student loans and earn a living working for corporations whose principles did not complement his thinking. Here His Holiness said he wanted to quote the Buddha’s teaching that you are your own master and said the student should judge. To a question on whether His Holiness could think of any unethical acts that he had committed, His Holiness responded in the positive referring to “my relation with mosquitoes,” much to the amusement of the audience. His Holiness expanded saying if there was no risk of malaria then he would tolerate a mosquito or two sucking blood from his arm but when they come one after another, he would lose his patience.
His Holiness concluded my emphasizing on the importance of education and awareness.
This public talk was hosted by the University of Southern California’s Student Interfaith Council and co-hosted by the Dalai Lama Foundation and the Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
In a statement announcing today’s event, Interfaith Council President Sarrah Shahawy said, “The USC Student Interfaith Council is deeply honored to host His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, who embodies the religious pluralism and interfaith cooperation which we stand for. We anticipate that his visit will greatly enrich our USC community and enliven our discussions on interfaith dialogue, social responsibility, and spirituality and science.”
Following lunch, His Holiness gave a brief address to the attendees of a luncheon during which he emphasized on the importance of donors to watch how their money was being spent. He then went to the University’s Bovard Auditorium to participate in a discussion titled “Secular Ethics: Origins, Elements and Their Function in Society.” His co-panelists were Antonio Damasio, David Dornsife Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Southern California; Gideon Yaffe, Professor of Philosophy and Law at the University of Southern California; Jonathan Haidt, Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia; and Dr. Duncan Williams, Shinjo Ito Distinguished Chair of Japanese Buddhism at University of California at Berkeley. Pico Iyer, acclaimed journalist, essayist and author of a recent biography of the Dalai Lama, moderated the session.
The discussion touched on the role of individuals, religions and science regarding human behavior and how secular ethics fit into these. His Holiness expanded on how his concept of secular ethics related to human development. He talked about his interaction with scientists saying he had two purposes in doing so. One, to expand knowledge and secondly to see the role of moral ethics in enabling scientific knowledge to become constructive.
Over 600 people attended this session. Following this discussion, His Holiness returned to his hotel. This is His Holiness’ first visit to the University of Southern California.
On May 4, 2011, His Holiness will receive the “Shine A Light” Award from Amnesty International and give a keynote address on Human Rights at the California State University.
In the afternoon, he will visit University of California Irvine for a public talk on “Compassion & Global Leadership.”
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