Thekchen Chöling, Dharamsala, HP, India – This morning, His Holiness the Dalai Lama was invited to speak about Compassion in Healthcare by Dr Reddy’s Foundation, a not-for-profit organization established by Dr K Anji Reddy. GV Prasad, Co-Chairman and Managing Director of Dr Reddy’s Laboratories Ltd opened the occasion by giving a short introduction to His Holiness. He ended by congratulating His Holiness on celebrating his 86th birthday yesterday.
“Namasté, Tashi Delek, good morning,” His Holiness greeted the audience. “I really appreciate your giving me this opportunity. I was born in Tibet, but I have spent the major part of my life in this pleasant and peaceful country. Here there is religious harmony and freedom of the press. I am able to express my thoughts freely and they can reach out to different parts of the world. I’m happy to be here.
“As far as my birthday, yesterday, is concerned, many old friends and well-wishers sent me their good wishes. Among them were the Indian Prime Minister, Ministers of the Union Cabinet and Chief Ministers. From abroad too I heard from friends including the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi. Her support has extended beyond kind words. She has actually visited Tibet, spoken to Tibetan and Chinese leaders, as well as coming here to Dharamsala. I want to thank all of them for their generous thoughts.
“Signs in my dreams and other indications have suggested that I may live to be 110 or even 113 years old. I felt the friendly messages I received yesterday were sincere and whole-hearted, not just diplomatic gestures. They encourage me to live as long as I can.
“My daily practice, which includes several hours of meditation, derives from the Nalanda Tradition. In the 8th century, the Tibetan King invited a great scholar, Shantarakshita, to Tibet. He introduced the Nalanda Tradition that is the source of all my knowledge. I consider myself a student, perhaps a scholar, of that tradition, although a local DSP referred to me jokingly as the Nalanda Chancellor. Everything I learned in my training came from India and it is all based on reasoning.
“In recent decades I’ve met with several modern scientists and we’ve been able to enter easily into discussions because they and I take a reasoned approach. Modern scientists mostly concern themselves with the brain and physical health, with little regard for inner peace. However, many of them today appreciate what we have to say about tackling our disturbing emotions and achieving peace of mind.
“My main practices involve karuna (compassion) and ahimsa (non-violence). These are qualities we need more than ever today. Many of the problems we face are of our own creation. They come about because of a lack of compassion. That’s why I’m dedicated to promoting both compassion and non-violence in a secular context grounded in reason.
“Compassion is the core message of all religions, which is why, despite philosophical differences, it’s possible to respect them all.
“My latest commitment is to reviving ancient Indian thought on a secular basis. Modern education is useful in many ways, but for it to be more complete we must combine it with ancient Indian knowledge, karuna and ahimsa, and also with an understanding of the workings of the mind derived from ‘shamatha’ and ‘vipashyana’—a calmly abiding mind and insight.
“In the last century, Mahatma Gandhi demonstrated non-violence through his own example. He inspired followers in Africa and America like Archbishop Tutu and Martin Luther King Jr. Today, in a world where bullying and killing still take place, we need compassion and non-violence. And I’m committed to finding ways to combine these ideals with modern education. When restrictions related to the covid pandemic allow, I’m looking forward to discussing with educationists how this can be done.
“As for the role of compassion in healthcare, naturally, when our mind is disturbed it has a negative effect on our physical health. Our blood pressure rises and we find ourselves unable to sleep. I think it’s because I have peace of mind that I’m able to sleep soundly for nine hours, no matter what’s going on around me.
“Everyone wants to take care of their health, but we need to acknowledge the effect peace of mind can have on our physical well-being. Meditating on karuna and ahimsa can contribute constructively to this, which is why I’m interested in introducing these qualities and combining them with modern education.”
In answering questions from the virtual audience His Holiness advised that even under pressure of time, doctors should think of their work as something sacred, as akin to spiritual service. He mentioned that in his own experience a smiling doctor puts you at ease, whereas a stern-faced physician is a source of anxiety.
Even when doctors and nurses know the patient in their care is unlikely to survive, it’s important to be kind and compassionate towards them. Here in India we believe we live life after life and that at the time of death it’s important to be at peace not angry or fearful. At the start of our lives we encounter compassion in our mother’s affection, and as our lives come to an end we need compassion again.
As for controlling our negative emotions, attachment and anger are part of our lives, but there are also antidotes to them. We need to reflect not only on the damage anger and fear can bring, but also on the benefits to be found in cultivating karuna and ahimsa and find a balance between them. One of the masters of ancient India, Shantideva, has written exhaustively about the drawbacks of anger and hatred and the advantages inherent in compassion and forgiveness.
A question was raised about the universal message to be drawn from among the diversity of faiths. His Holiness responded that India is unique in that all the world’s major religions flourish here and live together in mutual respect. He mentioned that although there is sometimes discord between followers of the Sunni and Shia traditions elsewhere, he’s not heard of any such conflict in India. His Holiness emphasized that whatever the faith, the common message is compassion for others. And it’s on such a basis that religious harmony thrives.
His Holiness was asked how, at a time when medical treatment has become allied with business, it can continue to be practised with empathy and compassion. He answered that every human activity should be infused with affection. Today, he said, all seven billion human beings have to live together, so a sense of the oneness of humanity is more necessary than ever before. When people are motivated by compassion, honesty and truthfulness naturally come about. The work of doctors and nurses is to help others, so compassion is certainly relevant.
He clarified, however, that generosity must also be tempered with intelligence. If you offer money to someone who drinks too much or is addicted to drugs you help them do themselves and their families harm. This is an example of needing to be discerning and realistic, as well as open-handed.
In a world facing challenges of a global dimension, a narrow national approach is inappropriate. Human beings are social animals who have to live together. We are dependent on each other. During this covid pandemic peoples and nations have a common responsibility to tackle the problems that have arisen. We have to consider the welfare of all human beings. India, where an array of people with different cultures and different languages live together as Indians sets an example of unity within diversity.
His Holiness recommended that in order to avoid mistakes in diagnosis or treatment of serious cases, doctors should discuss patients’ needs as a team. He added that it is important to encourage patients to feel that a hospital and its staff are there to help and protect them. At the same time, it is important that doctors and nurses feel proud of the work they do for it is of real and practical service to others.
He went on to say that on those sad occasions when medical personnel lose their own lives in the care of others, their family and friends should feel proud of them. Observing that it is right and proper to admire such sacrifice, but also to pray for the welfare of those who have died, His Holiness remarked that he prays for those medical professionals who have given their lives in the course of their work.
G.V. Prasad brought the event to a close, telling His Holiness how happy members of the audience had been to listen to him and how proud they feel that he refers to himself as a ‘son of India’. “Thank you and namasté,” he concluded. His Holiness responded, “Thank you, see you again.”