Thekchen Chöling, Dharamsala, HP, India – Lord Richard Layard, Professor at the London School of Economics and founder of ‘Action for Happiness’, welcomed His Holiness the Dalai Lama to a conversation this morning about ‘Creating a Happier World’. He told him that today marks the tenth anniversary of the start of ‘Action for Happiness’, an organization he said His Holiness had joined before it was formed. He reminded His Holiness that they had shared a platform in Zurich discussing secular ethics when he explained his plans for ‘Action for Happiness’ and His Holiness told him, “I want to join”.
Later, he said, in the Lyceum Theatre in London, His Holiness launched Action for Happiness’s course, ‘Exploring What Matters’. Trials have been held to assess what difference attending the course had made for participants, and positive results, an increase in basic happiness, have been significant. “I remember that as that event in London came to an end, a BBC correspondent backstage asked you what single thing would make people happier and you immediately replied, ‘Warm-heartedness’. It brought tears to my eyes.”
Layard opened the conversation by asking His Holiness how we can make our hearts warmer.
“We are well-equipped from birth to be warm-hearted and to take care of others,” he replied. “Our very survival depends on other members of our community. From the moment we are born we depend on our mother’s affection. Becoming familiar with being taken care of when we are young prepares us to look after others when are able to. Being warm-hearted and taking care of each other is a natural thing to do.
“The problem is that our existing education system is oriented towards materialistic goals, but doesn’t take account of our need to maintain a healthy mind as well as a healthy body. However, school-children recognise that they enjoy classes taught by teachers who smile happily more than those taught by teachers whose expression is stern and grim. Even animals respond if we are warm-hearted towards them. Dogs wag their tails and I’ve seen birds eat out of the hands of people who are warm and peaceful towards them.
“Warm-heartedness is the key factor in creating a joyful community and a happier world. It leads to a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood. I’m determined to contribute to creating a community with a sense of the oneness of humanity, a community in which faith or colour are secondary to the fact that we are all the same as human beings.”
Layard remarked that some people seem to be cold-hearted as a result of experiences they’ve had. He asked His Holiness how he had retained his inner radiance and loving smile in the face of many difficulties.
“The whole of Tibetan culture is focussed on not doing harm,” he told him, “even towards insects. If a child catches a flying insect, someone else in the family will say, “Don’t kill it”. We are Buddhists, but we share with other religious people the idea of kindness to other creatures.
“My mother was very kind. I learned about compassion from her. I was chosen as the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama and taken to Lhasa where what I learned about compassion and Buddhist philosophy I found to be very useful.
“Later I came as a refugee to India, a free and democratic country where members of all the world’s great religions lived together in peace and harmony. I’m a guest of the Government of India, and as a result I’m safe and happy. And I consider it to be my responsibility to share what I’ve learned about inner peace with others.
“In recent decades, I’ve engaged in discussions with scientists who have come to appreciate the importance of finding peace of mind. They recognise, for example, the contribution peace of mind has to make to better physical health and well-being.
“I’ve met many different kinds of people, but meeting them doesn’t make me more conscious that I’m Tibetan or Buddhist, it makes me realize that we are all the same in being human.”
Lord Layard wanted to know the secret of making good relationships.
“I believe that all seven billion human beings alive today are essentially brothers and sisters,” His Holiness replied. “To think only of ‘my nation’, ‘my people’, ‘my group or community’ is out of date. This narrow thinking too easily leads to conflict. In our interdependent world we have to think instead of the oneness of humanity. We have to consider the wider community because we have to live together with each other. This is why we have to try to educate others to appreciate that humanity is one family.
“In addition to our interdependence, we face the serious challenges of climate change and global warming that we can only meet if we act together and help each other.
“We are social animals. If someone is angry with you, it’s important to remain warm-hearted towards them. Today’s enemy may become tomorrow’s friend. If they behave negatively towards you and you are hostile in return there’ll be no end to the trouble between you.”
Lord Layard recalled His Holiness telling him that founding an organization to promote greater happiness was not his job. However, he agreed to be the Patron of Action for Happiness. Layard asked if he had a message for the movement’s members. His Holiness laughed and told him:
“Your organization is based on cultivating a peaceful, warm-hearted attitude towards others. It’s wonderful and so practical. It shows there is hope for the future. We can create a happier world and a happier humanity. It’s wonderful. And I think your members have already discovered that we are much happier when we’re helping each other.”
Professor Layard handed over to Dr Mark Williamson, the Director of Action for Happiness, who was to co-ordinate questions for His Holiness from members of the organization. “It’s a pleasure to see you again,” Williamson began, “I have very happy memories of our time together in London in 2015.” He introduced the first questioner who asked what can be done for children who have become depressed due to the ramifications of the covid pandemic.
His Holiness acknowledged that the pandemic has been very serious across the world. Crucial medical research is going on. But as far as children are concerned, the most important thing is to reassure them with care and affection. That reassurance will bring them peace of mind and make it easier for them to be hopeful and optimistic.
He told a woman grieving over the death of her husband that although she’d lost him, she still had the support of the rest of the community and that maybe in time she’d find another husband.
His Holiness advised a young man concerned about how to remain compassionate and hopeful in the face of threats such as racism and climate change that it is human nature to be warm-hearted. However, besides warm-heartedness we also have to use our human intelligence. Recognising the brotherhood and sisterhood between us is the basis for maintaining a happy community.
“As we’ve seen recently in the floods in Germany, Belgium and other parts of Europe,” His Holiness remarked, “it’s wonderful that when things are difficult, people help each other. Acting on the basis of warm-heartedness and intelligence is the way to create a safer, happier world.
A woman in South Africa asked His Holiness how to cultivate friendships with others like his with Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
“The key factor,” he replied, “is trust and mutual respect. We belong to different traditions, but we are both human beings who practice loving kindness and forgiveness. The differences between us are secondary. I really love Bishop Tutu. There was an occasion when he’d been singing my praises and he ended by saying with a smile, “Unfortunately this person is not a Christian.” The important thing is that we consider ourselves brothers because we’re both human.
“I think of myself as just another human being and on that basis, I regard the many people I meet as trusted friends. Emphasizing that I’m Buddhist or Tibetan only serves to isolate me from other people. The crucial factor is that I’m just a human being. When I visit different places and meet people with different backgrounds I smile and they respond. This is a deep source of happiness. Warm-heartedness brings me benefit and I try to share that experience with others.
“We Tibetans have suffered in all sorts of ways, but we don’t regard the Chinese fundamentally as enemies because they are human beings just as we are.”
His Holiness was asked what can be done to help healthcare workers who are overstretched and exhausted. He acknowledged that people who dedicate themselves to the service of others can become tired and discouraged. They need to be realistic, he said. To really be of help to others they need to rest in order to be physically and mentally fresh. Looking after themselves contributes to their being able to be of help to those in their care.
A woman who recently lost her father to covid wanted advice about dealing with grief. His Holiness told her he understood her distress and mentioned the advice of an ancient Indian master who recommended thinking about the suffering you face and examining whether there is anything you can do to overcome it. If there is, that’s what to do. There’s no need to lament. On the other hand, if there’s nothing to be done, being sad won’t help.
“When my mother passed away,” His Holiness recalled, “I was sad, but instead of getting upset, I made prayers for her well-being. It would be good to think about what your father would have wished you to do and do that.”
Finally, with regard to how to lead a happier life His Holiness reiterated that in the past people had less understanding of the importance of peace of mind or how to achieve it. Now this knowledge is growing. The key factor for the future generation, those who are children today, to appreciate is the importance of warm-heartedness coupled with an awareness of the oneness of humanity. Narrow-minded thinking only of people like us is out of date. The whole of humanity has to learn to live and act as a single community.
Mark Williamson thanked those who had asked questions as well as thanking His Holiness for answering them.
“This has been an amazing event,” Lord Layard declared. “You have been our inspiration over the years. Thank you for being with us today. I’d like to thank the Office of Tibet in London for co-ordinating the occasion and members of the audience for being with us.
“We have a new motto—Happier, kinder, together. You’ve helped us with that. Thank you.”