Inaugurating a Conference on the Concept of ‘Maitri’ or ‘Metta’ in Buddhism
December 12, 2018
Mumbai, India – There was warm sunshine and the skies overhead were blue as His Holiness the Dalai Lama drove to the University of Mumbai today. He had been invited to inaugurate an international conference on the concept of ‘maitri’ or ‘metta’, commonly translated as loving-kindness or friendliness. He was met on arrival at the Vidyanagari Campus, Kalina, by the Vice-Chancellor Prof Subhas Pednekar, Maharashtra Government Minister Rajkumarji Badole and Head of the Department of Philosophy, Dr Geeta Ramana. They accompanied His Holiness to the Green Technology Auditorium, where he was invited to join the audience of almost 300, students and faculty, taking a seat in the front row.
Dr Archana Malik-Goure welcomed the guests and everyone present. For the first few minutes, five students, one of whom was blind, presented a rigorous performance of yoga asanas while keeping a lighted candle steady on top of their heads. At the same time a series of questions and reflections on the concept of ‘maitri’ was projected onto a screen above them. Children presented nosegays to His Holiness and other guests.
Introducing the occasion, Dr Geeta Ramana declared that the University and the Dept of Philosophy in particular was blessed by His Holiness’s presence. She explained that a three day conference beginning today would consider the familiar concept of loving-kindness and friendliness from a philosophical standpoint. She invited the Vice-Chancellor to present His Holiness with a shawl, after which a large number of members of faculty processed onto the stage to offer their own greetings.
The first guest of honour, Shri Rajkumarji Badole, who is himself a Buddhist, opened his remarks by reciting lines for taking refuge in Pali. He spoke first in Marathi and then in English stating that ‘maitri’ is a state of mind that fosters a happy family and happy community. He expressed himself privileged to share a platform with His Holiness.
Vice-Chancellor Prof Subhas Pednekar told the gathering how much he appreciated the initiative of the Department of Philosophy in convening this conference to explore and discuss ‘maitri’. He professed it an honour to listen to His Holiness, someone whose work for peace and harmony in the world is so well-known.
He stated that, having been founded in 1857, the University of Mumbai is one of the earliest state universities in India. With more than 500,000 students and more than 700 affiliated colleges it is also one of the largest. It is the only university to have produced five recipients of the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award. He concluded by requesting His Holiness to release the second issue of the first volume of the Dept of Philosophy’s journal and to give the inaugural address.
“Respected sisters and brothers,” His Holiness began, “in today’s world, we need to make a special effort to promote loving-kindness. Women have a special role in this since they are generally more sensitive to others’ pain. In my own case, it was my mother who first taught me about kindness. She sowed the seed in my mind. It is our mother who gives most of us a living example of kindness right at the start of our lives.
“On the other hand, the warriors of the past were almost entirely men. They are celebrated as heroes and yet they were killers. Isn’t it the case that most butchers too are men? Therefore, it’s reasonable to salute our sisters first.
“I very much appreciate your convening this conference; we need this kind of discussion. In some ways loving-kindness is something we take for granted, yet it is something we need to make an effort to develop. Our level of education is highly developed, but look at the world around us. We’re at peace here, but elsewhere, at this very moment, people are being killed and innocent children are starving. Look at what’s happening in Syria and Yemen. We make too much of differences of nationality, faith, or race and neglect others’ suffering because they are ‘not like us’.
“In the 20th century, so much suffering took place due to violence and war, and yet we still tend to think that we can solve problems by resort to the use of force. This is not a healthy sign, but most of the people on this planet are fed up with violence. Look at how many demonstrated against the impending war in Iraq. Another example is the creation of the European Union by nations that had fought throughout history. After the horrors of the first and second world wars they concluded it was more important to protect the common interest rather than assert national sovereignty.
“Coexistence takes effort, but we should work to make this century an era of peace and non-violence. We need a human approach to solving problems between us. We need to talk instead of fighting, engaging in meaningful dialogue based on mutual respect. Anger is rooted in having a sense of ‘us’ and ‘them’. We need instead to respect others as members of humanity like us. We must also aim to create a demilitarized world. To achieve external disarmament, however, requires inner disarmament. That’s where ‘maitri’, loving-kindness, comes in.”
The global economy is contained by no national boundaries. The threat of climate change is not limited by national boundaries either—it affects us all. These features of our lives require that we work together. His Holiness explained that modern education is oriented towards material goals, but it also needs to focus on inner values. Alongside physical hygiene, we need emotional hygiene, learning to tackle our destructive emotions.
Mothers gave birth to all 7 billion human beings alive today. They survived as a result of care and affection. As young children they did not care about nationality, faith or caste, but learned to distinguish such differences resulting in a sense of ‘us’ and ‘them’. This is how we create problems for ourselves, despite the fact that at a deeper level we are all the same in being human. ‘Maitri’ and ‘karuna’, friendliness and compassion are essential in day to day life. We find them described in religious texts, but we can observe and develop them in an objective, secular way.
“It’s easy to be kind to our relatives and friends,” His Holiness continued, “but harder towards our enemies. An enemy may appear to be hostile, but is still a human being like you. Friendly loving-kindness to an enemy is genuine loving-kindness. Similarly, unbiased compassion towards an enemy is genuine compassion. That’s what we need to train to achieve.
“Because anger and hostility destroy our peace of mind, it is they that are our real enemy. Anger ruins our health; a compassionate attitude restores it. If basic human nature were angry, there’d be no hope, but since it’s compassionate, there is. This is why cultivating inner values should be part of education. It’s also why I’m trying to revive ancient Indian knowledge of the workings of the mind and emotions. The Buddha was the product of Indian traditions like ‘ahimsa’ and ‘karuna’. We need to revive these qualities, combine them with modern education and share them with other countries in Asia.
“Since the 8th century, we Tibetans have upheld the Nalanda Tradition to which Shantarakshita introduced us. It involves study of difficult texts with an emphasis on reason and logic. My training, like that of other Tibetan monks and nuns, has involved such an immersion in the Nalanda Tradition that although I am physically Tibetan, I’m mentally Indian. Many of you may be physically Indian, but I suspect are more mentally inclined towards the West. Ancient Indian knowledge can help us cultivate peace of mind. Within that ‘maitri’ is a basic human value not just a Buddhist concept that we can come to understand objectively.”
In the course of answering questions from the audience His Holiness discussed the decline in attention to inner values that resulted from educational institutions’ ceasing to be influenced by religion after the industrial revolution. Now, there is an urgent need to develop a more balanced, secular education that takes inner values into account. If we do that, we may see what a waste of resources it is to pour money into, for example, nuclear weapons that no one dare use. The funds would be so much better spent on health and education.
His Holiness stressed that we will not achieve change by prayer alone; we need to take action. In the context of physical, verbal and mental action, it’s mental action, motivation that is most effective. It takes a positive motivation to do benefit. If we take a holistic approach, free from emotional bias, our action will be more realistic.
Dr Archana Malik-Goure brought the meeting to an end by thanking His Holiness for his presence, telling him it had been a privilege to listen to him. She also thanked everyone who had been involved with convening the conference—the Minister, Vice-Chancellor and Registrar, as well as the organizing committee.
“Almost ten years ago,” His Holiness observed, as he inscribed a copy of ‘Science and Philosophy in the Buddhist Classics—the Physical World’ for the Vice-Chancellor, “we began to think about the Buddhist literature that had been translated into Tibetan from Sanskrit and to some extent Pali. The content of these more than 300 volumes can be classified as dealing with religious or purely Buddhist topics, but also with Buddhist philosophy and science. We set about extracting material dealing with Buddhist philosophy and science, compiling and publishing it first in Tibetan. This collection has been translated into several languages and I want to give you this first volume published in English. I urge you not to preserve it untouched on a library shelf but to encourage people to read it again and again until it is worn out.”
His Holiness joined his hosts and invited guests for lunch in the nearby student hostel of the Centre for Excellence in Basic Sciences before returning to his hotel.