Thekchen Chöling, Dharamsala, HP, India – Seeing the faces of students and their Professor, Arthur Brooks, on the screens before him this morning, His Holiness the Dalai Lama smiled and waved. The students and their professor waved back. Brooks greeted him, saying, “Tashi Delek” and told him how excited he was about the impending meeting. He introduced His Holiness to the virtual audience as the leader of the Tibetan people, who has worked tirelessly for their dignity. He also described him as a voice for human unity.
Brooks, who teaches a class in Leadership & Happiness at Harvard Business School, opened the conversation by asking His Holiness how spirituality and meditation can help us find happiness. His Holiness’s first response was to say how honoured he felt to be talking to students and teachers at Harvard.
“The very purpose of our lives is to lead a happy life,” he went on. “If things become unbearable, we are liable to lose the will to live. So, self-confidence and hope are key factors for our survival. Just as we need to observe physical hygiene to stay well, we also need to cultivate emotional hygiene, learning to deal with destructive emotions like fear and anger. Confidence and a sense of hope give us the will to see our lives as useful and meaningful, a source of inner strength, ultimately leading to peace of mind.
“We are social animals. From birth, others look after us. As we grow, we learn to help each other and life becomes meaningful. Selfishness is not only contrary to social behaviour, it’s impractical. To be realistic, we need a sense of the oneness of the seven billion human beings alive today. In that context, selfishness undermines our pursuit of happiness. Look at young children. They have a natural, happy sense of community with their friends and companions.
“Education is very important in today’s world and the Harvard Business School can be influential in exercising and sharing the ideas we’ll discuss today. The idea that all human beings belong to one community is not explored enough. It’s important to appreciate that we are all the same in being human. Wherever we are from, we all have to live together on this one planet.
“Today, the economy is global, but the threat the climate crisis represents is global too. We can’t just think locally anymore because these issues affect us all. In the past we might have thought only of our own village, our own nation, even our own continent. Today, we have to think of all of ‘us’. We have to use our human intelligence in a broader way, taking the whole of humanity into account.”
Brooks asked His Holiness why, in his experience, some leaders are unhappy with their lot. His Holiness answered that it’s difficult to say. Certainly, some leaders seem to create trouble for themselves. He said that of the number of leaders, including spiritual leaders, he’s met, those who were more liberal and open-minded seemed to be happier. Those more concerned with themselves have tended to be less happy.
His Holiness again highlighted the crucial role of education. If the education system encourages narrow-minded thinking, that’s how leaders will turn out. This is one good reason why the education system needs to be more broad-minded and compassionate, focussing on the whole of humanity.
His Holiness dismissed a question about leaders being lonely on the grounds that these days television and mobile phones put us in touch with everyone. Technology has greatly improved our ability to communicate. He contrasted nomad families on the vast grasslands of Tibet with the millions who live side by side in modern cities. The nomads are often physically distant from each other, but they know and trust that, should the need arise, they can call on each other for help. In cities, not only do neighbours not know each other very well, their level of trust is low. Loneliness can be a symptom of being self-centred and having insufficient concern for others.
With regard to becoming happier, more effective leaders, His Holiness quoted what members of the Pritzker family had told him when they invited a group of Tibetans to settle in the vicinity of Chicago. They expressed appreciation of Tibetans strong sense of community responsibility. They hoped the way Tibetans tend to live in peace and harmony would set an example for others to follow.
His Holiness also referred to his admiration for the European Union and the way historical enemies decided to set their hostility aside in favour of the wider European community. These days when they talk of ‘we’ and ‘us’, they’re thinking of the whole community. He expressed the hope that young people today can learn from this.
In replying to students’ questions His Holiness recommended paying attention to medical advice about how much connection people can safely have while trying to limit the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. He remarked that long periods of isolation have provided him with the solitude to meditate.
Asked how technological developments influence the polarization of society, as opposed to developing harmony, compassion, and respect for differences, His Holiness stated that it depends on how we use technology. He cited the example of nuclear weapons whose power to deter war and preserve the peace depends explicitly on their not being used. How we use technology, such as social media, depends on our motivation and our overall attitude. Remembering that we belong to one human community trying to live together in harmony on this one planet will lead to more positive results.
As soon as we are born, our mothers show us compassion and provide us with security. This experience of happiness is the basis of our survival, but it is also the basis of our human community. Because he regularly reminds himself of the oneness of humanity, His Holiness declared that wherever he goes and whoever he meets, he regards them as human brothers or sisters. He observed that this sense of equality is a reason why democracy is a better system of government than rule by kings or queens. He added that since the Tibetan community in exile achieved an elected leadership he has been able to retire completely from his political responsibilities.
When a student wanted advice on dealing with frustration and disappointment, His Holiness repeated what he called the practical advice of an Indian scholar from the past. Analyse the situation; study it. If there is a way to overcome the difficulty you face, there’s no need for worry or fear. Just put the solution into effect. If the problem is beyond your control, fear and worry won’t help.
“Ultimately,” His Holiness added, “whether life is successful or not depends on us. We are our own masters. Knowledge and self-confidence are important. Foolish or poorly founded confidence can be dangerous. Take a broad perspective. Look at things from different angles. Analyse and investigate, but combine your analysis with warm-heartedness.
“Business takes place within human society. Whether it’s a success or not depends on others. If they trust you, you’ll be successful. Education and training need to focus on the consequences of our actions for the whole of humanity and the well-being of society in the long run.
“Real happiness is related to our mind and emotions rather than material prosperity alone. This is why even poor people can be happy and joyful. Business people and the wealthy may have plenty, but if they always want more, they feel discontented. We may be physically well-off, but fear and mistrust on a mental level are likely to stoke anger and jealously, ultimately leading to unhappiness. Pursuing a materialistic way of life doesn’t provide all the answers, we also need to learn how to manage our emotions.
“Being contented on a mental level is the main thing. The Tibetan yogi Milarepa lived in an empty cave on the side of a mountain. One night he woke to find a thief searching the cave. He laughed at him saying, ‘How do you think you’ll find at night what I can’t find during the day?’ Milarepa looked like a beggar, but because he knew how to maintain peace of mind, he was wealthy within. We need to learn how to strengthen our constructive emotions and how to reduce those that are destructive.”
His Holiness told a student who wanted to know how he viewed different approaches to spirituality that one of his personal commitments is to respect all spiritual traditions. He observed that they reveal differences of philosophical view, but share a common message of compassion. Even within Buddhism there is the Pali tradition that depends on faith and the Sanskrit tradition that is shaped by logic and reason. Masters of the Nalanda tradition took it upon themselves to investigate even the Buddha’s words.
His Holiness explained that this background of reasoned investigation, always seeking the reason why, has enabled a fruitful dialogue to develop between Tibetan scholars and contemplatives and modern scientists. As a result, Tibetans have revised their views of cosmology and as scientists refine their understanding of the brain Tibetan scholars and contemplatives have shared with them their understanding of the workings of the mind. His Holiness emphasised taking an objective, unbiased approach to investigation.
Arthur Brooks asked what business and government leaders can do to bring happiness to others. His Holiness told him that since so many of the problems we face are our own creation, it’s crucial to understand the workings of our minds and emotions. He stressed that we can look at these in a purely objective and secular context. He mentioned the useful observation of quantum mechanics that there is a difference between appearance and reality. Disturbing emotions, such as fear, suspicion and anger, are based on appearances.
“Analyse your emotions,” His Holiness declared. “Ask yourself whether you’re angry with your opponent’s mind, his body, or his actions. If you investigate carefully, you’ll find that your opponent is not intrinsically hostile as he appears to you. In fact, nothing exists intrinsically as it appears to do. Your opponent has not been your enemy from birth, neither has your friend been someone you’ve been attached to for all that time. Becoming a friend or an opponent is dependent on circumstances. The idea that there is a difference between how things appear and their reality is something I find very useful.
“The views we adopt are sophisticated; our negative emotions are sophisticated; but our ability to question and investigate are sophisticated too.”
Arthur Brooks briefly summarized the conversation, the main theme of which was that happiness arises from showing love and affection for others. He highlighted four points: Happiness arises from being useful, from showing concern for others. Unhappiness is something we create in our own minds when we think only of ourselves. We need to employ our intelligence with warm-heartedness. And since happiness is rooted in showing love and compassion for others, we need to be able to think of our fellow human beings as our brothers and sisters.
Brooks expressed the hope that the morning’s conversation would inspire the young people listening to be the kind of leaders who lift others up and thanked His Holiness for his participation.
“Time is always moving on,” His Holiness replied. “The past is past and can’t be changed. The future can be shaped by the present. Those of you who are young now hold the keys to a happier future. Don’t just copy what has been done before, be imaginative and realistic. This is why sharpening your minds is important.
“My generation created a lot of problems as a consequence of some of them I lost my country and fled here to India as a refugee. But one result is that I’m no longer bound by formality and we can talk easily together, so I’ve been happy to talk to Harvard students and teachers today. I hope to see you again.”