Thekchen Chöling, Dharamsala, HP, India – Today, at the behest of the California based ‘Friends of the Dalai Lama’, 32 students and their three professors from the University of California San Diego, as well as a group from Mumbai, met His Holiness the Dalai Lama at his residence. The meeting was the culmination of the students’ five week ‘Study Abroad Program’, in the course of which they have been learning about climate change, development and the alleviation of poverty, as well as medical anthropology and public health.
After greeting both groups, His Holiness said he would like to address the people from Mumbai first. Indicating paintings of the 17 Nalanda Masters on the walls, he explained that they were the authors of the major treatises that constituted the Buddhist education program in Tibet. He observed that despite strong links with China through marriage, the Tibetan Religious Emperors looked to India as the source of Buddhist culture. Literary Tibetan was based on Sanskrit grammar and the Devanagari script.
His Holiness pointed out that a unique feature of the tradition derived from Nalanda University was its employment of logic and reasoning. He mentioned the far-reaching influence the erudite scholars Dharmakirti, Shantarakshita and Kamalashila had had on the development of Tibetan Buddhism, which is now the only tradition to preserve Buddhist logic and epistemology.
“Since this knowledge originated in India, we regard India as our spiritual home,” His Holiness remarked, “which is why one of my commitments is to revive this ancient knowledge in India. In our monasteries in the South, we have 10,000 monk and nun scholars skilled in the understanding and elucidation of the treatises of Nalanda.”
Turning to the American students, he added:
“In today’s world, there is an urgent need to understand the workings of the mind and emotions, the better to be able to tackle negative emotions like anger and hatred. Since these are aspects of the mind, they need to be dealt with within the mind.”
His Holiness went on to talk about the need to introduce secular ethics to education to enable people to become more aware of the importance of cultivating inner values.
Answering questions from the students His Holiness told them that he knows that protecting the environment and taking steps to limit climate change are very important, but that he lacks the expertise to recommend what specific measures to adopt. In his own life he elects only to shower, never to take a bath in a tub—hoping in this way to save water. Whenever he is able, he also honours a promise he made to the Garhwali environmentalist, Sunderlal Bahuguna to encourage people of the Himalayan region to plant and take care of trees.
He spoke about the development of various programs to introduce secular ethics into the conventional education system, mentioning in particular a Higher Education program recently launched by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and school programs being developed at Emory University.
Asked to define compassion His Holiness pointed out that we all have biological instincts to be concerned about others, but these feelings are confined to our family and friends—people we tend to be attached to. He suggested that by employing reason and intelligence we can extend our sense of compassion to other beings, including even those we think of as enemies and that he defines as genuine compassion.
His Holiness linked the idea of human rights to the question of freedom and human creativity. He mentioned the right of 1.3 billion Chinese to free access to information on the basis of which they would be capable of distinguishing right from wrong. In this context he compared censorship to exploitive corruption. He suggested that China could do with a new Cultural Revolution, but whereas the earlier one was driven by hatred, this one needs to be driven by compassion.
Secular ethics came up again and His Holiness clarified that in the past religion had been a source of inner values for many people, but today the influence of religion has declined. Therefore, he promotes an idea of secular ethics that is based instead on scientific findings, common human experience and common sense.