The Dalai Lama recently spoke to about 6,300 people on “The Centrality of Compassion in Human Life and Society” at Standford University. He repeatedly stressed a secular approach to compassion that reaches beyond individual creeds and beliefs. He spoke of the need for mutual respect and friendship, the care and education of children, and ongoing dialogue for conflict resolution.
Evident throughout was his fascination with science, the neurology of the mind and brain, the interest in the intricate distinctions between mind and body that led him to be a founding benefactor for the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) at Stanford.
The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is an old friend at Stanford: This event marks his third visit in recent years, with the promise of more to come. His talk was peppered with personal anecdotes, and although he spoke in a broken, heavily accented English, occasionally consulting his translator, his infectious chuckle quickly had the audience eating out of his hand.
He chose to focus on what unifies us: Beyond race, ethnicity, nationality and religion, “We all have the desire to achieve a happy life, and everyone has the right to achieve a happy life,” he said. “We are 100 percent the same on this level,” he said. “We human beings are created as social animals. Any social animal in order to survive depends on community,” he said.
In answer to complicated situations of deceit and injustice, he emphasized taking a holistic view – “compassion, combined with wisdom, always helps a broader perspective…Affection begins in the home, he said, and particularly from mothers – but this biologically rooted compassion will not extend far beyond the family unless extended by reasoning and unless the understanding our own well-being is linked to the love of others.”
During a question-and-answer session, about the poor – why one is unable to bridge the “compassion gap” from feeling sympathy to acting with compassion – “You should be realistic: If you can do something on the spot, do it.”
In a valedictory note, he turned the future over to the students gathered to hear him. “This century, whenever we face problems, we have to find ways through dialogue,” he said. The 200 million people murdered in the last century, he said, underscore the need for non-violence, mutual respect and compassion. “You belong to the 21st century,” he said. “My people belong to the 20th century. We’re ready to say goodbye.”
Stanford neurosurgeon James Doty, the director of CCARE, told the Maples Pavilion gathering: “Often when we see immeasurable suffering, we feel overwhelmed. But every one of us has the capacity to make one person suffer less every day. Every day go forth and do what you can do.”