PROVIDENCE, RI ––– “These people are the generation of 21st century,” asserted His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, before a sea of raised hands at the Rhode Island Convention Center on October 17. Invited to Brown University to give an address titled “Global Change: Creating a Culture of Peace,” the spiritual leader had asked those under the age of 30 to raise their hands. Then those below 20, and 15.
“Whenever I meet people, I always feel like we know each other, because we are the same human being,” he began. “I want to address mainly the youth. We have to think, seriously, how to build more peaceful world in this 21st century.”
His earnest entreaty called for this century to be one of dialogue, peace, and compassion.
“Do not concentrate on your own family, your own community, your own city, your own nation,” he instructed. “[You] must look beyond. Look seriously at the world as one entity, including the environment: you must pay serious attention to the environmental issue.”
About 5,600 people listened to the 77-year-old as he stood at the lectern and reflected on his years.
“Almost my whole life, some kind of violent world,” he testified, citing conflicts in China during his 1935 birth, then WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and beyond. Vividly, he recounted his boyhood visit with survivors of the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. “Really terrible,” he assured. “That century, sadly, become century of bloodshed, immense violence…Violence always brings fear, and fear increases tension, stress, frustration. And that usually creates violence. So violence often creates more violence.”
The Dalai Lama referred to the terror witnessed since 2000 as a lingering “symptom of the 20th century’s mistakes,” one that may be treated if we can come to see others’ fate as one in the same as our own.
An unprecedented duty rests with the current generation. According to “experts in science, economics, ecology, and food” he had met the previous day at MIT, the Dalai Lama attested that, in each field, there are “immense challenges,” yet also the “possibility to overcome.” More and more, scientists are coming to see that “we cannot feed human beings as a machine.” Technological progress has taken us to great heights — the moon and beyond — but our immense resources and capabilities should be prioritized for healthcare and peacekeeping here on earth, he reasoned.
The basic human emotional intelligence shared by the world’s spiritual traditions is key to surmounting interlinked obstacles of environmental ruin and economic inequality.
His Holiness noted exciting developments at universities in the U.S., Europe, and India that all feature “some kind of experimental curriculum” connecting science and spirituality. At Emory University, for example, cognitive scientists have collaborated with Tibetan Buddhist monks to learn about how the latter’s spiritual practices can give light to areas of research and therapy. The Dalai Lama found it remarkable that subjects participating in the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative showed reduced stress and blood pressure after just 2-3 weeks of cognitive-based compassion training.
After finishing his talk, he retreated from the lectern to a nearby couch to field questions and sip a cup of tea.
Brown University Professor Elizabeth Hoover, a Mohawk native, asked about parallels between Chinese treatment of Tibetans and colonial treatment of Native Americans. “From the prospective of an indigenous person who has been separated from your homeland,” she asked, “what advice do you give to your own people who are currently suffering from the forced changes to their culture, and how would you advise native people here who are suffering from the same experiences?”
“People have every right to carry on preservation of their own culture, language, [and] identity,” the Dalai Lama replied. He recounted having fled China as a refugee in 1959. “Our first priority [was] education: both modern education, and traditional education, including values, Buddhist philosophy.” He urged indigenous American cultures rendered precarious by colonial genocide to continue to educate themselves and, for those that haven’t, to “invent a writing system,” so that the heritage may live on.
But what about “violence and anti-American sentiment among Muslims in the Middle East?” asked medical student Terra Schaetzel-Hill. “How do we approach events that seem threatening from a peace-centered perspective?”
The Dalai Lama said he feels it necessary to “sort of defend Islam,” a key world religion, in a “21st century world [that] is now heavily interdependent.” He cautioned that to oversimplify the entire Muslim community is unfair, for there is “mischief among every community: Christians, Jews, Hindus, everywhere.”
So we must “extend and reach out to Muslim world,” he implored, and not merely continue “taking oil in one particular area, or meeting with kings and their families, and not meeting with [the] rest of [the] community.
“We must find a nonviolent approach based on strong, genuine, spiritual brotherhood, sisterhood — oneness of humanity on this same planet.” The audience applauded with spirit.
“So please take some of my points,” he continued. “If you feel interest, think more, and you yourself investigate some of these things, and then try to share with more people. If you feel these points not much relevant, not much interest, then…,” he paused. “Forget!” However the Dalai Lama’s rich accent led many in the audience to misinterpret his final word, including the venue’s closed-captioning keyboardist. “Fuck it,” read the errant transcription on the overhead video screen, unbeknownst to the monk and Brown University President Christina Paxon. Laughter and applause followed, and nods of approval.
Video Courtesy Brown University