After smiles and brief greetings this morning, His Holiness the Dalai Lama took his seat for the second day of the Compassionate Leadership Summit.
“Yes, start,” he said. Richie Davidson, who is moderating the meeting asked whether he slept well last night.
“Always,” His Holiness replied, “Nine hours.”
“Yesterday, we examined how to balance social engagement with the cultivation of a good heart,” Davidson summarized. “We asked when it’s ok to leave home and what home is, how to find beauty in the midst of adversity. We examined the role of fathers as teachers of compassion and how to sustain hope in the face of challenges such as these young people face every day. Today, we have seven individuals who will share aspects of their lives and ask you a question.”
Ronan from Ireland was the first to address His Holiness: “Yesterday you spoke to all of us about the seven to eight billion people alive today and how we need to recognise that we are all one. I challenged what you said. And the background of my challenge is that I have led political strategy for Extinction Rebellion a non-violent, civil disobedience group who follow the example of Gandhi and Martin Luther King.
“We are peaceful activists who have been jailed for trying to raise awareness that what we face is a climate emergency, not just a sustainability crisis. We are on a path to extinction and the force of compassion is not enough. My grief is about how impossible it feels to change the world. It hardens into a cynicism that a vision of oneness, something so beautiful feels impossible. It feels simple, sentimental and naive.
“We are here to lay our suffering at your feet. When I was in Extinction Rebellion I went beyond my physical limits. My body broke down. We are in an age of burn-out. I put myself under stress that triggered a chronic pain condition, pain like you feel in your knees, but all over my body. There seems to be little treatment. I have to accept what is otherwise unacceptable.
“In the winter of 2019 I had thoughts of suicide. What held me back was that I felt I couldn’t do that to my parents who had already lost one son when years ago my brother was knocked off his bicycle and died. The other factor that stopped me was the idea that in March 2020 I was going to meet you. As Albert Camus wrote, “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.”
“I don’t have a question to ask. I’d like to make a request that we sit in silence together.”
After a quiet interlude, His Holiness spoke.
“You may know, I have four commitments. First of all, I’m a human being and I see that there is widespread dissatisfaction. People don’t face physical distress but mental unease and that can be relieved. We tend to think negatively without stopping to look and see that the world is quite beautiful. So, some of our mental unease is our own creation. We sometimes need to look at things from a wider perspective and see that they are not so bad. We all have a seed of compassion.
“We human beings are not like predatory animals such as tigers. We have a concern for others because we are social animals, which forms the basis for our other good qualities. None of us are isolated, we are part of society. We have friendship. It’s basic human nature to appreciate a sense of community.
“Now, we have to remember that this world is our only home. The effects of global warming are another matter, but this world is a pleasant place to be. I lost my own country, but India has been very hospitable. I’ve met other people here and elsewhere and observed that as human beings we are physically, mentally and emotionally the same.
“I’m a refugee. I lost my country. But wherever we are, we are still human beings. When I smile at someone, they almost invariably smile back. Through the internet, television and radio we can be in touch with the rest of the world. The whole population has become our community and seven to eight billion human beings have become part of our family. We have to live together. We can’t escape to another planet. The moon looks beautiful in the sky, but we couldn’t live there.”
Anju from India spoke next of growing up in a family wracked by emotional turmoil. She asked if it’s all right to feel pain in the head, which is manageable, rather than in the heart.
“We can see two levels of suffering or pain,” His Holiness replied, “one is on a physical level and another is about mental unease. We need to investigate the causes of whatever makes us uneasy. We can nearly always find ways and means to overcome them. I have faced a lot of problems, but by using my intelligence to analyse them have been able to maintain my peace of mind.
“One of the things that differentiates human beings from animals is our ability to be not only reactive, but to plan and prepare.
“We Tibetans found we were not alone, but part of humanity. We received great help. When I escaped from my homeland, as I was walking through the mountains, I wondered what would happen. When we reached India, we found many people who welcomed us warmly.”
Kristin, whose family was from Taiwan, spoke of growing up in Texas and feeling invisible. She decided to become a writer and journalist to be able to plant seeds for social healing, but work at a newspaper seemed to expose her to tragedy after tragedy. She described how watching others suffer leads to a certain numbness. She asked how to cope with grief when it feels too much to bear.
“Our outlook, how we judge these things, is to some extent about how we deal with problems and suffering,” His Holiness told her. “I have a spiritual outlook. For me things have causes and conditions, some of which I have contributed to. The fact that some young children remember their past lives is for me an indicator that we live life after life. But most of all, I feel happy to be a human being.
“Knowledge gives us courage. If we had only one life, we might well feel demoralized, but the idea of leading many lives brings me optimism. Buddhist traditions have many techniques for training the mind so there’s no need to feel disheartened.
“To go back to my commitments, firstly, as a human being I’m committed to helping other human beings live happier lives. Despite material development, people face all kinds of mental unease. I’m determined to help reduce this mental unhappiness.
“Secondly, as a Buddhist monk, I’m dedicated to promoting inter-religious harmony. All religions accept the value of warm-heartedness. Some believe in God; others have faith in karma. When I hear about fighting among religious people, I feel very sad—as if medicine has become poison.
Thirdly, I have to think about the Tibetan community because of the hopes they place in me. They look to me to strengthen their own determination. Traditionally the Tibetan people have looked to the Dalai Lama to maintain their moral principles.
“I’m committed to trying to keep the Buddhadharma alive—through knowledge, not just prayer. It’s a tradition that includes wonderful explanations of the nature of the mind and how it dissolves into subtler states of mind at the time of death when the innate mind of clear light manifests. That’s what goes on to the next life and ultimately what goes on to Buddhahood.”
Ramses from Mexico expressed a passion for education. He wanted to know how to inspire young teachers to be compassionate.
His Holiness began by saying that education is particularly important for human beings, as compared to other animals, because we have such developed brains that need to be educated.
“I believe in altruism,” he went on. “No matter how capable a person may be, no one can survive alone. We depend on the community in which we live. By dedicating ourselves to the welfare of others, we actually bring about our own benefit. As soon as I wake in the morning, I dedicate myself to helping others to be happy, which gives me self-confidence and inner strength.”
Krystal from New York told His Holiness it was a gift to be in his presence. She mentioned that five years ago she lost her brother when he committed suicide.
“It shows such a depth of suffering when death is the only option,” His Holiness responded. “This is why, when you face problems, it’s so important to look at them from a wider perspective.”
“I wondered how he got into that situation,” Krystal continued, “and six months later I felt I’d got there too. I felt pain without being able to fix it. Now, in my work, I bring together people who have experienced grief and loss and by coming together we heal. My question is, as someone who has experienced loss, how have you coped with grief?”
“It’s true,” His Holiness answered, “when you think of others, you no longer think only of yourself. When we face problems, we can use our intelligence to overcome them. We have to tell ourselves, ‘I’m a human being and I’m not alone’. We need never feel hopeless.
“As part of my daily Buddhist practice, I reflect on this verse from the Indian master Shantideva.
As long as space endures
And as long as sentient beings remain,
Until then, may I too remain
To help dispel the misery of the world. 10/55
“The vast long-term perspective of this brings significant inner strength.”
Vipul from western India asked what practice His Holiness would recommend for young people the world over.
“Again, as part of my daily Buddhist practice, there are further verses from Shantideva’s Bodhicharyavatara that I find it helpful to recite and reflect upon.
All those who suffer in the world do so because of their desire for their own happiness. All those happy in the world are so because of their desire for the happiness of others. 8/129
Why say more? Observe this distinction: between the fool who longs for his own advantage and the sage who acts for the advantage of others. 8/130
Proceeding in this way from happiness to happiness, what thinking person would despair, after mounting the carriage, the awakening mind, which carries away all weariness and effort? 7/30
“These remind me how essential it is to cultivate an altruistic motivation.”
Gabriela from Romania described herself as the oldest member of the group, but also as the protector of the youngest, who is in her womb. She revealed that she was born in fear under the rule of a dictator. Now her country borders on Ukraine and Russia and fear has been renewed. She said she works with business leaders who put others’ benefit before profit. She asked how to deal with fear.
“The opposite of fear is autonomy, having a sense of control over what happens to you,” His Holiness replied. “Totalitarian systems are contrary to human nature. They will change.
“When we think about fear, there are two types, legitimate fear for which there is some valid basis and fear that is rooted in our mental projections. There’s a Tibetan saying that if you let your mind run wild, you’ll see a robber in an empty house.
“We have to think about the reality of the situation and remind ourselves that the basic orientation of our hearts needs to be altruistic. The peace of mind that results from this brings us physical comfort too. We have better health and sounder sleep, and we can make the best use of our inner resources. When we adopt an altruistic perspective, it brings us a broader, more far-reaching outlook—courage.”
Richie Davidson brought the session to an end. “For me as a scientist, this gathering has nourished my heart. I’d like to express my deepest appreciation to you change makers who will change the world. Thank you, Your Holiness for your time and thank you Tara and Dan for having the idea for the meeting. Your Holiness, you have brought us together—may you live long and in good health.”
His Holiness replied, “It’s my determination to do whatever I can to serve. Thank you.”