Los Angeles, California, 3 May 2011 - Holiness theDalai Lama began his program in Long Beach on May 3, 2011 morning by meeting with members of the Board of the Gaden Shartse Thubten Dhargyeling Center as well as some of its long time practitioners. They were led by Gaden Shartse Abbot Jangchup Choedhen.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama meets with members of Gaden Shartse Thubten Dhargyeling Center in Long Beach, California, on May 3, 2011. Photo/J. Hackert
Afterwards, His Holiness left for the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles to give a public talk on “Secular Ethics, Human Values and Society“ organized by the University’sStudent Interfaith Council and co-hosted by the Dalai Lama Foundation and the Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values.
The University’s Dean of Religious Life, Varun Soni, gave the initial welcome remarks before the talk, which took place in the University’s Galen Center. He said the University was grateful for His Holiness coming to the event despite being under the weather. His Holiness was introduced by Dr. James Doty, Chairman of the Dalai Lama Foundation and board member of the Brain and Creativity Institute at USC.
His Holiness began by talking about his recent ailments. He said it first started with a throat problem for which he had taken some Tibetan medicine and on account of taking more than the dosage he suffered problems, which he jokingly said was of his own making. However, His Holiness said since then he is well and was fit and because he is able to maintain a calm state of mind despite whatever situation developed, he was able to sleep well. He in fact told the gathering of around 5000 people that he had 10 hours of sleep the night before.
Venue at the University of SouthernCalifornia in Los Angeles, where His Holiness the Dalai Lama spoke on “Secular Ethics, Human Values and Society“ on May 3, 2011. Photo/Steve Cohn
His Holiness referred to this situation to say that through his own experience he is able to see that it is very helpful to have a calm mind. He said at the age of 16 he had lost his individual freedom (a reference to his having to assume political leadership of Tibet at that young age then) and at the age of 24 he had lost his country (after China’s complete takeover of Tibet in 1959) as well as a little dog that he had. Even to this day even though there are occasional positive news from Tibet in general thesituation there is sad one. His Holiness said despite these developments, he has been able to maintain a calm mental state.
His Holiness said although money, fame, power, as well as strong physical body were important he said ultimately the development of an individual depended on inner strength. He added that inner strength could never be brought about through anger.
He then talked about his commitments to promote human values and religious harmony. He said everybody wanted happiness and had the same right to happiness.
Talking of the role of religion in history, His Holiness said throughout history some kind of conflicts has taken place in the name of religion. He, however, added that it was absolutely wrong to use difference in philosophy or view to start conflicts. He said the main message of all religions were the same, namely practice of compassion, love and forgiveness.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaking at the University of Southern California on May 3, 2011. Photo/Steve Cohn
HisHoliness said the common aim of humanity is to have a happy world. Sucha happy world will have to be based on the existence of a healthy community, which in turn needs to be based on a healthy family, which fundamentally depends on individuals, he said. His Holiness therefore added that without changing individuals a happy world is not possible.
He said while religion helps in this endeavor he felt that given thereality in the world there was the need to find a means for the objective without having to touch on religion. He said secular ethics was thus needed. Here he clarified that his definition of secularism wasthe one that was promoted in India where the Indian Constitution talkedof secularism in the sense of respect for all religions. He said some of his Christian friends felt that secularism meant disrespect of religion, which he did not subscribe to. His Holiness said a former deputy prime minister of India had even told him that Indian secularism even included respect for non-believers, too.
His Holiness then talked about human capability in being educated about secular ethics and practicing the same saying that unlike animals human beings have intelligence to bring about calmness of mind. He talked about Pope Benedict XVI drawing attention to the need for faith and reason to go together and said that there is now a trend of making aconnection between development of warm heartedness and external development.
Some of the 5,000 audience members who came to hear His Holiness's the Dalai Lama's public talk at the University of Southern California on May 3, 2011. Photo/Steve Cohn
HisHoliness then answered questions, some of which were submitted through the Internet. The first question was on His Holiness’ emphasis on compassion as a basis of ethics. It asked whether in some situation ensuring justice is more important than being compassionate to the perpetrator of a crime. It referred to the news of the death of Osama Bin Laden and the celebrations of it by some, and asked where compassionfit in with this and ethics. In his response, His Holiness emphasized the need to find a distinction between the action and the actor. He said in the case of Bin Laden, his action was of course destructive and the September 11 events killed thousands of people. So his action must be brought to justice, His Holiness said. But with the actor we must have compassion and a sense of concern, he added. His Holiness said therefore the counter measure, no matter what form it takes, has to be compassionate action. His Holiness referred to the basis of the practiceof forgiveness saying that it, however, did not mean that one should forget what has been done.
His Holiness then answered a few other questions, including one relating to how a student should approach the issue of holding on to one’s principles while facing the reality of having to repay student loans and earn a living working for corporations whose principles did not complement his thinking. Here His Holiness said he wanted to quote the Buddha’s teaching that you are your own master and said the student should judge. To a question on whether His Holiness could think of any unethical acts that he had committed, His Holiness responded in the positive referring to “my relation with mosquitoes,” much to the amusement of the audience. His Holiness expanded saying if there was no risk of malaria then he would tolerate a mosquito or two sucking blood from his arm but when they come one after another, he would lose his patience.
His Holiness concluded my emphasizing on the importance of educationand awareness. This public talk was hosted by the University of Southern California’s Student Interfaith Council and co-hosted by the Dalai Lama Foundation and the Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
His Holiness the Dalai Lama address a luncheon at the University of Southern California on May 3, 2011. Photo/Don Farber
Ina statement announcing today’s event, Interfaith Council President Sarrah Shahawy said, “The USC Student Interfaith Council is deeply honored to host His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, who embodies the religiouspluralism and interfaith cooperation which we stand for. We anticipate that his visit will greatly enrich our USC community and enliven our discussions on interfaith dialogue, social responsibility, and spirituality and science.”
Following lunch, His Holiness gave a brief address to the attendees of a luncheon during which he emphasized on the importance of donors to watch how their money was being spent.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama greets the audience the USC's Board Auditorium before the panel discussion on May 3, 2011. Photo/Steve Cohn
He then went to the University’s Board Auditorium to participate in a discussiontitled “Secular Ethics: Origins, Elements and Their Function in Society.” His co-panelists were Antonio Damasio, David Dornsife Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Southern California; Gideon Yaffe, Professor of Philosophy and Law at the University of Southern California; Jonathan Haidt, Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia; and Dr. Duncan Williams, Shinjo Ito Distinguished Chair of Japanese Buddhism at University of California at Berkeley. Pico Iyer, acclaimed journalist, essayist and author of a recent biography of the Dalai Lama, moderated the session.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama and panelists during their discussion at the University of Southern California on May 3, 2011. Photo/Don Farber
Thediscussion touched on the role of individuals, religions and science regarding human behavior and how secular ethics fit into these. His Holiness expanded on how his concept of secular ethics related to human development. He talked about his interaction with scientists saying he had two purposes in doing so. One, to expand knowledge and secondly to see the role of moral ethics in enabling scientific knowledge to become constructive.
Over 600 people attended this session. Following this discussion, His Holiness returned to his hotel. This is His Holiness’ first visit to the University of Southern California.
On May 4, 2011, His Holiness will receive the "Shine A Light" Award from Amnesty International and give a keynote address on Human Rights atthe California State University.
In the afternoon, he will visit University of California Irvine for a public talk on “Compassion & Global Leadership.”
As a child, my mother Enid often said to me, “There is no such thing as a silly question,” and then would add, “unless.” This latter word was left hanging, and I eventually realised that it was up to me to learn the depth of its meaning.
At the same time that Enid was planting seeds for reflection, my first spiritual teacher, Ven. Lama Senge Tashi, encouraged me to cultivate more skilful thoughts, speech and actions. Sometimes I would try to verbally assert “I” or “Me,” and Lama would respond with, “Who is speaking?” or “Who is asking?”
During the Covid-19 pandemic a dharma sister passed from this life. Her name was Robyn. Although she did not call herself a Buddhist, nevertheless, Robyn had a special connection with the deity Medicine Buddha.
Over the six years that I worked with her, in my role as a hospital chaplain, Robyn frequently asked me to chant the mantra of Medicine Buddha and guide her through the visualisation. During her many stays in hospital, this particular practice brought comfort to her while she was experiencing chronic pain, anxiety and fear of the unknown. The medications she took would sometimes cloud her memory, so I would guide her through the details of the visualisation and begin chanting:
Once, as I was about to hold a summer Dharma class on a beach, as the first students began to arrive for the session I picked up two rocks and carefully placed them, one on top of the other, on to a much larger rock base. Observing what I had just done, three students approached: a young married couple and their five year old son.
True Seeing (Ven. Shih Jingang) One day, while Little Pebble and his Master were walking through a garden, the old teacher stopped to look at a white rose in full bloom. He motioned for his young disciple to join him, and they both sat down near where the flower was growing.
‘Little Pebble,’ said the Master, ‘when you look at this object, tell me what you think about it.’
‘The flower is pretty,’ stated the boy. ‘I like it.’
‘’’Flower,” you say. “Pretty, like it,” you say,’ replied the Master, looking to see how his young disciple reacted. Then he added, ‘Mind creates names like flower, and thoughts of like and dislike, pretty and ugly. This mind is small and closed, but if you can see beyond it to the nature of mind, then all is vast like space, completely open to all things. In this state of awareness, there is neither a flower nor a non-flower. Understand?’
But the young disciple did not quite understand, so his Master continued, ‘Little one, come here each day,
One day, Little Pebble went to his teacher, and said, ‘Master, my friend’s dog Tiger died.’
The look on Little Pebble’s face told the old monk that he was troubled. ‘Little one, do you have any questions?’
‘Master, where did Tiger go?’
‘Where did you come from?’ asked the old monk.
‘From my mummy’s tummy.’
‘And where did Mummy come from?’
Little Pebble couldn’t think of an answer.
The Master regarded his young disciple for a moment, then said, ‘Remember, when you made shapes with mud and named them Mummy, Daddy, Master?’
“Calling forth the Great Compassion, we are one with our True Nature; that which is directly Buddha, also indirectly Buddha. Oneness with the Triple Treasure, endless, joyous, perfect being. Morning thought is Kuan-Shih-Yin, evening thought is Kuan-Shih-Yin. All present thoughts arise from Mind, no thought exists apart from Mind.”
These are the words of the Ten Verse Life-Prolonging Kuan-Yin Sutra. Who is reciting them?
A few blocks away, an old man is crying out for help and someone hears. He is a brother, sister, father, mother from a previous life. A phone is picked up and then there are footsteps running towards the sound, “Help me! Help...” Someone sees the old man sitting on the top step, near the front door of his house.
No past, no present, no future. All created things arise and pass away. All names and labels dissolve. You can observe this in meditation practice and, in experiencing impermanence in life and so-called death.
At the conclusion of the Diamond Sutra, it is said that, this is how we should view our conditioned existence: as a star at dawn, a bubble in a stream, a drop of dew, a flash of lightning in a summer cloud, a flickering lamp, a phantom and a dream.
Today I sit alone in a house. The government of the country in which I live has requested that I stay here in isolation for the health and safety of the community both here and abroad. Countless others are doing the same thing, except that some call it a forced lock down, or an obstacle to their free movement. I see this as an opportunity to practice.
The Buddha taught that the suffering connected with birth, sickness, old age and death is a fact of life for sentient beings in Samsara. But so is the possibility of transcendence from Samsaric suffering.
So, for a practitioner, the question is not just “Why?” but also “How?” Why do I/we suffer and, how do I/we overcome suffering? The answer to the former is found in intuitively recognizing (the 3 Poisons): harmful habits of attachment, anger and ignorance; and the answer to the latter lies in resolving to study and practice the Noble Eightfold Path (the antidote) and, fully realizing Buddhahood for the benefit of a
In the Dhammapada, the Buddha says, “What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: our life is the creation of our mind.”
The Covid-19 pandemic has given many millions of people worldwide time to reflect on their lives and habits of thought, speech and action.
I know quite a few who have found a refuge of peace in their gardens. Cultivating, planting seeds, adding water and nutrients all help in maintaining a healthy garden. They are also a necessary part in taking care of our bodies. But what about the mind? Generosity, ethics, loving-kindness, compassion, meditative concentration and wisdom are the food for our inner spiritual garden. Without them there is no harvest, no fruit of Awakening, Buddhahood.
As a child my parents encouraged questions, as did my Heart Lama. However, the latter person gave me two questions to ask before speaking: “will what I am wanting to say, and the way I say it, be helpful or harmful to myself/others? Also, does the question come from ‘I don’t know’ (beginner’s mind), or from a place of judgement and opinions?” The aim was/is to cultivate the mind to be like an empty vessel, not one filled to the brim and overflowing where nothing new can enter.