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Dalai Lama spreads compassion, advice on first day of visits

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Bad news: four years of a Stanford undergraduate education will not necessarily give you a well-rounded education, because the entire global education system needs to be revamped—according to Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, that is.

The head of state and the spiritual leader of Tibet returned to the Farm on Thursday, his third visit in recent years. He was giddy, chuckled at his own jokes and gestured while explaining how to become compassionate.

(MICHAEL LIU/The Stanford Daily) Dalai Lama presents Stanford University President John Hennessy with a scarf before speaking on the importance of compassion at Maples Pavilion on Thursday, Oct. 14.

Speaking to a standing-room only crowd at Maples Pavilion in the morning and Memorial Church in the afternoon, the Dalai Lama explained that the education system today is based on material values. This system, he argued, develops the “brain” rather than the “mind.”

“Years ago, there were two types of schools: the secular [school] and the church,” he said. “We must introduce the concept of compassion and empathy as fundamental, secular concepts that children can use as a guide to follow.”

He noted that having an open, compassionate heart brings inner strength, reduces fear and is essential to any individual’s educational development.

“Compassion, with the help of wisdom, always provides a broader, holistic perspective,” he said.

The 75-year-old Nobel Prize winner was previously at Stanford in 1994 and 2005 to talk about nonviolence, meditation, science and spirituality. This time, the primary reason for the trip was to hear about the research at the new Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE).

CCARE uses rigorous scientific methods to attempt to explain the neuroscience behind compassion and altruistic behavior. In fact, the Tibetan leader helped develop the center by donating $150,000 in 2008 to fund the institute’s establishment.

“Now, because of neuroscience, there is more attention to the mind and the relationship between the mind and the brain,” he explained. “Scientists in the medical field are beginning to see the importance of the mental state, to the health of the body.”

He added that tranquilizers, drugs and alcohol do not allow one to develop a calm mind and inner peace.

“Inner peace must develop through mental ways, through mental process,” he said.

The exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader was also at Stanford as the third annual Rathbun Visiting Fellow. He delivered his own “Harry’s Last Lecture on a Meaningful Life” and shared personal experiences on how to lead a compassionate life of purpose and moral values to a packed audience in Memorial Church.

The Rathbun fellowship was created in 2008 in memory of the late law Prof. Harry Rathbun ’16 J.D. ’29 and his late wife, Emilia. The fellows, who have included retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor ’50 L.L.B. ’52 and former Secretary of State George Shultz, give an annual speech on what it takes to live a life of meaning.

“Using force, you cannot solve problems,” the Dalai Lama reflected. “You can control or eliminate the body, but not [the] mind. You can change your mind only through compassion or education.”

The Dalai Lama experienced the use of force personally when China invaded Tibet in 1949. After a failed Tibetan uprising, he fled the region at the age of four, and has lived in Dharamsala, India, ever since. Yet he saw the move in optimistic terms—his time in India taught him valuable lessons of peaceful coexistence.

“The world should learn from India,” he said. “All the world’s major religions have peacefully existed in India for over 3,000 years.”

However, he was quick to emphasize that moral ethics do not need to be based on a specific religious faith. He noted that humans were “created as social animals” and that the survival of the individual depends on community cooperation.

“I usually try to promote the human value of compassion,” he said. “Secularism does not mean you disrespect religion.”

Sitting in orange robes and rose-tinted glasses, the Dalai Lama shied away from giving specific advice on how to make measurable steps toward world peace.

“You are the people who belong to this century,” he said. “My people are of the 20th century and are now ready to say good-bye. So…you should think how to bring a more peaceful century, a more compassionate century.”

However, he did leave the students with a clear message: the 21st century needs to be focused on dialogue instead of violence, and love instead of anger.

“Irrespective of appearances, we all have a desire to achieve a happy life,” he said with a smile. “Mentally, physically, emotionally, we are all the same. We are the same human being.”

The Dalai Lama is set to serve as a panelist in Friday’s conference, “Scientific Explorations of Compassion and Altruism,” which will also be webcast online.

Kamil Dada was president and editor in chief of Volume 237 of The Stanford Daily.