14th Dalai Lama speaks on tolerance at Rice

I am so giddy. The Dalai Lama is one of those figures that impresses no matter where you see him, but after the big-screen viewing in Central Park, hearing him speak to a relatively small crowd in a small gymnasium was a revelation.
He is so funny. And he laughs so easily, and so often – that joy was great to see. Even when speaking of the destructive emotions that fill our world today, he held out hope for humanity’s future. His talk for the Rice Community was entitled “Tolerance and Universal Responsibility“, and like Bill Clinton, he addressed the undergraduates in particular. The world is changing as we move into the 21st century, and the people who will lead us into that new reality are learning to lead, learning their values, and learning to cope now.
He spoke about the power of compassion at the community level, which I loved. When asked about bringing change at the global level, he talked about each individual changing himself, then sharing his compassion and learning about compassion with his close circle, the they all share with their neighbors and friends to become a community, and then it grows from there, until the leaders of the day after tomorrow were raised in a compassionate society. What a great vision.
He also talked about proselytizing and conversion, which I found to very interesting – that was in response to one of the hard questions from the audience. He said that for the most part, people can be happy within their own tradition, and do not need to have a conversion experience. Some people may, on an individual basis, and that is fine, if it is what is right for them as a person, to grow and be content. But mass conversions, especially conversions driven by politics or by the almighty dollar, are simply not right. (His examples for this were Indian conversions based on political or social pressures, and Korean missionaries in Mongolia for whom each conversion was worth $15.)
For the most part, his talk centered on the ideas of global community and creating a future of peace. He also spoke, though, of the Law of Causality in Buddhism, and the idea that once certain events, man-made events, reach an emotional/spiritual/societal “boiling point”, there can be no stopping of the negative fallout. So he is not suggesting that war will simply end. (And from a natural disaster standpoint, meditation won’t disperse a hurricane, either.) There may be no way solve the current world crises without further violence, simply because force has been ingrained for so long as the proper solution. But the new generation of 21st century leaders can see a new way to relate to one another – the interconnectedness of all humanity has never been more evident. His Holiness encouraged the new leaders to think of the 21st century as the “Century of Dialogue”, allowing respectful discussion and compassionate relationships to end the automatic turn to force for global solutions.
It was an inspiring talk, and at the end, one that also left us with an example of cheerful humility. A student asked what dangers students might face in today’s world, and how they might deal with those dangers with compassion. The Dalai Lama listened to the translation, needing a few clarifications, then held his hands out, palm up, and said, “I don’t know.” He went on briefly to say that the lives of students are so different the world over, but that American students especially have such freedom to acquire knowledge that they should act on it. He lamented the censorship and bias that is found in education in totalitarian states. But then he said again, that in answer to the question, “I don’t know much about student lives. I cannot answer. It is a good way to end: I don’t know.” Then he laughed, and shrugged, and we gave him a standing ovation.

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