I’ll be the first to admit that I am woefully ignorant when it comes to the Dalai Lama (although less full of woe thanks to Kristi’s great background post on His Holiness), but I was still jittery with excitement as I flocked to Maples Pavilion this morning with hoards of students and visitors. I was eager to hear the man himself speak, and in my opinion, he did not disappoint. After a brief introduction by President Hennessy, the Dalai Lama began to address the packed arena (but not without a bit of jovial debate beforehand about whether he should sit or stand while speaking. For those of you salivating to know, he did, in fact, stand)
Although flanked by his long-time interpreter, His Holiness spoke to the crowd in English in a low, raspy voice. During his lecture – entitled “The Centrality of Compassion in Human Life and Society” – His Holiness discussed both the religious and secular justifications for compassion in life. He argued that regardless of faith, there are numerous reasons to engage in compassionate behavior (my favorite being low blood pressure). The Dalai Lama stressed that in order to achieve happiness for ourselves, we must incorporate not only compassion, but also trust, into our lives. The argument was simple, but the message powerful. In our wildly complicated world, the Dalai Lama can serve as a reminder that sometimes the path can be clear and simple – even if following it isn’t always the easiest thing to do.
While I could go into more detail about the specifics of what was said during the lecture, I’m sure a script will soon be available online for the interested, so I’ll defer. His Holiness’ talk was followed by a question-and-answer session led by James R. Doty, Director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research (CCARE), which hosted the event along with the Stanford School of Medicine and the Office for Religious Life. Questions were submitted by attendees prior to the event, and included topics such as “Does scientific research on human qualities such as compassion reduce human morality to mere chemical reactions?” To which the Dalai Lama replied that the mind, at least at the moment, appears to be a far more complicated thing than simply the combination of physical occurences. How else, he pointed out, could different emotions – happiness, laughter, sadness – result in the same physical reaction of tears?
Although many interesting things were said during the talk, the most striking part of the experience from my perspective was His Holiness’ absolute lack of pretense. I find it amazing that as renowned and revered a man though he his, his demeanor is completely free of pomp or stiffness – his shoulder sans chip, you could say. Even from my seat way in the upper deck, I could easily feel his famed humility and good humor. From unabashedly asking to be reminded the title of his talk to happily recounting anecdotes about his childhood, the Dalai Lama managed to set a informal tone without compromising the sincerity of his message. His entire attitude was that of someone who doesn’t take himself overly seriously – a true anomaly at a place like Stanford, where taking ourselves seriously just might be a prereq for admission.