Holding Hands with the Dalai Lama
By Hilary Minch*
When His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama comes to Derry/Londonderry, he always holds hands with his ‘hero’ Richard Moore, Founder of Children in Crossfire. Richard claimed “that while he had never held hands with another man as much in his life, nothing felt so natural and so warm”.
The organisers, Children in Crossfire, briefed us in advance that in fact his Holiness would be attending two meeting simultaneously that morning, prior to the historic walk over the Derry Peace Bridge and event at the Millennium Forum – I was intrigued how the Dalai Lama would manage to be in two places at the same time. The meeting I was at was all about bringing compassion into education. About 100 educationalists from Northern Ireland, including head teachers, representatives from boards, department of education, curriculum unit, and inspectorate attended the meeting in St Joseph’s Boys’ School.
The idea of bringing compassion into education is an initiative of Children in Crossfire. In spite of my interest in the practice of mindfulness/compassion and involvement in global justice issues, I have managed to compartmentalise and separate and not see the linkages and cross-over that naturally exists. Reading Dr Caroline Murphy’s briefing paper and attending the events with the Dalai Lama and his educationalist colleagues have reframed how I see education and compassion/mindfulness.
Dr Caroline Murphy’s paper is well worth reading – it describes very clearly how the development education work of Children in Crossfire is rooted in critical thinking towards informed action for positive change. Following reflection on this practice, the organisation has been looking at how and if the concept of compassion might enhance their work.
Compassion for Children in Crossfire is rooted in the teaching of their patron the Dalai Lama. True compassion, according to the Dalai Lama, stems from accustoming our minds to a sense of universal altruism, which subsequently compels us to take actions for the good of all. It is this link between compassion and the natural progression to take action for justice which seems to fit so well within the Children in Crossfire ethos and indeed has implications for how we approach education in a wider context. These issues and some of the most recent evidence/practice of bringing compassion into education were explored by two superb speakers, Dr Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi and Brendan Ozawa de Silva. It would have been a privilege to encounter these two thinkers, practitioners, scholars any time – it was an additional bonus on a day filled with anticipation about encountering the Dalai Lama.
Dr. Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi is the founder and spiritual director of Drepung Loseling Monastery in Atlanta and Senior Lecturer in Emory University’s Department of Religion. He is also Director of the Emory-Tibet Partnership which aims to bring together the foremost contributions of the Western scholastic tradition and the Tibetan Buddhist sciences of mind and healing. He has also developed Cognitively-Based Compassion Training (CBCT), a compassion meditation programme that is currently utilized in a number of research studies.
Dr Geshe described the mental health problems of students in Emory University – the situation was so bad that a number of students had committed suicide. He also referred to a group of medical students in a Texas university – these students did not have the tools to cope with stress and displayed high levels of mental health problems, self abusive behaviour, such as addiction to drugs and alcohol.
Compassion, in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, as interpreted by the Dalai Lama is both biological and can be acquired and developed as a skill. Compassion, empathising, caring for others has allowed us to survive and thrive as a species, according to Charles Darwin.
Brendan Ozawa de Silva is Associate Professor of Psychology at Life University in Marietta, Georgia, implementing compassion training in educational settings. The aim of the work is to raise a new generation that is more peaceful and are more positive global citizens – through teaching them how to become compassionate. Initial findings of some of the research and creative methods for developing compassion in children were shared:
The ensuing audience discussion engaged in the practical aspects of how compassion could be integrated into the curriculum in Northern Ireland. The audience appeared convinced by the scientific arguments and evidence presented and was open to looking at practical ways of moving forward. There was brief discussion of the local context, often challenging and the possible need for alternative language – for example, ‘secular ethics’ could be misinterpreted in some settings and so a phrase such as ‘global ethics’ could be more palatable.
The arrival of His Holiness the Dalai Lama was full of colour and excitement. His entourage, as befits a head of State, and spiritual leader of Tibet, was a mix of serious men in suits with earpieces and monks in orange robes. As they flowed into the classroom, music and flashing cameras welcomed them.
We all finally sat down, absorbed by the wise, smiling face in our midst. The warmth that exists between the Dalai Lama and his ‘hero’ Richard Moore is striking in its humanity. The playfulness and humour in the interaction between the two was joyful and full of fun.
Humour and an open mind are essential elements of the Dalai Lama. He exhorted us to “always have curiosity, an open mind. Scepticism is very essential, and leads us to investigate”. The secret to a happy and peaceful life is education and warm heartedness.
To encourage some of the shy students to ask a question, the Dalai Lama reminded us that we shouldn’t think that the Dalai Lama is different to us – as he put it, “I am one of you, a human being. You want a happy life, I want a happy life.”
Then he was gone, with his smiling face and friendly wave, off to cross the peace bridge with children from Derry/Londonderry on his way to the Millennium Forum.
His message there was one of non-violence, of sincere peace, not a mere absence of violence – this needs compassion and a real concern for the well being of others. On the post – MDGs and how to spurn our politicians into action the Dalai Lama gave a modest reply, claiming he didn’t know. However, he asked why we would wait until 2015 to try and address the issues – a good point indeed.
* Hilary Minch is Programme Officer with Dóchas