Dalai Lama brings message of nonviolence on campus visit

L.A. Cicero Dalai three

The Dalai Lama addresses the crowd at Memorial Church while flanked by his longtime interpreter, Thupten Jinpa, and Rev. Scotty McLennan.

Just before addressing the sold-out crowd for the mass meditation and teaching event in Maples Pavilion on Friday morning, the Dalai Lama endeared himself to the approximately 7,000 students, worshippers and other eager guests with one simple gesture—he took off his shoes.

"I think the very purpose of meeting is connection, or contact, person to person," he said. "So I just talk to you like I'm meeting with a longtime friend."

And with that, the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, began his talk. In advising Friday's attendees on how to train the mind, the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader spoke of humanity and the pursuit of happiness, of not letting negativity taint one's thoughts and actions, and of cultivating a deeper sense of spirituality. Then he led audience members—with eyes closed and in their seats—in a group meditation that silenced Maples for a full five minutes.

Later that day, the Dalai Lama spoke about nonviolence in Memorial Church during an in-depth interview led by the Rev. William "Scotty" McLennan, dean for religious life. The two-hour talk, "The Heart of Nonviolence: A Conversation with the Dalai Lama," was sponsored by the Office for Religious Life, as part of the annual Heyns Lecture, and the Aurora Forum.

On Saturday, the Dalai Lama and other eminent Tibetan Buddhist scholars discussed the nature of the human brain with distinguished neuroscientists from Stanford and other universities at a daylong dialogue titled "Craving, Suffering and Choice: Spiritual and Scientific Explorations of Human Experience."

The Dalai Lama's two-day visit began with a standing ovation as His Holiness entered Maples for the morning meditation and teaching event, sponsored by the Office for Religious Life. McLennan welcomed audience members and President John Hennessy introduced the Dalai Lama, the 1989 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. The Dalai Lama previously had visited Stanford in April 1994.

He was born 70 years ago in a small Tibetan village and recognized at the age of 2 as the 14th Dalai Lama. He assumed political leadership of his country in 1950 and led thousands of Tibetans into exile in India nine years later because of the Chinese military occupation of their homeland. Since 1960, the Dalai Lama has resided in Dharamsala, in northern India.

"Today, the Dalai Lama is recognized as a scholar and a man of peace," Hennessy said. "He advocates peaceful solutions to conflict, based on knowledge, tolerance and mutual respect."

As usual, the Dalai Lama wove humor throughout his talk, at times joking about his broken English or how he started to nod off while meditating after his arduous trip from northern India. He even poked fun at the gentle voice of his longtime interpreter, Tibetan scholar Thupten Jinpa.

The core of the Dalai Lama's talk, though, was that all humans—whether Tibetan or American, religious or non-religious—are free to experience pain and pleasure and to pursue happiness. "Because of that, our mental functions are the same, our emotions are the same," he said. "We have the intelligence, and we also have the positive potential."

Shortly after, his message turned to one of hope, as he advised the students and other young people in the audience to realize the burden of their generation: "This is one of the most important centuries in human history," he said. "You are the generation who really carry a lot of responsibilities."

And in order for individuals to utilize that human potential, he said, knowledge and education are essential. Also, people must learn to shun negative emotions that may potentially blind them to the reality of everyday situations and the positive potential they may hold. The Dalai Lama illustrated this with an example that started with him making a new friend, which would generate positive emotions and lead to more friendships, and possibly a better job and a better life.

"If [you] have negative emotion, [you] can't see the reality," he said, adding that such negativity can stem from pride, jealousy and a sense of strong attachment to material objects. "Money, power will not be [a] full guarantee of [a] happy life."

Therefore, in addition to knowledge and education, he said, one also must cultivate a deep spiritual awareness. He told the ambitious students in the crowd that future generations are expecting them to improve the world, so it is important to foster positive emotions such as compassion and forgiveness and not be consumed by the pursuit of fame or influence.

Leading up to the mass meditation, the Dalai Lama said he hoped that his talk would give everyone something to concentrate on. But he warned that going through the motions of meditation and prayer alone will not lead to a centered spirit. He then described two types of "analytical meditation"—"single-pointed meditation," in which one focuses on the inner self, and "outward meditation," where one creates a mental image (such as a starving child and mother to symbolize hunger) and then tries to cultivate a sense of concern.

The morning session concluded with a 45-minute session in which McLennan posed a number of questions to the Dalai Lama that were submitted through the university's website.

The heart of nonviolence

Later that afternoon, more than 1,000 people, including a dozen monks in crimson robes, filled the pews and balconies of Memorial Church, where the Dalai Lama again slipped off his brown oxfords and adjusted his socks. With McLennan—who co-teaches an undergraduate course titled Spirituality and Nonviolent Social Transformation—he discussed topics including the meaning of nonviolence, the concept of a just war and capital punishment.

The Dalai Lama gave multiple definitions for nonviolence during the hour-long conversation, including compassion and "protection for all living things." "Violence is destruction; nonviolence is construction," he said.

But the boundaries between violence and nonviolence cannot be determined simply by observing actions on their surface, he said. An individual can use nice words to cheat or exploit another, he said. Conversely, a harsh action could be done out of compassion and the intent to protect others, he added. Limited violence can be permissible, and countering a violent action with a strong countermeasure sometimes is not only permissible "but is the right thing to do," he said.

The organized violence of war, however, is never a lasting solution, he said. Acting out of negative emotions, however natural they may be, obscures reality, he said. In today's reality, "the whole world is like one family or one body. Destroying one part of the world is like destroying yourself," he said.

War is very hard to justify, he said. It's too early to say whether the war in Iraq is right or wrong, he added. "We'll see," he said.

The Dalai Lama mixed pragmatism with the principles of nonviolence when talking about Tibetan resistance to the Chinese occupation. "Firstly, our basic principle is nonviolence. In our case, violence is like suicide," he said. "We need weapons. From where do we buy them? A few guns, a few explosives won't work."

The Dalai Lama said that although he generally prefers legal systems that have abolished capital punishment, he respects each country's rule of law. However, in the case of condemning individuals to death in the name of punishment or revenge, "I think that's wrong," he said. The cruel attitude that penal systems take toward prisoners is "very sad," he said. "Society should not create the impression that prisoners are rejected by society," he said. "They are criminals and have done bad things, but must change their way of thinking."

During the second hour, Mark Gonnerman, director of the Aurora Forum, asked the Dalai Lama some questions that were submitted through the forum's website. A question that asked whether it might be better for society if, given its steady stream of violent images, we permanently switched off our televisions, was met with applause from the audience. The Dalai Lama's answer elicited surprised laughter: "If we turn off TV completely, it would be quite a boring society," he said. "Enjoy television," he said, but he counseled moderation.

The news media could do a better job of showing the compassionate side of human nature, instead of focusing on murder, starvation and scandal, he said.

It's a sad thing that we get the impression that aggression and cruelty are dominant, he said. "Millions of young people are cared for, millions of sick people and millions of old people are being looked after," he said.

His own sense of hope is realistic and relies on taking a wide perspective, he said. "I have reason to be hopeful, but I am not blindly hopeful."

He beamed as he said so, patting his balding head. "I have less hair. I am more bright."

The Dalai Lama walked down the center aisle of the church and into the Main Quad, where a crowd of people was waiting. He stopped to clasp the hands of many. Tears filled the eyes of Norzin Lama, who was born in Nepal after her parents fled Tibet in 1959. A resident of Palo Alto, Lama had tickets to all three events. The Dalai Lama "says only good things for the whole world," she said.

From there, the Dalai Lama paid an informal visit to the Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute at Cypress Hall, where history Professor Clayborne Carson, the institute's director, along with his staff, welcomed the guest of honor with a touch of home—long white Tibetan ceremonial scarves, called katas.

In one of his more intimate interactions with members of the campus community, the Dalai Lama sat down with Carson and discussed King's legacy of peace. The Dalai Lama then quizzed the dozen or so awestruck staffers as to who had worked there the longest and the shortest. Security personnel kept the onlookers in an adjacent walkway. But just before departing, the Dalai Lama gathered everyone into the institute's small office for a group picture.

Upon exiting, he individually shook everyone's hands. And after climbing into the big black SUV that was to spirit him away, the Dalai Lama stopped the motorcade and emerged again with a feathery kata of his own that he draped around Carson's neck—blessing the professor in the process.

"It was certainly a special moment in my life and a great way to inaugurate the King Institute," Carson said.

Barbara Palmer contributed to this story.