Ethics, Education and Human Development

March 4th 2014

Rochester, MN, USA, 3 March 2014 - Early this morning, under skies that were a wintry grey once more, His Holiness the Dalai Lama drove down from Minneapolis through the snowbound Minnesota countryside to Rochester. He is here to attend the Mayo Clinic and undergo his annual medical check up. Once the series of tests and observations had been set in motion, he was able to take time to meet members of the Mind & Life Board to hold a working meeting on the theme ‘Ethics, Education and Human Development’. Their intention was to report back to His Holiness on the progress being made in the project to design a curriculum to bring secular ethics into modern education.


His Holiness the Dalai Lama arriving at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota on March 3, 2014.
Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL

His Holiness began by expressing his ongoing concern about whether the word ‘secular’ properly conveys the idea of values or ethics that embody a universal, impartial, equal, inclusive respect for the fundamental intention of all major religious traditions, while also taking account of those who declare no such religious belief. He reported a conversation he had had with a Muslim who asked about the uneasy tension between science and religion. His answer had been that science is by and large concerned with external matter, while religion is concerned with inner values. He expressed his view that the purpose of faith is the promotion of compassion. The existence of God, meanwhile, is something science can neither prove nor disprove. He mentioned his appreciation of Pope Benedict’s advice that faith and reason, which might be interpreted as religion and science, must go together.

Dan Goleman reported that concern about disturbances among school children had prompted the development of programs that have been successful in making students more self-aware. They develop a better understanding of what is happening in terms of their feelings and what they can do about them. This leads to sensitivity to other people and their needs and ways to respond accordingly. This set of interconnected skills is being taught under the banner ‘Social Emotional Learning’. It relates to work being done on training attention.

Richie Davidson recounted findings showing that 47% of American adults are not paying attention to what they are doing. He suggested that if solutions are provided early in life it may be possible to offset this problem. His Holiness wondered why it is that Tibetan monks do not seem to talk about their minds wandering in this way.

Davidson went on to describe a long term research project conducted with 1000 people in Dunedin, New Zealand looking at the effects of children’s ability to exercise restraint and self-control. At the age of 32 it seems clear that those who showed more self-control when they were young were happier and more successful all round.


His Holiness the Dalai Lama and members of the Mind & Life Institute Board discussing ‘Ethics, Education and Human Development’ in Rochester, Minnesota on March 3, 2014. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL
Lately, neuroscience has identified periods of particular sensitivity to development, one when children enter school at 4-7 years old and another in adolescence at 11-17 years old. In this connection there are also findings of a marked decline in the age of the onset of puberty from about 16 years old in some places in the late 19th century to only 9 years old in some places today. This change is attributed to complex factors, changes of diet among them. At the same time the rate at which the brain matures has remained slower, a process not complete for many people until their early 20s.

Richie Davidson also reported very positive results from even short-term compassion training. Invited to comment, His Holiness responded:

“I have nothing to say. Wonderful.”

Diana Chapman Walsh informed His Holiness of something he had said when he and members of Mind & Life had met in Mundgod, South India last year that had moved her:

“How comfortable we are and yet there is so much suffering in the world.”

She told him what little confidence Americans place in their leaders today. Apparently 92% say their confidence in Congress, Wall Street and the Media is below average. His Holiness wondered if it is because expectations are too high. He said:

“Our aim is to help 7 billion human beings. In this country there is a significant possibility that by the end of this century a different kind of leadership will emerge. It’s important that this movement extend across the world so Asians and others do not dismiss it as a merely American trend. I know you’ve begun to work in Europe and parts of Asia; you must also extend into Africa too. Then we can find solutions to humanity’s problems not just American ones. I often refer to America as the leader of the free world, but it will be good to be able to say this or that human problem has been identified and this is what we can do about it.”


His Holiness the Dalai Lama and members of the Mind & Life Institute Board after their meeting on ‘Ethics, Education and Human Development’ in Rochester, Minnesota on March 3, 2014. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL
Arthur Zajonc introduced Brooke Dodson-Lavelle, senior program officer for Mind & Life’s Ethics, Education and Human Development initiative and asked her how it can be implemented. She began by describing the ethically sensitive child as one who - feels safe, trusts others, values others, cares about others, is sensitive to others and is discerning. In the drafting of the initial curriculum entitled, ‘A Call to Care,’ three modes of care have been identified: receiving care, developing self-care and extending care. This first draft is designed for grades 2-3. It’s a program designed to take needs of both teachers and children into account. His Holiness remarked:

“If you look at the classic Buddhist approach to mental training, it’s always done in terms of the pros and cons. If you do this, these are the benefits that will accrue; if you don’t do it or you do the opposite, these are the drawbacks that arise. In the course of training in compassion, we acknowledge that our survival depends on the rest of humanity. “

Dodson-Lavelle acknowledged the need for taking a holistic view of a fundamentally human task. His Holiness recalled visiting the Pestalozzi School in Switzerland and seeing Palestinian and Israeli children playing naturally together without any sense of barriers between them. When Brooke Dodson-Lavelle mentioned what has been learned and incorporated from work being done in India and other parts of Asia, His Holiness said it will be important to try and bring China on board. Arthur Zajonc mentioned that there is strong interest in this work in Hong Kong. He continued:

“This is the beginning of something that could take up your challenge - how do we learn to care for each other? Another aspect of interdependence, an indicator that we are one world. How do we learn to live with one another? You, Your Holiness, have been an inspiration. We hope the ultimate effects will be widespread and reach many.” His Holiness responded:

“This project may not bear fruit for another 40 or 50 years and you and I won’t be here to see it. But our generation must make a start. The present younger generation are honest and sincere. We can tell them, our generation made these mistakes, if you simply follow them, you’ll only suffer too. This is the time to make a start, to change. I think young people today will follow this direction and that a different, more sensible humanity may emerge, whose leadership too will be different.”
 

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