Conference on ‘Resilience: Strength through Compassion and Connection’ in New Orleans

May 18th 2013

New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, 17 May 2013 - His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s first engagement on his first visit to New Orleans this morning was a meeting with the Press. In his opening remarks he said:

“I’m very happy to be here. I was very sad when you were struck by Hurricane Katrina and again after the shocking event last weekend. I would like to express my sympathy for all the victims and their families.


His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaking to members of the press in New Orleans, Louisiana on May 17, 2013. Photo/David G. Speilman
“Whenever I meet the media there are several points I like to share. The first is my commitment to promoting awareness that our ultimate source of happiness depends on our inner values, our sense of concern for others. The second is that as a Buddhist monk, I am committed to working to foster inter-religious harmony.”

Asked why he had come to New Orleans, he answered that he had received an invitation. He welcomes the opportunity of participating in discussions like that planned for this morning, because it presents a chance for him to learn. And, as Buddhist monk, he dedicates his body, speech and mind to the welfare of others, so meetings like this also allow him to share his thoughts with other people.

Another question suggested that there is just enough religion to make men hate each other, but not enough to make them love each other. His Holiness’s reply was forthright:

“I think that’s wrong. All the major religious traditions convey a message of love and compassion and in the face of difficult circumstances counsel tolerance and patience.”

At the start of the morning’s panel discussion, Dean of Tulane University’s School of Social Work, Ron Marks explained to His Holiness that on the previous day participants in the audience had taken a written pledge to work for compassion and offered him their signatures. Putting on a Tulane University visor to protect his eyes from the strong lights and to enable him to see faces in the audience, His Holiness offered a few words to open the discussion”

“Brothers and sisters, first of all I want to make clear that you shouldn’t think the person speaking here is anything special. We are all the same kind of human beings, mentally, physically and emotionally. It is important that we register that all 7 billion human beings alive today are the same in that we all want to live a happy life and we all have a right to do so. If we focus instead on secondary differences and neglect the oneness of humanity tragedy takes place.”


His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaking at the start of the panel discussion on Trauma Resolution and Healing Through Compassionate Means in New Orleans, Louisiana on May 17, 2013. Photo/David G. Speilman
He drew attention to the bloodshed of the twentieth century in which, by some estimates, 200 million people died through violence. He said that when 7 billion human beings are faced with crisis they need resilience. This gives rise to a confidence that allows them to deal with whatever difficult situations they encounter. If instead they are beset by fear and nervousness they easily become demoralised. There is no guarantee that they will not face problems, they will, but they cannot be solved by money alone, what is needed is inner strength.

A member of the audience said she was excited about the pledge to compassion but wanted to know how to sustain it. His Holiness said:

“Learn about it by listening and reading and think about it to reinforce your conviction; then when you are faced with difficult situations, remember what you have understood and try to restrain your disturbing emotions. That’s the way we gain strength from our own experience.”

Another questioner wanted to know where there was space for the wisdom of compassion in the face of violence like that last weekend in the city. Margaret Wheatley replied:

“Our first reaction is often to want to strike back when we are challenged, but by not reacting immediately we can seize the moment for the practice of compassion.”

Richie Davidson added:

“You often speak of the importance of education, Your Holiness; early education can be so helpful. We are born with a sense of kindness and compassion, but like our facility for language, we have the capacity, but we need community support and encouragement to develop our compassion.”

Asked at what age children can be trained to meditate, His Holiness answered that he began when he was 14 or 15 years old, saying that he was not very interested before that. However, circumstances taught him that he needed some mental strength.


His Holiness the Dalai Lama and fellow panelists during the panel discussion at the Convention Center in New Orleans, Louisiana on May 17, 2013. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL
The panel were asked what they thought was the greatest moral crisis and the greatest moral victory of the early twenty-first century. Margaret Wheatley was unhesitating in calling climate change, the destruction of our home, the greatest crisis, but she said the way local women are stepping forward to implement positive change across the world is the greatest victory so far. Richie Davidson agreed that our failure to care for our planet is the crisis, but suggested that the greatest victory was the regular convening of gatherings like this one. He said he is impressed by how many people are touched by His Holiness’s message of peace and compassion and are trying to implement it in action in education, health care and business.

His Holiness asked if he might add that the problems we face are of two categories: those that arise because of natural disasters and those that are attributable to our own behaviour. When events take place as a result of human intervention, in which innocent people, women and children are harmed, we cannot simply lament, but have to see what action we can take. He said he remains hopeful.

“I’ve been a refugee for 54 years now. Early on no one talked about inner peace. Now, decade by decade, more and more people talk about it as we increasingly find there are limits to material development. What’s important to me is the scientific research which shows that warm-heartedness is of real benefit to our health and well-being.”

Another questioner asked about trauma, coping and resilience. His Holiness said:

“In the Tibetan tradition, in terms of coping with adversity, victims are encouraged to cultivate forbearance and the first stage of that is to develop a sense of equanimity. Forbearance builds up resilience and protects you from giving in to disturbing emotional impulses. A senior monk I know spent 17-18 years in Chinese prison after 1959. In the 1980s he was released and was able to join me in India. Once, when we were chatting about his experiences he told me that there had been dangerous moments during his imprisonment. I thought he meant threats to his life, but he said, ‘No, there were times when there was a danger of my losing compassion for my Chinese captors.’ This is an example of practice in action. He has since been examined by medical scientists who found he has no post-traumatic symptoms. He has physical pains, but no mental unease.”

His Holiness was invited to a celebratory luncheon in the company of New Orleans Mayor, Mitch Landrieu and US Representative John Lewis. Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh representatives offered prayers and His Holiness addressed the gathering.


The Morial Convention Center New Orleans Theater, venue for His Holiness the Dalai Lama's talk on "Strength Through Compassion" in New Orleans, Louisiana on May 17, 2013. Photo/David G. Speilman
Back in the Convention Center in the early afternoon, His Holiness was introduced to the 4000 strong audience by Mayor Mitch Landrieu who expressed New Orleans’ pleasure at his presence by offering him the key to the city. His Holiness opened his remarks on a thoughtful note:

“Dear brothers and sisters, in this place that not so long ago was struck by natural disaster and only a few days ago witnessed another tragedy, I would like to tell you I share your suffering and express my heartfelt sense of concern. Some people refer to me as a ‘living buddha’, others call me a ‘demon’, but actually I am just a simple Buddhist monk.

“When I was born, the Japanese had invaded China, Nazi power was on the rise in Europe and Stalin was exerting his power in the Soviet Union. Then the Second World War broke out, followed by the Korean War, the Vietnam War and in the meantime, there was an intense civil war in China. It’s not surprising that some say 200 million died as a result of violence in the twentieth century. If that violence had created a more peaceful world it might have been somehow justified, but that wasn’t the case.

“Nowadays, we are confronted by a huge gap between rich and poor. This is not only morally wrong, but practically a mistake. It leads to the rich living in anxiety and the poor living in frustration, which has the potential to lead to more violence. We have to work to reduce this gap. It’s truly unfair that some people should have so much while others go hungry.”

He said that in this century we should work to make a happier world. This should be a period of dialogue. We will always face problems and conflicts of one sort or another, but we have to avoid trying to deal with them through force and turn instead to dialogue. On the basis that humanity is one family, achieving your own interest involves cultivating concern for the interests of others. Only being concerned for ourselves and dwelling on a sense of ‘them’ and ‘us' is out of date.


His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaking during his talk on "Strength Through Compassion" in New Orleans, Louisiana on May 17, 2013. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL
In the context of the global economy, of global climate change, matters that affect us all, we have to work together. We need to approach solutions voluntarily. Self-interest has its place, but it needs to be wise and realistic self-interest not foolish, short sighted self-interest.

“Please don’t think that compassion, love and tolerance only belong to religion. They belong to human life. From compassion we develop self-confidence; that brings inner strength, allowing us to act with transparency and candour. We can make this a more peaceful century if we conduct ourselves in this way, if we cherish non-violence and concern for others’ well-being. It is possible. If the individual is happier, his or her family is happier; if families are happy, neighbourhoods and nations will be happy. By transforming ourselves we can change our human way of life and make this a century of compassion.”

Among questions from the audience was one about the situation in Tibet. His Holiness replied that situation has sometimes been better and sometimes worse; right at the moment it’s worse.

“In the early 80s we were hopeful of positive change and I have no doubt that if Hu Yaobang had remained in power we could have seen a solution to the Tibetan problem. But demonstrations erupted in China leading to the Tiananmen event and an eventual crackdown.”

Asked what makes him happy, His Holiness harked back to his childhood:

“When I was still very young, after I reached Lhasa under the name Dalai Lama, my mother would often come to see me with different kinds of bread that she’d baked. She was an expert baker. I remember how I happy I was to see her with her fresh bread. I appeal to those of you who have children of your own now to spend more time with them like my mother tried to do with me. She was uneducated, illiterate, and yet we her children never saw her angry. She was always kind and compassionate. Because I was then the youngest, I was showered with the most affection. If I have any sense of compassion today, the seed of it is due to my kind mother. Thank you.”
 

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