Thekchen Chöling, Dharamsala, HP, India - His Holiness the Dalai Lama opened this morning’s conversation with his old friend Father Laurence Freeman OSB, Director of The World Community for Christian Meditation, by wishing him “Good morning,” and “Tashi Delek”. Freeman replied that it was a great joy to see His Holiness and that he hoped he was very well.
“Since we’ve known each other for so many years,” His Holiness continued, “I’m extremely happy to have this opportunity to talk to you again.”
Father Laurence explained that he was sitting in France, in the meditation hall at Bonnevaux or Good Valley, the new centre of the World Community for Christian Meditation. It has been a place of meditation for about a thousand years. The WCCM has been there for the last three years. He mentioned that he had been looking again at His Holiness’s book, ‘The Good Heart’, that was written as a result of their meeting in London in 1996.
“Now, everybody, even animals, wants peace,” His Holiness declared. “When we’re born, we receive our mother’s maximum affection, without which we would not survive. That’s how life begins. We human beings are social animals, naturally concerned about the welfare of others. That’s part of our nature.
“Unfortunately, in more modern times we have seen greater emphasis on developing the human intellect, but not enough on cultivating a warm heart. Although it’s human nature to be compassionate, the last century saw too much fighting. However, most people now are fed up with violence. Many see that too much money is spent on weapons, whereas to be more peaceful we should be aiming for a demilitarized world.
“In today’s reality, we can no longer concern ourselves only with ‘my country’ or ‘my continent’. We live in a global economy beyond national boundaries. Therefore, we need to think in terms of the oneness of humanity.
“As a refugee, I’m stateless, but I live here in this free, multireligious country a free man. I have many opportunities to hold discussions with Christians, Hindus, Jains, Muslims, Sikhs and so forth. And today we have a real opportunity to promote religious harmony. You, my spiritual brother, and I have a responsibility to work for inter-religious harmony, especially between Christianity and Buddhism.
“I often point out that in the last century Mahatma Gandhi promoted ‘ahimsa’ in terms of non-violence and many people around the world followed his example. Today, we must make every effort to encourage another Indian tradition that is thousands of years old— ‘karuna’ or compassion. Christianity, like other religions, emphasizes the importance of loving-kindness. The reason you give is that we are all created by one God. We are all the children of God, who is by nature infinite love, therefore, we too, should be warm-hearted towards others.
“My whole life I’ve been committed to promoting warm-heartedness. All our major spiritual traditions have the potential to do this too. So, harmony among religions is essential.”
Father Laurence praised His Holiness’s words as a perfect introduction to the theme the WCCM have chosen for the year—Unified Consciousness: One Mind, One Heart. He recalled His Holiness’s remarks that modern education spends much time on the head, the intellect, where there also needs to be effort to cultivate a warm heart.
He invited His Holiness to reflect on this theme and talk about how heart and mind can be combined in a unified consciousness. Essentially, how can someone be transformed into a more loving person.
“As someone who has given his life to helping human beings transform themselves, what do you understand about a unified consciousness of heart and mind?”
“Education is of universal value,” His Holiness replied. “Up to now modern education has focussed on developing the brain, the intellect, rather than the heart. If you have a warm heart, you’ll have peace of mind, but if you’re preoccupied with a sense of competition and the frustration that comes with it, you won’t.
“As I mentioned before, last century, Mahatma Gandhi presented the importance of the notion of non-violence. In this century, it will be similarly powerful if the whole world is able to give more attention, not just in churches and temples, but through education, to warm-heartedness.
“Whoever I meet, I smile. People love it. Even dogs respond to a smiling face with a wagging tail. If you frown at them their tails droop. We must make every effort to promote warm-heartedness, which is something all religious traditions can contribute to as well.”
“Your smile has lit up the world for years,” Father Laurence replied. “Maybe when world leaders meet, we should ask them first just to smile at one another.”
His Holiness was quick to point out that we can’t blame world leaders for how they are since they are also products of an education system that prizes competition and fame. This is where modern education is inadequate. We need it teach the value of warm-heartedness and how to cultivate it in order that we all have good health and peace of mind. All of us seven billion human beings, he suggested, are essentially the same. We are brothers and sisters. We need to learn in a secular way how to be more warm-hearted.
Father Laurence referred to the great sense of hope he feels when teaching children to meditate.
“Children respond positively to a smiling face because it indicates a warm heart,” His Holiness replied. “If their teacher smiles, children will be happy and enjoy their class, but if the teacher is stern, they’ll want to leave as soon as they can. They naturally appreciate the teacher who shows a genuine concern for their well-being.
“Warm-heatedness should be presented from a secular point of view, not as a factor of religious practice. It’s something that improves our health and well-being. When you have peace of mind, your brain functions better. When you’re full of anger or fear, it doesn’t work so well. You’re able to study better if you have peace of mind.”
Father Laurence wondered how His Holiness sees the future of religion. His Holiness answered,
“I feel that education is of universal value, but that religion is a personal and private choice. What you believe is your own business. However, the underlying message of all religions focusses on the importance of love and compassion.
“If religious teachers could get together and discuss these things, it would be very good. Perhaps religious scholars could also discuss them in terms of education. If we’re warm-hearted we’ll enjoy good health and peace of mind. I think our various religious traditions can contribute to a clearer understanding of this.
“Although I’m a Buddhist monk, I don’t try to propagate Buddhism. I’m more concerned instead with how Buddhists can contribute from what they know about peace of mind to a more widespread human happiness. If I may say so, I’ve come across narrow-minded Christians whose main concern is to propagate their faith. However, there are others, who are wiser, who look to see how they can contribute to the welfare of others.”
Father Laurence recalled that in their previous dialogues His Holiness had spoken of spiritual practice that brings the heart and the intellect into harmony. He asked His Holiness to speak about this state of compassion.
“A calm mind is essential in the process of education,” His Holiness observed. “You can’t study if you’re overwhelmed by anger or jealousy. So, if you are to study well, it’s important that you find peace of mind. Warm-heartedness is of universal value. This is why I’m hoping that when the pandemic has subsided, I’ll be able to go to Delhi and discuss with educators how to incorporate and develop the idea of warm-heartedness in education in general.
“Warm-heartedness leads to a healthy mind. Peace of mind allows us to sleep soundly. I’m not talking about the benefits of the next life or of finding God, but of being a peaceful person with a calm mind and a warm heart here and now.”
Father Laurence told His Holiness that they’d known each other for 40 years since they first met in Montreal in 1980. He considers it to have been one of the great blessings of his life. “But when I look at us now, we don’t seem physically to have changed in all these years. What has been the fruit of your life?”
“I’m half joking,” His Holiness responded, “but there’s less hair on the top of our heads. Perhaps our shiny scalps indicate greater wisdom.”
Noting that the WCCM is active in different parts of the world, Father Laurence said he would like to introduce three members who wanted to put their own questions to His Holiness. The first was Sarah Bachelard, who is an Anglican priest in Australia. She asked how meditation can lead to social transformation.
“We have five sense organs and five sense consciousnesses,” His Holiness told her. “But we also have mental consciousness. Our sense consciousnesses respond to the physical world, but meditation is to do with our primary mind, our mental consciousness.
“If you teach meditation in schools, students could close their eyes, if they find that’s more comfortable, and think about the nature of their minds. It’s helpful to learn to distinguish between sense consciousness and mental consciousness and to learn to pay attention just to the mind. When you quieten your attention to your senses, it leads to a quieter mind and a sense of being more grounded.
“At the beginning it’s better to meditated alone. Once you have some experience, it may help others if you meditate together. This won’t be the case if you let your mind wander and you’re still looking here and there, wondering what this or that person is thinking. To begin with meditate for ten minutes, then extend this to thirty minutes, an hour and longer periods.”
Nick Scrimenti who is studying theology at Harvard University wanted to know what can be done to address the climate crisis.
“In ancient times we thought only of our own locality, but now we have to think on a global level,” His Holiness advised. “We have to consider all seven billion human beings in addition to the well-being of the whole planet. Tibet, for example, is the source of the great rivers of Asia, so what happens to the climate on the Tibetan plateau can affect many people’s lives.
“Global warming is very serious. If we don’t act to address it, the world will become intolerably hot. When I was a child in Tibet, the mountains around Lhasa were covered in deep snow. These days the snow is greatly reduced. We have to recognise how global warming, like the global economy, affects us all. When it comes to taking action, warm-heartedness gives us inner strength.”
Angelina Chan, a member of the WCCM board asked His Holiness what advice he might give to the next Dalai Lama.
“No idea,” His Holiness retorted. “And I don’t think there’s any hurry to be thinking about the 15th Dalai Lama. As long as I’m alive, I’ll try to contribute to creating a better, more peaceful world with a healthy environment. I’m not very concerned about the next Dalai Lama. Things are changing. The question of improving education is a matter of concern to the wider public. When it comes to the Dalai Lama or the Panchen Lama, we’re just talking about individuals.”
Father Laurence’s final question was about how contemplative traditions can help distinguish between illusion and reality.
“The time has come,” His Holiness asserted, “to cease thinking only in terms of ‘my locality’, ‘my country’. The present reality is that we have to think about the entire world, how climate change affects the whole planet and every one of us on it. Likewise, because the global economy impacts us all, we have to take everyone into account. We have to take the oneness of humanity seriously.
“If we educate the current younger generation along these lines, they will grow up to be much more aware of the world in its totality as well as humanity as a whole. This is the new reality—we live in a global economy and a global ecology. In my own meagre experience, I’ve realized that when I lived in Tibet, I really only thought about Tibetans. However, since I came to live in India, I’ve learned to think of the well-being of all seven billion human beings.”
“As a refugee you’ve become a citizen of the world,” Father Laurence interjected.
“Yes, I no longer think only of the welfare of Tibetans, I think of all human beings, indeed all sentient beings.”
Father Laurence disclosed that he had hoped that he could invite His Holiness to the inauguration of Bonnevaux, but circumstances have intervened. Instead, Giovanni, a member of the community requested him to bless this centre of meditation and world peace.
“Certainly, I feel a special connection to my Christian brothers and sisters. I pray that those who really try to put the message of God—compassion and forgiveness—into practice will be effective.”
“Thank you,” Father Laurence replied. “Your blessing is a great source of strength for us as we open to the world. We ask you to keep us in your heart, as we keep you in ours. We pray that you remain in good health so your smile continues to illuminate the world. Thank you for all you’ve taught us over the years of our friendship.”