How to serve humanity

How to serve humanity: The oneness concept

What’s also basic is the altruistic mind, the oneness concept. All eight billion human beings that live on this planet have the same emotions, the same mind. We all have the same seed of compassion.

30 years ago, the cover subject of Tricycle’s premiere issue was Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, photographed by Herb Ritts (1952-2002). His Holiness had won the Nobel Prize in 1989 and was touring the world in 1991 to launch the Year of Tibet, aimed at garnering international support for nonviolent efforts to counter Chinese occupation. But when he was interviewed for Tricycle by the writer and performer Spalding Gray, their conversation was not political but surprisingly intimate, ranging over meditation practice, dreams, fear, and quotidian life.

Today, the Dalai Lama is one of the most famous and revered spiritual leaders on the planet. And his conversation with best-selling author and long-time Buddhist practitioner Daniel Goleman reflects quite a different set of interests, notably how Buddhism can contribute to Western neuroscience, psychology, and education.

You often talk about how ancient Indian thought could add to modern education. What do you see as missing? Modern education is very much oriented around external things, material things. So in the West, there’s not much concept of training our minds. But in the Indian tradition, the Buddha himself said, “My followers should not accept my teachings out of faith, but rather through investigation.”

All ignorance is based on appearances. In order to reduce ignorance, we must investigate deeper reality—tongpa nyi [Tib., “emptiness”; Skt., shunyata]. The Buddha’s teachings deal with reality. So it’s not just faith—we must utilise our intelligence. Faith and intelligence must combine. In an Arab Muslim country and a European Christian country you mainly see faith in God, whereas in India you are your own master. Ultimately, everything depends on yourself. Buddha cannot save you, cannot protect you, unless you train your own mind. The Buddha made clear the way to do that.

India had almost three thousand years of nonviolence, ahimsa, based on karuna, and compassion. India also developed shamatha—“single-pointed mind”—and vipashyana, “investigation.” Then the Buddha came. He taught dharma according to the different mentalities of different people, so that buddha-dharma became very rich, a knowledge institution. The emphasis was on reasoning rather than faith.

Explaining the mind through the brain is not sufficient. Mind is on a different level. The Indian tradition, particularly the knowledge tradition, [offers] a lot of explanation about the mind and destructive emotions. So now a number of scientists are paying attention to Buddhist philosophy and Buddhist psychology. I hope we will take modern science and ancient Indian psychology and combine the two. I think we can serve humanity more effectively and more usefully that way. And we can do it without religion. This is just knowledge about psychology, about emotions. It’s simply how to create peace of mind and happy life, and ultimately, how to create a peaceful world, a happy world. India’s tradition is secular. We can teach the secular way in schools.

What’s also basic is the altruistic mind, the oneness concept. All eight billion human beings that live on this planet have the same emotions, and the same mind. We all have the same seed of compassion. Physically, mentally, and emotionally, we have the same potential.

About compassion: I’ve heard you appreciate Christians for good works like building clinics and schools. I’ve also heard you say that Buddhists could be doing more to put compassion into action. What do you have in mind? Buddhist literature [has] a lot of explanation about emotions and the mind, and how to tackle anger and fear. That part is quite rich in ancient Indian tradition. From the Christian point of view, we are all created by one God and God is infinite love. We are all children of that kind of father. If you seriously think that, then we should all live harmoniously and compassionately, according to God’s wish.

What about Buddhists? Buddhism is a nontheistic religion. Everything ultimately depends on one’s own actions. If you help others, if you serve others, you benefit. So altruism is a source of happiness. And a source of unhappiness is all the disasters due to anger. Anger comes from fear; fear comes from a self-centered attitude.

“When we face some serious problem, then our usual sort of thinking—‘I,’ ‘I’—lessens. Sometimes, some difficulty is a way to develop altruism.”

With the pandemic, people became kinder and helped each other more in a spirit of interconnection. How can this time be an opportunity for us to become better people and create a better world? I think we can learn from the nurses and doctors. They are really serving, helping these helpless people, regardless of their own safety. They truly practice altruism by serving other people.

Do you think that their example, or our own experiences, will leave people kinder after the pandemic is over? To some extent, yes. When we face some serious problem, then our usual sort of thinking—“I,” “I”—lessens. For example, if there is a flood or an earthquake, people don’t care what others’ religion is, what others’ race is. They come together and work together. Sometimes some disaster, some difficulty, is a way to develop altruism.

That sense of oneness, sense of helping other people, do you think it lasts? In education, we should emphasise the importance of the oneness of all human beings. We are brothers and sisters, and we should help each other. If we feel that not only on a physical level but also on a mental level, we’re much happier. When you feel “I,” only “I,” then you feel lonely. So altruism is the best way to fulfill your own interest.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso is the spiritual leader of Tibet. Since taking asylum in India in 1959, His Holiness has become a global advocator of peace, compassion and happiness. He is the first Nobel Laureate to be recognised for his concern for global environmental problems.


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