Friday, November 04, 2005

A trip to see the Dalai Lama

Lama, Live at Maples Pavilion
Originally uploaded by benho.
So the Dalai Lama has descended on Stanford with much fanfare and sellout venues. My friend Amita happened to have tickets, and invited me to go, I went, not really expecting much, but more as a chance to see a celebrity. In the end, I was quite impressed.

For whatever reason, I found myself agreeing with everything he said. I had four hypotheses as to why.

  • Chinese/Confucian/Taoist/Buddhist legacy of my upbringing.
  • Just a generally sensible upbringing
  • The New-Agey, post-hippy, political correct, California culture that I live in today
  • The Lama is hitting upon some universal truths.
So today, he outlined a very compelling philosophy, that resonated very well with how I viewed the world.

  • The purpose of all living things is to seek happiness and ease suffering.
  • Humans are different than animals because they have mental faculties and intelligence that facilitate this purpose.
  • We should embrace science for effectively solving much of our material suffering.
  • But material well being is not a sufficient condition for happiness. We should have affection for our fellow man, but at the same time not let affection divide. We should treat all humanity as one body.
  • It is easy to be tempted by negative thoughts. Strive for positive thoughts
  • Have respect for all faiths and systems of beliefs. Be moderate and do not judge.
I agree very much with all of these ideas. However, I then began to wonder about how practical they are. How helpful are they for changing people’s ideas, how I raise my children one day. I added a fifth hypotheses about why they resonated so well, which is they are just so vague and general, so “motherhood and apple pie” that of course you agree, but not necessarily deep. A McDonalds version of spirituality, you can have it your way (or Burger King), easy spirituality. He told us to meditate analytically, but didn’t have direction as to how; it doesn’t matter. There was something nice about 7000 people in a stadium in complete silence for 5 minutes, lost in thought, but also something unstructured and easy about it too.

But in the end, the Lama has a whimsical winning personality, and in Q+A was quite amusing and surprising. He basically talked about the unity of religious and spirituality; how he lectures Christian priests about God. An odd but interesting question, “Would you favor genetic engineering of people that removed desire and thus remove suffering?” His answer was surprising. I would not favor, only because the experimentation would be painful and cruel. But if science could eliminate desire and remove suffering (ala soma) he would be all for it. He also freely admitted the primacy of science over Buddhist texts, lamenting how he wasted so much time memorizing Buddhist cosmology when now we know from modern physics that all that was nonsense.

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