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Monday, Dec 11, 2023

Dalai Lama Speaks to Community on Ethics in the 21st Century

On Saturday Oct. 13, His Holiness the Dalai Lama spoke to the College community on the topic of “Finding Common Ground: Ethics for a Whole World”. The Dalai Lama spoke for nearly thirty minutes — on peace, cooperation and morality in the 21st century — before taking pre-composed written questions from community members.

During the question period, queries from students and townspeople alike challenged the Tibetan spiritual leader, asking for his comments on the American political system, China–Tibet relations and the righteousness of the use of morphine at the end of life.

The event was the second of two talks given by the spiritual leader, and represented the third time that Dalai Lama has visited the College.

President of the College Ronald D. Liebowitz spoke first, greeting community members and welcoming U.S Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. to the stage. Leahy was highly complimentary of the Tibetan leader, explaining that he couldn’t possibly provide an adequate introduction from the Dalai Lama.

“I have admired his Holiness for so many years,” he said, “… He is a man of remarkable ability and patience and perseverance … He is the face of Tibet throughout the world.”

Following the introduction, the Dalai Lama was greeted to a standing ovation by the crowd of 2,800 in the College’s Nelson Arena.

After his opening remarks the Tibetan leader spoke of "oneness" and the similarities between all people, before expressing his belief that the level of violence of the 21st century was “on a different scale,” than the century prior. He called for a reduction of military forces, and for a greater emphasis on dialogue.

“We need genuine cooperation … based on friendship, openness and trust,” he said. “The destruction of your enemy is actually the destruction of yourself.”

Throughout the presentation the Tibetan spiritual leader demonstrated his typical charisma, citing pointed moral truths in an accessible manner for the crowd. Sporadic tense moments were broken easily through the use of the Dalai Lama’s infectious laughter.

When asked of his view on the ideological bipartisanship in the United States, the Dalai Lama shrugged and responded that there are “… not much differences … whether Democratic party or Republican party. When they actually deeply [face] a problem, I think [they are] more or less the same.” The comment was met by much laughter from the audience.

His Holiness expressed his desire for a reduction in the economic gap between the rich and the poor.

“As far as socio-economic theory is concerned, I am Marxist … but that does not mean I accept the totalitarian system; I am totally against it,” he said.

His Holiness also suggested the positive benefits of the capitalist system, such as the promotion of innovation and creativity.

On the topic of Tibet—China relations the audience was silent as His Holiness reiterated the importance dialogue between the two groups. He encouraged Tibetans to travel to China to further mutual cultural understanding.

The Dalai Lama spoke in English, occasionally turning to his translator, Thupten Jinpa, for clarification. One such instance occurred when the Buddhist leader was asked of the appropriateness of the use of morphine during hospice care.

“That, I think, is case to case,” he said. “… difficult to generalize.”

In his response, the Dalai Lama suggested that for those who have spiritual experience and connection, it might be important to keep a "clear mind." He concluded that in other cases, where individuals have no such interest, such a decision might be best left to medical professionals.

One of the final questions came from a woman who asked: “You always show a smile that radiates from the heart, how is that possible? Do you know a secret that makes you smile?”

“If there is some secret thing there, that I should keep as a secret,” the Dalai Lama responded, to much laughter.

Such radiance was also evident backstage, according to Jennie Kim ’13, one of the five College students who were asked to play music during the introduction of the talk. Following the conclusion of the Dalai Lama’s remarks, Kim had the opportunity to shake hands with the spiritual leader.

“He was very delightful. Backstage he was very much like your typical grandpa,” she said, smiling.

“I think his talk was enlightening. [He spoke of many things] that were common sense — like that we need to trust people and be open minded — but it just reaffirmed that we really need to think about these things. Sometimes we need that reminder,” she said.