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Wednesday, Sep 28, 2022

Dalai Lama Speaks to Middlebury on Educating the Heart

On Friday, Oct. 12, His Holiness the Dalai Lama addressed a crowd of faculty, staff, students and community members at Nelson Arena in his lecture “Educating the Heart.” The spiritual leader touched on issues of education, faith, the corruption of money and the importance of affection.

Friday’s lecture marked the first in the spiritual leader’s two-day visit to the College. The Dalai Lama spoke again on Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m. in a lecture titled “Finding Common Ground: Ethics for a Whole World.”

Chaplain Laurie Jordan began her introductions at 1:40 p.m., only to be surprised just a few seconds into her remarks by the appearance of the Dalai Lama at her back.

“Oh my gosh!” exclaimed Jordan. “That wasn’t in the script,” she later added.

The Dalai Lama presented Jordan and President of the College Ronald D. Liebowitz with white scarves, or khatag. Jordan presented the Dalai Lama with a Middlebury visor, which he wore throughout the lecture along with his traditional Tibetan robes.

In his brief introductory remarks, Liebowitz welcomed the spiritual leader for his third visit to the College.

“We all know about the Dalai Lama,” said Liebowitz. “But today and tomorrow … we have the opportunity to hear him directly.”

The Dalai Lama began his lecture by referencing his earlier visits to the College in 1990 and 1984. He then directly addressed the audience.

“How much change my face?” he asked, laughing.

The Dalai Lama continued to use his famous sense of humor throughout the lecture, often prompting laughter from the audience by first laughing himself.

The Dalai Lama began his lecture by expressing dismay over the current suffering and destruction of the 21st century. He then asked the audience to self-identify their age bracket through a show of hands.

“You are the people who will shape the new world,” he said, addressing the younger members of the audience. “This century should be the century of the peace.”

The Dalai Lama also discussed the nature of education and criticized the modern education system.

“Education is supposed to reduce gap [between] appearance and reality,” he said. “[The] modern education system is more materialistic-oriented.”

The spiritual leader emphasized the importance of affection, and mimed petting small cats and dogs to show the joy possible from simple occurrences in life.

“Money has no ability to show affection,” he said. “For living beings, affection is most important.”

The Dalai Lama also expressed his belief that these ideas hold an unlimited potential for application.

“This religion, that religion — doesn’t matter,” he said. “These moral ethics [are] universal values.”

The Dalai Lama lectured for approximately thirty minutes. When he stumbled over words, he was prompted by his chief English translator, Thupten Jinpa.

After the conclusion of the lecture, the Dalai Lama answered pre-submitted questions from audience members. This structure allowed the Dalai Lama to expand upon a variety of topics.

Though his response to the first question strayed into a detailed account of his gall-bladder surgery, his second answer prompted audience laughter for its brevity.

“Are people of faith and also people without religion capable of cultivating hope, wisdom and compassion?” read Jinpa from the question card.

“Oh, yes,” answered the Dalai Lama. “Next question!”

The Dalai Lama urged audience members to “practice one’s own religion but equally respect all religious traditions.”

“I am Buddhist, but I should not be attached to Buddhism,” said the Dalai Lama. “Attachment is biased and the biased state cannot see objectivity.”

The Dalai Lama also spoke about his political views.

“I am Marxist. There is no question,” said the Dalai Lama. “But I am not Leninist — that totalitarian dictatorship I really don’t like.”

The Dalai Lama then continued to praise Marxism for its emphasis on “equal distribution — not just taking and how to make a profit.”

The Dalai Lama discussed his visit with Mao Zedong in 1955 and praised the Communist Party for their values of self-criticism and a collective approach to governance. He expressed frustration that the party abandoned these values shortly thereafter.

At the conclusion of his remarks, the Dalai Lama humbly addressed the audience.

“Do you agree?” he asked. “This is my view … Please think seriously about these points.”

The doors to the event opened at 11:45 a.m., although ticket-holders began lining up outside Nelson Arena before 11 a.m.  Attendees waited in two separate security lines, and the items permitted inside the arena were strictly limited. The talk began at 1:45 p.m., but per security regulations, all audience members had inside the venue by 1:15 p.m. The Middlebury College choir and a trio of bagpipes entertained the audience while they waited.

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin attended the event.

Those who could not gain access to Nelson Arena watched from overflow seating in the McCullough Student Center.

The Dalai Lama’s visit to the College comes 22 years after his visit in 1990. The Dalai Lama also spoke at the College in 1984.