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Compassion & Dignity: A Conversation with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Educators
Thekchen Chöling, Dharamsala, HP, India – On October 25, 2021 the Renée Crown Wellness Institute at the University of Colorado Boulder and Compassion Institute partnered to present the special livestream event “Compassion & Dignity: A Conversation with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Educators.”
His Holiness the Dalai Lama was joined by members of the Renée Crown Wellness Institute at the University of Colorado Boulder, Compassion Institute and K-12 educators, in a virtual conversation on cultivating compassion and dignity in schools. Compassion Institute’s President and co-founder Thupten Jinpa, PhD was present and provided Tibetan interpretation for His Holiness.
The event began with a video welcome from Philip P. DiStefano, Chancellor of the University of Colorado, Boulder. He noted how important the qualities of compassion and dignity are, observing that the future depends on them.
In 2016, when His Holiness was last in Boulder, the seeds of the Crown Institute were being planted. Today, this interdisciplinary institute is focused on wellness, connection and the community. The Chancellor concluded: “Whether you are a teacher, parent or individual observer, I hope you will be inspired by the wisdom shared here tonight.”
Sona Dimidjian, Institute Director, Renée Crown Wellness Institute, and Professor, Department of Psychology and Neuroscience University of Colorado, Boulder, spoke next. She declared that His Holiness’s teachings have inspired people around the world to be curious about the benefits of compassion in education. His conversations with scientists have also inspired new research that has demonstrated the positive impacts of compassion training.
Sona Dimidjian and her colleagues wanted to create a program that would deepen their practices of compassion, serve as a foundation for all their teaching, and create safe, inclusive, and just schools. In an effort to bring compassion into mainstream education, they partnered with educators and experts in compassion practice to design a year-long program called “Cultivating Compassion & Dignity in Ourselves and Our Schools.” His Holiness was invited to speak about the importance of compassion in education.
His Holiness stated, “Ultimately the foundation of peace of mind is loving kindness. Every day, as soon as I wake up, I meditate on compassion, and it brings me peace and tranquility. It’s not just a matter of being free from disturbance, but of being moved by love and compassion. Peace of mind isn’t just a religious topic; it underpins the survival of humanity. Even those who trouble us are human beings and deserve our compassion.
“Although it may seem that anger brings energy, if we look at it more closely, we’ll see that it’s inner peace that brings us inner strength. The energy that anger brings is not only short-lived, but it can also become self-destructive.
“In my experience, the practice of compassion is very helpful. Everyone wants to live a peaceful life and compassion is a key factor in fulfilling that wish. Whether you are concerned with promoting your own well-being or the well-being of others, at root it involves having an altruistic intention. Similarly, whether you are concerned with your immediate or long-term welfare, if you’re able to cultivate a genuinely altruistic mind—a kind heart—in the short term you’ll feel a sense of peace within you. The long-term benefit manifests in physical well-being and robust good health.
“Whether in relation to individual well-being or the well-being of society, we recognize that when someone actively cultivates a kind heart, it changes the atmosphere around them. This is why we can say that an altruistic intention—a kind heart—is a source of general well-being.
“Therefore,” His Holiness concluded, “I’m dedicated to promoting warm-heartedness in our day-to-day life. This is what we have to pay attention to.”
Sona Dimidjian invited a number of teachers and educators to share questions about compassion practice in education with His Holiness. To start with, His Holiness acknowledged the need to keep good intentions at the forefront of the mind. He pointed out that patience and forbearance, for example, derive from compassion, but are only relevant and effective when we are faced with difficulties. We don’t need to be patient when things are going well. This is similar to only taking medicine when we are ill.
He noted that it’s recognizing the suffering of others that prompts us to be compassionate. Suffering can’t be overcome using force and deploying weapons. We have to cultivate a compassionate mind and this, the source of inner peace, is what will lead to a more peaceful world.
Besides being eager to learn their lessons, His Holiness observed that students, simply as human beings, appreciate compassion. When their teacher reveals a compassionate attitude, combined with a sense of responsibility and concern for their student’s broader prospects, they’ll respond positively. If, however, they sense that the teacher has no such concern and is only concerned with earning their pay, students won’t be able to leave the class quickly enough.
His Holiness reiterated that if teachers not only teach according to the curriculum, but are also genuinely concerned about their students’ welfare, close relations will flourish between them. And when a teacher is genuinely dedicated to the betterment of humanity, he or she will naturally treat their students with dignity.
His Holiness noted that with regard to justice and compassion, in the past there was less talk about inner values. Instead, people relied on suspicion and the use of force. But the world has changed and now there is a much greater role for warm-heartedness. Attitudes are more realistic and more mature. There is a clearer understanding of the importance of achieving peace of mind. There is also greater awareness that it’s basic human nature to be compassionate. Nurturing a more compassionate motivation leads to greater truth and honesty.
Addressing concerns to make an entire school more compassionate, His Holiness repeated that since education tends to have materialistic goals, it needs to value and include warm-heartedness too. Compassion yields peace of mind and such inner peace fosters health and well-being among teachers and students. He declared his firm belief that it’s possible to take a new approach to education that is rooted in warm-heartedness.
He added that compassion is the basis of courage and determination. These qualities are required because suffering cannot be overcome immediately. We have to be realistic. We must seek out its causes and uproot them. This is something we human beings can do because we have intelligence and self-confidence.
His Holiness restated that the most important thing to teach children about compassion is the need to combine human intelligence with warm-heartedness.
Sona Dimidjian thanked His Holiness for his contribution to the conversation that had taken place and asked Stephen Butler, the Executive Director of the Compassion Institute, to offer some closing reflections. He also thanked His Holiness for the insight that the fundamental human quality of compassion has the power to transform our lives and the world. He expressed the wish that His Holiness has a long and stable life and that we may all work to our utmost to establish compassion as the seed, the nourishment and the fruit of a kinder and more caring humanity.
In conclusion, His Holiness responded that if human beings are to be happier, education must be combined with warm-heartedness. The aim is for people to cultivate healthier, more peaceful minds. Fear gives rise to anger and anger destroys peace of mind. The more compassionate we are, the less fearful we will be, and the greater will be our inner strength and self-confidence. The point is to be a happy person, self-assured and courageous.
“If those of you who have taken part in today’s discussion or have simply listened to it,” His Holiness remarked, “feel that anything we’ve said was reasonable, please, think about it, make yourselves familiar with it and share it with your family and friends.”
For decades the Dalai Lama has demonstrated that the deep reservoir of compassion is available to all of humanity, that it is an essential human quality that can transform our inner and outer worlds. This vision and his accompanying work has called upon the world to take compassion seriously and establish it as a central pillar in the lives of the individual, the community, and society. This idea is the visionary keystone that formed Compassion Institute. That same keystone is at the center of partnership of our work with Rene Crown Wellness Institute and the University of Colorado.
Compassion Institute wishes to acknowledge the Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama for text and photos used in the preparation of this article.