There were 710 press releases posted in the last 24 hours and 345,254 in the last 365 days.

Happiness & Its Causes, Sydney

Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, 10 June 2015 - As His Holiness the Dalai Lama prepared to leave Leura this morning, people lined the lobby and hotel porch to see him off. He posed for photographs with the local police, waved goodbye to friends and well-wishers and climbed into his car. The drive to Sydney, through the first rain for three weeks, was fast despite the morning commuter traffic.

It was still raining when he arrived at Luna Park, the amusement park at the foot of Sydney Harbour Bridge, to take part in a Happiness & Its Causes Conference. He spent a few minutes talking to the Indian Consul General, Sunjay Sudhir with his family. British comedian and mental health activist Ruby Wax and writer on happiness, Gretchen Rubin, who will take part in later sessions of the conference, also spoke with him.

Taking the stage in the conference hall, well-known Australian radio presenter Richard Fidler introduced His Holiness to an audience of 1700 saying he would like to ask him some questions before they were joined by the other panellists. He opened by asking His Holiness how he keeps his peace of mind.

“I use my intelligence and common sense,” was the reply. “And while life as a refugee has had its sad moments, it’s also provided opportunities to meet other people and learn from their different experiences.”

Fidler asked if he just accepted things he couldn’t change and His Holiness quoted an 8th century Indian philosopher who said: “If you’re faced with a problem, examine it. If it can be solved there’s no need to worry about it and if it can’t be solved, worry will be of no use.”

“Very realistic isn’t it?” he exclaimed. “This is good advice that I try to follow. For example, when my beloved Senior Tutor, my main teacher, passed away, I was shocked and sad, but there was nothing to be done. He was the rock I leant upon. But then I realised that what I needed to do was to work to fulfil his wishes.”

Asked the difference between love and compassion he spoke of a basic sense of love that tends to be mixed with attachment, and which depends on how others respond to you. It’s limited; it can’t be extended to others. However, it’s like a seed, because on the basis of that, through thinking and training it’s possible to develop a sense of compassion that can be extended to everyone.

Fidler wanted to know if His Holiness ever gets angry and he admitted he does. He told the story of an encounter with a New York columnist who in the course of interviewing him asked how he viewed his legacy. He told her that as a Buddhist monk it’s not something he thinks about. She asked some other questions, and then came back again to his legacy. He repeated his earlier reply. After further questions she asked about his legacy a third time and he lost his temper. His Holiness confided that when he met the same journalist again a year later, they both looked at each other and laughed.

He also recounted another occasion in India when he’d been invited to teach a group of Indian Buddhists. The friend who had organized the meeting told him that on a previous occasion these people had found his talk difficult to understand. He asked if this time it could be easier. Again His Holiness said he lost his temper because he felt that if he were only to teach about what they already knew there wouldn’t be much point in teaching at all. Turning to Fidler he chuckled and said:

“So, if you don’t mind me saying so, if you ask me foolish questions, maybe I’ll lose my temper with you!”

Noting that as a young man he’d grown up in a confined situation and had later been exposed to the wider world as he began to travel, Fidler asked if anything had surprised him. He answered:

“Not much, because the previous Dalai Lama had left a collection of picture books and magazines that I looked through. So I was already familiar with New York, London, Berlin and Paris from their pages. And in addition to that we’d had these two Austrians in Tibet who’d escaped from wartime internment in British India. One of them, Aufschnaiter was engaged in hydro-electric and irrigation projects for the government, the other, the younger one, Heinrich Harrer came to look after various machines at my residence. He used to talk to me about Western culture and the way of life in Europe, so I wasn’t surprised when I went there.

“However, there was one thing. When I first went to the USA in 1979 I made several friends and met their wives and children. Next time I came, I was surprised to find some of them had new wives and when I came again, some of them even had third wives. I was also surprised to meet people with important, prestigious jobs, who, because of stress and worry, were unhappy. It showed me that material rewards, good reputation and a high salary were no guarantee of inner peace and happiness.

“On the other hand, I met a Catholic monk at Montserrat near Barcelona who had lived as a hermit in the mountains for five years living on little more than tea and bread. I asked him what he’d been practising and he told me he’d been meditating on love. When he said that his eyes sparkled and his face glowed with joy. With almost no physical comfort he was completely happy. There are practitioners like this in India too who meditate naked high in the mountains. During the last Maha Khumba Mela, a great Hindu spiritual gathering that takes place once in 12 years, I’d hoped to go and meet some of them and hear about their experiences. However, due to bad weather I was unable to travel.

“Modern education is oriented round a materialistic way of life. We should ask ourselves if it is really an adequate basis for a happy society. In British Columbia, however, guidance about the importance of warm-heartedness has been introduced in all schools.”

As moderator of a wider discussion, Richard Fidler then invited four additional panellists to join him and His Holiness on the stage. The first to speak, Barbara Fredrickson, explained her team’s work examining the physical effects of different kinds of happiness. She distinguished between hedonic well-being, which stems from the pleasure you get from a satisfying yet superficial experience like eating delicious food, and eudaimonic well-being, which comes from thinking that your life has a purpose and that you’re making a contribution to society. They found that hedonic well-being was associated with increased expression of genes involved in inflammation, while the way genes expressed themselves in association with eudaimonic well-being was the opposite; a much healthier response. The conclusion was that doing good, having meaning and purpose is associated with better health.

His Holiness remarked that he had also heard of findings that show that constant fear, anger and hatred have the effect of eroding our immune system. He suggested that a useful area of investigation would be the distinction between sensory consciousness and mental consciousness. He pointed out that pleasant sensory experience has little effect on mental unrest, but that if we have calm minds we can cope with physical pain and discomfort.

Professor Paul Gilbert, who has pioneered research into compassion and initiated Compassion Focused Therapy, suggested that we are at our most flourishing when we experience and feel we are cared about, wanted and valued, and when we care for, help and value others. His Holiness agreed and recommended that modern education pay more attention to such understanding of the mind and emotions.

Dr Sue Knight is chief evaluator of the Primary Ethics trial in NSW schools and creator of the Primary Ethics curriculum that currently involves 29,000 children from KG to class 6. She suggested that it is through the development of well-reasoned and ethically-grounded thinking that education fulfils its individual and social goals. The Primary Ethics program is concerned with teaching children how to think rather than what to think.

His Holiness was approving and remarked that on our planet today many problems and much suffering we face is essentially our own creation. There’s even war going on in the name of religion. He said it’s contradictory that we all want to live a happy life and yet we continue to create trouble for ourselves. He agreed with the panellists on the need for more ethics in education, a secular ethics not opposed to, but respectful of all religious traditions.

Charlie Scudamore, a visionary educator and Vice Principal at Geelong Grammar School said he represented every teacher who wanted to help children change their lives, who wanted to make the world a better place. In the face of an increasing drive for assessment, encouraging flourishing is what education should really be about. He quoted Marty Seligman, the pioneer of positive psychology who says we can experience three kinds of happiness - pleasure and gratification; the embodiment of strengths and virtues and meaning and purpose.

As the discussion ran out of time, His Holiness told his fellow panellists that what he’d heard had been really wonderful. He said:

“I feel really encouraged to have met and listened to you all. I’m convinced that through education it is possible to change the world for the better. I don’t expect to live to see the result in the next 20 years or so, but this is very good, wonderful, thank you.”

From Luna Park His Holiness drove to Sydney airport where he had lunch with members of the Australian Parliamentary Group for Tibet and enjoyed some time with his old friend Rev Bill Crews. In the afternoon, he flew to Brisbane where he was given a rousing welcome by members of the local Tibetan community and other friends and well-wishers. Tomorrow, he will teach Nagarjuna’s ‘Precious Garland’ and attend multi-faith prayers in St Stephen’s Cathedral.