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Focus on Education and Meeting the Tibetan Community

Irvine, CA, USA, 7 July 2015 - Before leaving for UCI this morning, His Holiness the Dalai Lama was interviewed by Christina Pascucci of KTLA 5 News. She asked who in his 80 years had been the greatest influence on him. He told her that there had been many people, but among recent personalities, although he had met neither, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr had had a great impact on his outlook. Otherwise, he said, he would have to mention the Buddhist masters of ancient India.

When she wanted to know the greatest threat we face today, His Holiness replied without hesitation. “Violence.”

Questioned about what he carries in the bag that is always with him, he told her he had a statue of the Buddha that he had kept since his ordination as a Buddhist monk, some sweets, some pens and the visor he sometimes puts on to protect his eyes from bright light.

Light drizzle fell during the drive to UCI, where the first stop was the Center for Living Peace. Director Kelly Smith welcomed His Holiness and escorted him in to view a newly constructed Avalokiteshvara sand mandala. He stressed the symbolic value of Avalokiteshvara’s thousand hands and eyes. Picking up a vajra and bell, he remarked that the vajra represents method - compassion - and the bell wisdom - understanding of emptiness. The two always go together to indicate the need for wisdom to be energized by compassion and for compassion to be directed by wisdom.

In the Bren Events Center the audience were first entertained by a video focused on His Holiness and his activities, with comments from friends and admirers. Ann Curry, moderating for a third day, called first on Rajiv Mehrotra to say something about His Holiness’s engagement with the practice of compassion. He explained that cultivating mind training in the context of acquiring knowledge is his daily commitment, deriving from the traditions of Nalanda University. Prof Bob Thurman elaborated further on this theme, highlighting His Holiness’s stress on the importance of a broad and balanced education that develops the brain as well as cultivating a warm heart.

Ann Curry introduced the members of the panel who had joined His Holiness on the stage: Dalai Lama Fellow involved with the Leap of Faith initiative, Armaan Rowther; Director of Google Ideas, Jared Cohen; actress Zendaya; director of UCI's Dalai Lama Scholars’ Program, Karina Hamilton; film producer Justin Nappi; Teen Ambassador STOMP Out Bullying, Danielle Nisim; and co-founder of Kids EcoClub, Max Guinn; actress Regina King; founder of Interfaith Youth Core, Eboo Patel; and Native Hawaiian Navigator, Nainoa Thompson.

“As far as modern education is concerned, I have none,” confessed His Holiness. “Since childhood I have studied the writings of the masters of India’s ancient Nalanda University. However, over the last 30 years I have engaged in dialogue with scientists focussing principally on cosmology, neurobiology, physics and psychology. The conversation has been of mutual benefit. Scientists have become increasingly interested in the different levels of consciousness. They are intrigued, for example, by cases of people who appear to have undergone clinical death, but whose body remains fresh for several days at a time. They cannot account for what they observe. From the Buddhist point of view, the explanation is that despite physical death, consciousness at its most subtle level remains.”

His Holiness mentioned an unusual feature of the Nalanda tradition that continues to be attractive today, the liberty to challenge what is taught on the basis of reason and logic. He also drew attention to a threefold division of Buddhist literature into that which focuses on religious matters that are only of interest to Buddhists and science and philosophy that is of universal academic interest.

He demonstrated the use of analysis when he pointed out that all his listeners could see Tenzin Gyatso, the Dalai Lama speaking to them, but if they were to ask who or where Tenzin Gyatso was, whether it was his mind speaking, or whether Tenzin Gyatso was his body, his head, his hands or his fingers, suddenly, Tenzin Gyatso would be hard to pin down. He pointed out that on the basis of misconceiving or grasping at such appearances, without proper reference to reality, disturbing emotions and projections arise.

Asserting that he belonged to the 20th century, a time that is now past, His Holiness appealed to the young people who belong to the 21st century generation. He told them that if they were to make a genuine attempt with vision, taking a realistic approach, they could make their century an era of peace and happiness. He teased them saying that he didn’t expect to live to see it, because by then he’d have gone to heaven or hell.

“But,” he joked, “even if I’m in hell, I’ll take leave to come back to see how you’re doing. If you’ve made no progress, when I get back to hell, I’ll recommend it be extended.”

Ann Curry asked the members of the panel to share their thoughts and experiences. Rajiv Mehrotra gave an account of the Buddhist mind-training practice of exchanging self and others. Bob Thurman confessed himself to be a poor student of His Holiness’s, revealing that it was much less piety that had attracted him to Tibetan Buddhism in the first place and more the pursuit of knowledge through analysis.

Towards the end of the discussion His Holiness revealed the broad respect he has developed for the other major religious traditions. He expressed particular admiration for Catholic monk Thomas Merton, who first revealed Christianity to him. He also mentioned his admiration for his many Muslim friends, pointing out that the word ‘jihad’ has nothing to do with harming others. What it actually refers to is combating disturbing emotions within yourself.

The session came to an end with Nainoa Thompson, a Native Hawaiian Navigator offering a leaf garland to His Holiness and calling on a colleague in the audience to sing a traditional tribute. His Holiness left the stage to steady chants of “Long life to the Dalai Lama” from the audience.

A lunch was offered in UCI’s Pacific Ballroom. Kelly Smith, Director of Living Peace Center welcomed His Holiness. Senator Janet Nguyen joined them on the platform, announcing that at her instigation the California Senate had declared July Kindness Month. UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman introduced His Holiness to the gathering, recalling that he had visited the campus several times before and that it was in Irvine in 1989 that His Holiness received the news that he had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize

Activist and rapper Michael Franti took the stage and after talking about his experiences in Iraq playing for maimed children and US servicemen alike, played his song about everyone needing a hug every day. He filled the room with joy and friendship.

Mayor Choy of Irvine, the City of Innovation, arrived to offer His Holiness a gift and certificate of recognition.

In his remarks, His Holiness noted that more and more people are paying attention to inner values, which is encouraging. Speaking to Franti, he told him it was his extensive tattoos that first caught his eye, but that he was then really impressed by the energy of his performance.

Back at the Bren Events Center, more than 1000 Tibetans, Mongolians and Bhutanese waited to celebrate His Holiness’s birthday with him. A group of children sang a song of joy for him, but when the following adult group ran into technical difficulties His Holiness decided to wait no more but to begin his talk.

He spoke of how Tibet has vigorously preserved the Nalanda tradition over the last more than a thousand years. Despite the political fragmentation that afflicted Tibet, what bound Tibetans together was their language and shared upholding of the Kangyur and Tengyur. He encouraged them, monastics and lay-people alike, to read and study. Not only to read and study the ‘Stages of the Path to Enlightenment’ but also other texts like Bhavaviveka’s ‘Blaze of Reasoning”.

Commenting on the pro-Dolgyal / Shugden protestors on the streets outside the venue, His Holiness said:

“Their presence doesn’t make any difference to me. I feel compassion for them because in ignorance they’ve been deceived. From 1951 to the early 1970s, in ignorance, I also propitiated Dolgyal. But I harboured various suspicions as a result of which I did research. I discovered that the 5th Dalai Lama had written that the supposed Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen was not the real lama and had risen as a fierce spirit. The 5th Dalai Lama referred to him as an ‘evil spirit arisen from distorted prayers who harms the Dharma and sentient beings.’

“What really concerns me is the sectarianism and divisiveness associated with this practice. An example I have heard about was the Dzing Dzing monastery in Kham. While the monks of the monastery persisted in propitiating Dolgyal, members of nearby monasteries kept their distance. Once they gave it up, members of all 17 monasteries in the area became more friendly and cordial with each other.

“While I was still propitiating Dolgyal and living at Swarag Ashram I had a dream that I had left out a copy of the Pema Kathang, a biography of Guru Rinpoche, and that it disappeared. I told Geshe Rabten about this and he told me it was Dolgyal’s doing.

“Zemey Rinpoche’s Yellow Book, ‘The Sacred Words of the Able Father’, recounted relations between lamas and government officials and Dolgyal. Nechung had earlier told me that associating with Dolgyal was a mistake, and I had told him to keep quiet. Once this book appeared, I told him he could say whatever he had to say about it. Dolgyal’s being a ‘drekpa’ or fierce spirit wouldn’t have mattered if it weren’t for his harming the Dharma, but there is such severe sectarianism and intimidation associated with it. The 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 13th Dalai Lamas all took an ecumenical, non-sectarian view of spiritual practice. As one of their line it’s only correct that I should follow their tradition too.

“As I said, my overriding concern is the sectarianism and resulting social divisions that arise as a result of this practice. These poor people who are protesting don’t know the truth about it. We should set them right, but there’s no ground to be angry, to harass or exclude them. Right now they are exercising their freedom of expression, but that is something I have a right to do too.”

As His Holiness left the stage the assembled Tibetans raised a steady chant of “Long Live His Holiness the Dalai Lama.” Tomorrow, very early in the day he will leave LA for New York.