“If you cannot smile you won’t have any friends,” the Dalai Lama said during his address on Oct. 8 in Atlanta to a stadium of intrigued scholars and curious sightseers. He is right. The nature of enlightenment lies not in the discovery of deep secrets, but in realizing the importance of the seemingly obvious.
I was fortunate to be selected as part of Maryville College’s delegation to the Dalai Lama’s visit. Public appearances in the U.S. are rare for him. As a student of philosophy and religion, I was excited when I heard of the opportunity and even more elated when I was selected. I am still extremely grateful to those who made the trip possible for us students.
However, as I sat waiting in my auditorium seat for the Dalai Lama to make his entrance, I primarily felt exhaustion from a poor night’s sleep. The fear that I would not be able to make it through the event with my eyes open came over me.
Fortunately, I was able to find some caffeine and perk up. The Dalai Lama, and the later panel of researchers who joined him, had many excellent insights and interesting things to say, but I do not want to just summarize what I heard.
I want to share what I think and give the outcome of all the information from that day rattling around my head, while also imparting what the Dalai Lama felt it was important to express.
The Dalai Lama sees the 21st century as an opportunity to create “a century of compassion” in contrast to the past 100 years which have easily been defined by conflict as much as progress. Science has proven itself as a tool that can be used with positive or negative consequences.
What the Dalai Lama and Emory University have realized is that scientific thought can be combined with Buddhist teaching and meditation, or as it was tactfully described “science of mind,” in order to create an inquisitive yet compassionate framework of thought and education.
Education is how individuals are forged. The Dalai Lama feels that the world needs individuals becoming actively involved and united if a better future is to be created for humanity. If people can learn to view themselves as engaged and responsible figures that cannot depend on government, technology or anything else to save them, then the world can begin to change. Apathy and passivity must be cut away from the modern psyche.
Through studying science and compassion there lies the possibility of opening up oneself, if not to the true reality of the world, at least to the realization of a more fulfilling life.
The goal of the Dalai Lama’s idea of secular ethics and education programs is the creation of an ethical system that embraces the whole of humanity. As people realize their connections and enter into dialogue with each other they realize their mutual sense of self. From understanding and cognition of each other comes the enlightenment of no longer seeing “Us vs. Them” dynamics, but seeing how humanity can function united in the hopes of achieving a sustainable and superior future.
Secular ethics is a path meant to be traveled by anyone, religious or not, that desires the better angels of our nature to triumphant over the devils of our Darwinian past. No longer is one simply trying to survive by any means necessary. One is able to rise above what one once was. Through understanding and meditation, either on the sciences or on the self, control can be achieved and the direction of compassion charted.
Being around the Dalai for that short time, I realized he was person of laughter and I believe that is what we should strive to be: people who laugh and people who smile. When we each smile, when we each make the choice to be positive and kind towards those around us, then we make friends, and then we change the world.