Friday, May 22, 2009
The Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama came to campus recently in order to dedicate The Dalai Lama Center of Ethics and Transformative Values -- an interesting but fitting addition to a university dedicated to learning and understand and the ultimate application of discovery.
He's quite possibly one of my favorite people ever: through his wisdom, humor, and practicality, he is a religious leader grounded in science and inquiry. His messages are devoid of proselytization and encourage peace, forgiveness, and seeing the good in everyone:
"I love your former president George Bush. He was so honest and straightforward. But as far as his policies are concerned, I have reservations.”
He touched on the current economic crisis, saying ironically, "Something’s human-created, but it’s beyond human control?" Wall Street, I believe that is your cue to say, "Oh shoot. Sorry about that...let's fix this."
He described "secular" not as an absence of belief, but as a mode of treating religious belief and non-belief with equal respect...and that ethics can exist without depending on a particular religion. He encouraged the development of a global code of ethics in order to better solve problems on a global scale, since the world as we know if is not isolated groups of people; we are in fact all interacting and dependent on each other and the environment. The bottom line is we need a better way to communicate how to do what is right.
One of the most meaningful moments for me was when he said something to the effect of "I am Buddhist and it works for me. But it does not work for everyone. And I could never force things that will not work on other people. "
You see, I don't work in black and white. And I certainly don't work with hate. Which is part of the reason I have had a hard time in the past in spiritual matters. Showing pictures of vacuumed out baby parts isn't love. It's propaganda and hate, demonizing someone who is hurt and suffering into a terrible awful person worthy of all damnation. Saying that the only one true family is a mother, a father, and children and that they are the only ones worthy of love is not representative of the families of the past or those now...and you have to look no farther than stories in the old or new testament to your neighbors down the street to confirm the irrefutable fact that love can happen in all sorts of families. I value thoughts and science and love and working together and chocolate chip cookies and wearing cotton dresses. I don't fit into a box. And I'm glad that he recognizes that people are not born perfect cubes that fit in just right without any trouble at all.
It's like when you're a little kid your mom keeps forcing you to wear socks. You hate socks, ergo you pull them off. After experience, cold feet, scrapes, and all sorts of other abuse, you start to see the point of socks. And maybe you wear the white cotton ones with pink bows your mom had you wear when you were little...or maybe you start to love bright colored bobby socks...or maybe you forgo socks and wear patterned tights instead, though you also enjoy being barefoot on the beach.
Point? Thank you for realizing that all people are different, that all people have a varied and difficult journey to find meaning and faith in something, including what kind of box they want to fit in. It means a lot.
After he spoke, he opened up the floor for questions, and one student asked about how he would suggest reconciling thoughts of peace with being a student whose job it was to work developing weapons (a very relevant question here at MIT, for sure, where all of the DOD work had to be hidden out at Draper Labs during Vietnam). His response was that individual disarmament is easy, but that sort of thing is hard to accomplish at a wider scale---which he hopes will happen by the end of the century. And in the meantime, he suggested that if you find things in your work morally objectionable, contact your senator, or volunteer with advocacy organizations that are working to help de-militarization efforts.
He also challenged MIT engineers to come up with a weapon that doesn't hurt innocent people. Anyone up for the challenge?
For more articles on the Dalai Lama's visit to MIT, please see the center's website, the school newspaper, or a religious blog covering the event.