Harvard hosts His Holiness


The Dalai Lama, surrounded by “grey suits.”

The Dalai Lama spoke in Harvard Yard Monday afternoon, warning Harvard students that their vaunted educations alone cannot guarantee happiness.

His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Tibetan Dalai Lama, spoke at Memorial Church to a packed crowd of 600 lucky Harvard i.d.-holders as part of his tour through the United States to support and encourage American Buddhism. Robed in maroon and saffron, he delivered his speech largely in English, peppering his comments with appeals to his interpreter, humor, hand gestures and hoots of laughter.

Humbly introducing himself as “another human being, no more, no less,” the Dalai Lama asserted the right of every human being to live a happy life, and explored the possibilities for individuals to reach this goal. Unsurprisingly, the Buddhist guru concluded that individual happiness is unachievable without a lifestyle of compassion.

Crowds of well-wishers and grey-suited dignitaries and guards swarmed around Harvard Yard in anticipation of His Holiness’ arrival Monday afternoon. After stepping out of an SUV and accepting flowers and handshakes from a lucky few, grinning infamously all the while, the Tibetan holy man entered Memorial Church to speak and answer questions for well over an hour. Noting the similar ages of the Dalai Lama tradition (360 years) and his host Harvard University (368 years), the Dalai Lama began his talk by praising the great human achievement of education.

However, he quickly cautioned his ivy-league audience not to assume that education alone delivers happiness. He cited the World Trade Center bombing and Nazi extermination camps as evidence that many evil acts require great complexity and intelligence, and that “some of the great and brilliant human individuals were too smart.” Faulting modern society for severing education from a spiritual development of the individual, His Holiness warned that without a moral compass we can easily lose sense of common interests.

Particularly, those of us blessed with American higher education tend to become more nearsighted, “absorbed in [our] own large country,” and thus undereducated about the “interdependent” outside world and the effects of our lifestyles on the outside world. This perceived independence and a fierce motivation to personal success can contribute heavily to depression and the dehumanization of others.

How do we correct these nihilistic tendencies? According to the Dalai Lama, the roots of unhappiness lie in loneliness. He cited both science and psychology to support this view.

First, Gyatso paraphrased a study that found people who speak frequently in the first person – “I, me, mine” – were more likely to have heart attacks. He mused that this was likely because such an egocentric view was so far removed from our natural state, and prevents peace of mind. The crowd laughed uproariously while the Dalai Lama performed an extended charade to his interpreter to find the word “nipple,” to illustrate that we enter the world wholly dependent on another’s generosity to survive. Affection and happiness thus “first come from mother. Guru comes later,” he chuckled. Generosities being the physical norm, humans therefore feel dissociated when personal gain and success supplant our natural state of interdependence.

The good news, however, is that we can correct this moral decline. According to His Holiness, we can achieve contentment and peace of mind not through religion (necessarily), or formal training, but rather through a regime of altruism. “Compassion, affection, and altruism” for others reconnects us with our humanity and leads us to self-discovery. The Dalai Lama urged the Harvard community to use its educated wealth to help others, not only for their sake, but our own peace of mind as well.

Listeners seemed quite receptive to the message. A group of student conservationists from New Hampshire remarked on how the talk was both humorous and thought-provoking. Student David Morrilm said that he laughed throughout, while still retaining much, and pondered over the “more Taoist message of moderation” he sensed in some of the Lama’s answers. A group of Cambridge residents animatedly discussing the guru’s messages found the talk “very special.” Harvard neighbor Auliya Westcott loved the idea of “internalizing the sense that we’re all the same being; we affect the neighbors we can’t see.” Local residents, fully-robed monks and dreadlocked students alike congregated and mulled seriously over the wise man’s words.

After the speech was concluded, the Dalai Lama responded to written questions from the audience, asked by Dean of the faculty of arts and sciences Professor William Kirby. Unfortunately, we didn’t discover the Lama’s favorite movie: “fiction has too much violence.” He is, however, an avid watcher of the Discovery Channel. On a more serious note, Gyatso took the most time determining whether war can ever be morally justified. After pondering and consulting in Tibetan, he concluded that it cannot, because in today’s regime of global interdependence, the destruction of one’s enemy is the destruction of part of one’s self, and thus every victory is at heart Pyrrhic. “In the modern world, the entire world is part of you. That’s reality.”

One Harvard student, filing solemnly out of Memorial Church, turned to his friend and said “dude, I should probably call my mom.

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