Dalai Lama Shares His Wisdom, Humor in Kresge Auditorium

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His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, addresses a packed Kresge Auditorium on Thursday afternoon at the inaugural event of The Dalai Lama Center of Ethics and Transformative Values, a venture under MIT’s Office of Religious Life.
Aditi Verma—The Tech

For the second time in six years, the Dalai Lama spoke at MIT. But while last time he was a visiting guest, yesterday he was speaking to inaugurate a new center at MIT, the Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values.

As the Dalai Lama walked onto the stage in a sold-out Kresge Auditorium, the crowd fell silent.

He met the audience with a distinctive anjali greeting, pressing his hands together and bowing repeatedly. Then, after a brief introduction, he began to speak.

First he spoke to the global economy and the confounding nature of free markets: “Something’s human-created, but it’s beyond human control?”

The rest of his talk focused on the role of ethics in secular education. Secularism does not mean rejecting religion, he said; it means “respect for all religions.” Ethics can exist without depending on a particular religion, he said.

Honesty is important in every line of work, from politics to science to finance, he said. Greed was a source of the economic crisis, he said.

He praised countries like the United States for their commitment to human rights, contrasting them with China, whose government’s 1950 takeover of Tibet has been a source of tension within and outside the Buddhist community for more than half a century.

The current Dalai Lama — whose full title is His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso — is the fourteenth in a line of leaders chosen to lead Tibet and its form of Buddhism. He grew up in Tibet at a time when China began mounting pressure against the Tibetan regime to its west. He fled to India after leading a failed uprising against China fifty years ago.

Although the Dalai Lama did make oblique references to his half century of exile from Tibet, the leader, when asked to compare the plight of Tibetans to that of Native Americans, said he did not see the need to hold a grudge.

“There’s no point in keeping such grievance,” said the Dalai Lama. “That’s all in the past.”

The 73-year-old Dalai Lama was clearly not a native English speaker — he struggled, once, to find the word “hacking” — but his message over an hour and a half was clear and his jokes never fell flat.

The Dalai Lama invented outlandish technological concepts, such as bullets that go around innocents and only hit decision-makers, to convey his concepts. He also drew laughter and surprise when he unveiled and put on a red visor and later removed it as he noted that some detractors call him evil.

“Can’t you see my horns?” he joked.

The Center for Ethics and Transformative Values will confront pressing modern ethical issues, including questions related to sustainability, conflict resolution, and holistic education. The center will be housed under the Office of Religious Life at MIT.

The organization will consider both secular and theological perspectives and will collaborate with other groups at MIT and in other countries, such as the Center for Human Development in New Delhi, India.

After his speech, the Dalai Lama answered questions, including one about model leaders. He singled out President George W. Bush for his straightforwardness, but stopped short on complimenting him for much else.

“I love him”, said the Dalai Lama of President Bush, “but as far as his policies are concerned, I have reservations.”

Even as the Dalai Lama’s on-stage acquaintances gave signals indicating that time was running out, the Dalai Lama kept taking questions. But when a lengthy question about some of the new center’s major concepts was posed, the Dalai Lama concluded the talk.

“I think that’s for my next speech,” he said.