He participated in a conversation with Emory faculty Wendy Farley, Philippe Rochat, Edward Queen and moderator Paul Wolpe. They discussed the possibility of a secular ethic uniting and transcending moral differences. Wolpe began the conversation by introducing the Dalai Lama and his meaning of secular.
“In his holiness’ book ‘Beyond Religion,’” Wolpe said, “he hopes to provide universal bases to unite the believer and the non-believer through a secular ethic. The word secular is best defined by its meaning in India to include all religion and non-believers, unlike the Western understanding of the word to exclude all religion.”
After the introduction, the other professors proposed their questions to the Dalai Lama. Farley first asked what she can tell her students, who continually endure suffering after opening their hearts to be compassionate. He said that there are different levels of compassion.
“In the Buddhist teaching of compassion there are different degrees of type of compassion,” Dalai Lama said. “The strength and the degree is sometimes determined by what complementary factor we are able to bring in without compassion. Similarly, there is also a question of the degree of courage from a mere wish to someone who has a more empowered level of courage to do something.”
Once the Dalai Lama finished answering Farley’s question, Rochat asked him about the natural instinct of humans.
“In order to come up with secular ethics we need to agree on human nature,” Rochat said. “As a child’s mind grows, it grows in contradiction between good and evil. How do you view the contradictory actions of the human mind? Are we born good or torn between good and evil?”
With a smile on his face, the Dalai Lama said both are naturally present.
Queen then asked the Dalai Lama what was his response to someone rejecting the fundamental idea of secular ethics. The Dalai Lama said even Buddha himself could not make everyone happy.
Before accepting questions from students and other facility members, the Dalai Lama asked Rochat if he believed there was a difference between animals and humans. Rochat said there is since humans objectify themselves and are concerned about reputation.
Professors and graduate students in the audience asked the Dalai Lama several different questions. Professor Sarah McClintock asked how to not become overwhelmed by courage.
“One has to understand how to cultivate courage,” Dalai Lama said. “God has compassion so we all have a spark of that compassion. Believers have hope and with hope comes a greater chance of a smile.”
As the conversation ended and attendees started to file out, the Dalai Lama turned to the crowd and bowed before leaving the stage. Emory student Moyo Odunsi said this was an opportunity she was glad she did not pass up and a memorable experience.