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Vol. LXVI, No. 7
March 28, 2014
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Disarming Laughter
Dalai Lama Visits NIH, Lectures in Natcher

On the front page...

His Holiness the Dalai Lama (r) and NIH director Dr. Francis Collins
His Holiness the Dalai Lama (r) and NIH director Dr. Francis Collins
A crowd of about 1,000 NIH’ers filled Kirschstein Auditorium on Mar. 7 to hear His Holiness the Dalai Lama give the annual J. Edward Rall Cultural Lecture. But it was the Dalai Lama’s laughter—a sudden, prolonged, heartfelt and guttural chortle—that disarmed the room.

The laugh came frequently, too—a sort of instructive laughter-in-italics that implied permission to laugh along. It was the laughter of the barbershop, the kitchen, the loading dock—worksite laughter that bonds colleagues and widens the plank all sentient creatures walk.

“Indeed I am extremely happy to visit this famous institution,” said the Dalai Lama, seated on stage with NIH director Dr. Francis Collins on his right and an interpreter, infrequently consulted, on his left. “I feel honored…What I have learned,” he said, pointing to his head, “is [that] the controller is here. I want to know more how it works.”

Continued...

Speaking on the topic, “The Role of Science in Human Flourishing,” he added, “Science is truly making contributions for well-being and care…it is really wonderful.” Keenly interested in science since he was a child, the Dalai Lama said he preferred taking things apart and putting them back together to studying books. His translator explained, “He dismantled things to see how they work.” And the Dalai Lama loosed a laugh.

It was during a visit to a hydroelectric plant near Beijing in 1954 that he realized “I loved meeting with scientists. They did not care about nationality, or color, or believer, or non-believer. It was wonderful.”

The Dalai Lama embraces Mary Cassell, a 13-year-old patient with cerebral palsy, as her mother Susan Cassell looks on. The Dalai Lama spoke for the first half of his Rall lecture, then took questions from NIH director Dr. Francis Collins.
The Dalai Lama embraces Mary Cassell, a 13-year-old patient with cerebral palsy, as her mother Susan Cassell looks on.

The Dalai Lama spoke for the first half of his Rall lecture, then took questions from NIH director Dr. Francis Collins.


He returned repeatedly to the theme of oneness and to the danger of concepts that separate man from man. “Regimes are troublemakers,” he warned.

Collins explained that the Dalai Lama had been given drawings made by youngsters at the Children’s Inn at NIH; the holy man embraced them for illustrating the concept of one world. “The sense of oneness of human beings—I’m one of them,” he said. “I have totally dedicated my life to showing” that idea.

The Dalai Lama said it was a hopeful sign that science cares nothing for an individual’s faith, race, color or nationality and applauded its international spirit. But not all science is good, he said. “Nuclear weapons create a lot of fear…Genuine peace must come from love, not fear.”

He also observed, “You might be a wonderful scientist, but not necessarily a very happy person.” Stress, competitiveness and jealousy can poison scientific pursuit, he said. “Scientific knowledge alone will not bring inner peace.”

The Dalai Lama gestures to a friend in the audience as he makes a point during his talk.

The Dalai Lama gestures to a friend in the audience as he makes a point during his talk.

Photos: Ernie Branson

Inner peace must come on its own, he counseled, and results when mankind relies on its innate goodness, intelligence and compassion. He predicted that late this century, science will be able to look deeply into consciousness, mind and emotion, thereby becoming more complete.

“I think you can contribute,” he said, gesturing at Collins with a grin.

The director then posed a series of questions submitted by employees.

“If neuroscience could find the basis of consciousness, how would that change your view of the mind?” Collins asked.

the Dalai Lama exhibits his compassion in a brief visit with patient Robyn Painter he drapes a kata, or scarf, around Collins’ neck. “Very tall,” His Holiness remarked.
At left, the Dalai Lama exhibits his compassion in a brief visit with patient Robyn Painter. At right, he drapes a kata, or scarf, around Collins’ neck. “Very tall,” His Holiness remarked.

The Dalai Lama said he practiced not only Buddhist, but also ancient Indian meditation, progressing from mindfulness to analytic meditation, and assured Collins that one could keep one’s mental faculties sharp even into old age through such training. At which point he grasped Collins’ arm and guffawed.

“A happier person, a happier humanity,” has to be the goal of meditation, said the Dalai Lama. “The mind is quite neutral.” He said that a mind trained to look objectively is a good thing, and that an open, unbiased mind is an unconflicted mind.

Laughter was common during the Dalai Lama’s visit, as evidenced here in an exchange in the movement analysis laboratory at the Clinical Center.
Laughter was common during the Dalai Lama’s visit, as evidenced here in an exchange in the movement analysis laboratory at the Clinical Center.

“A scientist has a very open mind, with skepticism and doubt, which are highly necessary,” he said approvingly.

Asked whether science can explain altruism, the Dalai Lama said that science is good at quantifying material things such as atoms and genomes, but predicted it won’t have much to say about consciousness until the latter part of the century.

As to generosity, he advised using common sense. “It is not necessary to ask the scientist,” he said. “Learn from mother.” A mother’s love is crucial, “immensely important to proper development,” he said.

He recalled the lessons of his friendship with biologist Robert Livingston, who explained to the Dalai Lama the importance of the first few weeks post-birth when the physical and emotional bond between mother and child is established. The brain itself does not develop properly absent this bond, he said.

This bond precedes religion or education, he added. The trust it forms provides a lifelong foundation for love and friendship.

“Without that, even a very smart mind will try to cheat or take advantage,” he warned. The Dalai Lama said even animals know when a human being acts with sincerity. The human animal is acquainted with anger, hatred and fear, “but that is not the dominant—the dominant is love.” Asserting that basic human nature is positive, he smiled again at Collins and joked, “I’m ready to argue!”

Asked if he ever loses his temper or has a bad day, the Dalai Lama said, “Of course! Quite often I lose my temper, usually over small, small things.” On large matters, however, it happens rarely, he said.

The Dalai Lama is impressed by the strength of NIH Police Ofcr. Karl Hayes.
The Dalai Lama is impressed by the strength of NIH Police Ofcr. Karl Hayes.

The final question dealt with the dialogue between science and religion.

“Right from the beginning I made clear that I reject the division between Buddhism and science,” said the Dalai Lama. He said his religion focuses on mind and emotion, not on good versus evil, and acknowledged the “immense benefit of learning from science.” But he said that centuries of practicing meditation have given the Buddhist world an advantage over current science in some areas: “Western psychology is like kindergarten compared to ancient Indian meditation.”

As he rose to leave the stage, the Dalai Lama presented Collins with a long white kata, or scarf. It is a traditional gift, symbolizing purity and compassion. “Very tall,” he noted, reaching up to drape it around the director’s neck. “Thank you, bye-bye, bye-bye,” he said, bowing respectfully to the crowd.


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