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The Dalai Lama enlightens at Emory

The man in the robe is toying with his audience.


“I always describe [myself] the hopeless professor,” the Dalai Lama tells 1,200 Emory students, faculty and community members, referring to his being named a Presidential Distinguished Professor in 2007. “I am a lazy person so I have never done homework.”


The room fills with laughter. He chuckles with them.


“So if you expected something marvelous,” he says humbly, “teaching or something … then, nothing.”


As part of a three-day series of public and campus events in Atlanta, the Dalai Lama began his visit to Emory with a course about secular ethics Wednesday morning, packing Glenn Memorial Auditorium. Throughout the two-hour discussion, the spiritual leader intermixed light-hearted jokes with serious discussion.

In his third visit to campus, his concentration on secular ethics focused on in his teachings and books that he has developed for years.


“When we start hearing [about world suffering and conflict], we remain indifferent. I think that is also immoral. … So clearly, these [events] show that we — humanity — are really facing some kind of moral crisis,” he said, before glancing at his translator for an approving nod.


“It’s very clear.”


The Dalai Lama said these problems cannot be solved with new regulations but with “sincere, honest motivation.” Because religion can never be universal and sometimes produces corruption, “We have to think seriously about a deeper way of how to change,” he said, with long pauses between his thoughts.


He described religion as medicine that can also be used as poison because the world lacks real conviction and strong moral principles, adding that the existing education system mistakenly emphasizes material values.


“Education alone has the responsibility, taking care of both brain diplomat and warm-hearted diplomat,” he said.


While some have cautioned the Dalai Lama against using the word “secular,” he said a secular approach is an appropriate method for implementing moral teachings, from both common sense and scientific research, into education.


“So, perhaps I may say, my university, [I am a] hopeless professor [but a] warm-hearted [professor],” he said before taking questions.


Asked a student: “In an interconnected world where countries exhibit diverse religious, philosophical and cultural foundations, how can leaders, groups and societies formulate laws, policies and ethical guidelines that not only suit their own perspectives but also take account of and respect the foundations of the perspectives of others?”


After a moment of discussion with his translator, the Dalai Lama answered that it depends on the size of the country.


“The world belongs to 7 billion human beings,” he said, adding, “So I think the democratic system is the best way.”


After discussing how to treat prisoners and the meaning of life — “being happy and being useful” — the crowd gave him a final round of applause and he headed to a private luncheon.


In the late afternoon, he took to the Schwartz Center for another scholarly conversation titled, “Transcending Moral Differences: Can ‘Secular Ethics’ Unite Us?” for faculty and graduate students in the Department of Religion and Center for Ethics.


The spiritual leader has become the face of the Emory-Tibet Partnership, which was founded in 1988. This is the first time in 25 years the Dalai Lama has spoken at Glenn Memorial. He last visited Emory in October 2010.


Along with the Dalai Lama visits, the partnership allows a group of Emory students and faculty to study in Dharamsala, India, at the Buddhist Institute of Dialectics. As part of the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative, several Tibetan monks come to Emory every two years to study modern science for teaching careers back in India.

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