The Dalai Lama: A Dialogue About Compassion

Running about 15 minutes behind schedule, the Dalai Lama was nowhere to be seen as news spread quickly that he had just left the hotel.

While the audience continued to chatter amongst each other, without any reservations, His Holiness walked across the stage at Santa Clara University’s Leavey Event Center on February 24th, for the dialogue on “Business, Ethics and Compassion.”

“He’s such a presence,” said Kathy Lathan, who was one of 4,000 who stood immediately from her seat as His Holiness the Dalai Lama bowed to the crowd. In waves, every single person got up to greet the Dalai Lama. Not a single cell phone rang nor was a word spoken. People respectfully returned a bow and quietly sat back down.

In a soft-spoken voice, the 14th Dalai Lama wished everyone good morning and asked everyone to sit down as some waited for His Holiness to first take a seat. He chuckled as he found his way to his cushioned chair, purposely stationed in the center of the room.

Before Dignity Health CEO Lloyd Dean and CCARE Director Dr. James Doty spoke, the children of the Living Wisdom School performed a medley of songs, most upbeat and cheery.

“When I see young children, I continually reflect on my own childhood,” said the Dalai Lama. He opened the talk by stressing the value of compassion, recalling the times he used to ride on the shoulders of his own mother. The people burst into laughter as he remembered trying to control his mother’s ears: “When I wanted to go left, I pulled [the ear] this way and when I wanted to go right, I pulled [the ear] the other way.”

His Holiness emphasized that we were all equipped with the seed of compassion as that seed was planted in from our mothers. He suggested that human nature is actually more generous in that way. But because of corruption, the gap between the rich and the poor, we often lack affection and respect. He asked everyone to be “wise” selfish rather than “self-centered” selfish.

Following his lead, Dean also made similar remarks about compassion and healthcare.

“We need to unleash a force of positive change,” he said. “Compassion and kindness cost so little but the return are great.”

He recalled growing up with eight siblings and how his childhood influenced the altruistic decisions for providing healthcare for the poor. He mentioned that the steps and change towards compassion were simple.

First, we need to listen to the needs of those who will be impacted by big decisions. Second, we need to ensure that no one dies alone. Lastly, compassion is an obligation.

“I think where the damage happens and where I think your question is rightly focused, is when the benefits are really—it’s the intention that goes with it—that people never leave work and work 16 hours a day,” Dean added.

Both His Holiness and Dean agreed that a smile from doctors and nurses and acknowledging patient’s names rather than by numbers could make a person feel safe and secure.

“If you are open, honest and truthful, you’ll be successful. In your own interest, it’s better to be able to help others than to neglect or harm them,” His Holiness said.

Building a sense of responsibility for embracing compassion, the Dalai Lama concluded that just as physical health requires gradual change so does that of mental health.

“We have a basic instinct for compassion, but we need to develop it. Concern for others is related to human rights and everyone needs to be assured of their human rights because everyone wants and has a right to be happy.”




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