It is rare to hear a religious leader mention quantum mechanics as much as this one, and his emphasis and explanations were surprisingly in depth without requiring previous knowledge of Buddhist literature. This is the most down-to-earth Q&A session I have heard from a religious leader at least decade. The topics ranged from old age, sickness and death, technology and conflict. Issues that seem to dominate some areas of life. There is a constant process of relating current scientific knowledge to ancient Buddhist ideas that are at the core of the religion, which keeps the teachings relevant to current specifics, which sort of puts it in the cutting edge of religious development. A large part of that process is clarifying some of the more vaguely defined aspects of Buddhism with what he calls “Critical reasoning” which appears to be a combination of critical thinking skills with the overlay of compassion in all aspects of life. His approach to religious and ethical beliefs emphasize the ways people are the same is vastly more important than the small beliefs that make them different. He answers practical questions such as the meaning of life while first emphasizing that no matter what we do, it will have a limit. Lifespans may be measured in hundreds or even thousands of years if the technology expressed is developed, however we should have no illusions that there is not a limit. With this in mind, it is important to have many perspectives which are firmly rooted in critical thinking skills, which are biased for compassion above all else, when deciding how to treat others. This is how to live life regardless of religious belief. While not expounded on very much, it appears that knowing that there is an end means there will also be new beginnings. Those new beginnings are in some ways, in essence, the reincarnations of the process that creates life. Which he does touch on, as being evolution. So we should show compassion, not just on the personal scale but also on the global scale. At one point he does make a interesting point that, even suppose people lived for a thousand years, who would want to live on a planet ravaged by climate change? Turned into a desert or something else. There are in fact several references to climate change and has integrated it into Buddhist ethics while crediting ancient origins of Buddhism in India. Along with the pervasive message that dealing with climate change is a part of our responsibility to each other, and amid an rise in very tragic human rights violations. He remarks that all major religions, even some Buddhists in Burma, and calls out Aung San Suu Kyi by name. For not condemning and violence. He also mentions that religious strife is a huge problem. People need to live in harmony, he makes several references to humans as “social animals” and so we should act pro-socially, especially towards people of different beliefs. There is even a point where he mentions demilitarization. This summary really doesn’t do it justice. It was one of the most engrossing talks and meshing between secular approaches to self-development and re-prioritization of certain ethical values over others to deal with a myriad of issues facing people the world over today. He touched on purpose not being static, but something that grows out of analysis of out problems with critical thinking skills. By applying compassion to interactions with others and dedicating you life to something greater than yourself, which helps others, will lead you to a path of fulfilment and everyone’s path is different. A lot of surprisingly practical advise and quite a few questions were religious in nature from his panellist Selma Boulmalf who is of muslim faith, Which allowed for several direct questions which demonstrated the deeper differences between Abrahamic religions and Buddhism and a few other eastern religions. It was a rare occasion because he described the belief in heaven as “Useful” to give hope for people who do not understand the complexities of Buddhism. He only tangentially referred to the difference in motivation being that, for those who believe in an afterlife that is somewhere beyond earth, their earthly goals are about reaching that destination and whatever hoops are required to do that. The difference being that in the belief system of reincarnation, the individual can expect to end up right back on earth. Thus the spiritual motivation is to make earth a better place, because the individual benefits from that when they are re-incarnated, and the circumstances of reincarnation are wide and varied which is why compassion is so important, because it’s hard to know if you are dealing with a soul you were attached to in a past life. In a way, both Buddhism and Abrahamic religions are believing that souls return to earth. The primary difference being that in Buddhism, Karma takes effect on earth and not in the afterlife, though sometimes it happens in the next life. He did so in a way that simultaneously emphasized several times the importance of religious harmony. Several times he used India as an example of religious harmony in a melting post. Many of the other panellists did not self-identify, but offered highly secular views. There were also some representatives from Singularity U whom brought up technology and ethics. One thing that was interesting is that he also emphasized religious harmony towards atheists as well, as there’s is simply a different belief system, That is all in just the first session.
See the first session here:
The seconds session starts with a panel with Richard Greer who representing the International Campaign for Tibet. They cover several of the issues facing tibet specifically. He is also careful to highlight issues that face both India and china related to climate change, and that is something they can see mutual benefit for. Then he proceeds to give a talk on why compassion is necessary in our troubled world. Which covers many topics related to compassion.
A little while after that talk ends, there is another one given by Thupten Jinpa, who is often seen translating for the Dalai Lama, which he has done for the last 30yrs. He offers some of his insights into compassion in his own words. He provides insight into how he is able to take the teachings of the Dalai Lama into his everyday life of a father of 2 living a modern life, including things like social media. He coverts many topics, including his work with stanford on training compassion cultivation. He does spend time covering the difference and importance of intention (dentological philosphy) on motivation. While still using that philosophy within a consequentialist framework. to ensure aspects of both are practiced. Which is followed by a engrossing Q&A session.
There are still more sessions planned, as this is only the beginning of his european tour. The version of buddhism practied by the Dalai Lama, tibeten buddhism shares many of the aspects of applying secular concepts to buddhism that neo-Buddhism does. In many ways it is sort of the upstream version of neo-Buddhism, the primary difference being that neo-buddhism seeks to emphasize intigratation future states of technology and how those will change individual relationships to the world.