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21 October 2010

His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Atlanta

His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Atlanta His Holiness the Dalai Lama spent the last full day of his current visit to Atlanta by participating in three different events that symbolized his commitments as also his hope that the current generation will make this century a peaceful one.  In the morning he first addressed the participants of the International Tibetan Buddhist Conference in Emory University’s Conference Center before going to the Woodruff PE Center for an interactive session with students and faculty of Emory.  In the afternoon, he participated in a conversation with artists about the role of the arts in promoting a compassionate society.

The program began with the chanting of an invocation by a group of Drepung Loseling monks.

Geshe Lobsang Tenzin, Director of Emory-Tibet Partnership, introduced the conference saying today Tibetan Buddhism has spread from its traditional base to throughout the world and it has become a vibrant source for the flourishing of humanity and global peace. He said the role of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama has been crucial in this. He said the conference would be touching on six topics, namely Tibetan Buddhism’s Encounter with Modern Science; Tibetan Buddhism and Social Engagement; Translating the Dharma; Tibetan Buddhism in the Modern Academy; Tibetan Buddhism in Modern Western Culture; and Surviving Modernity in Traditionally Tibetan Buddhist Regions.  Geshe Lobsang Tenzin added that the conference was co-sponsored by the Office of Tibet, New York, and Emory University, with support from the Conservancy for Tibetan Art and Culture in Washington, DC, and Drepung Loseling Monastery, Inc., in Atlanta, GA.

Dr. Gary Hauk, Emory’s Vice President, welcomed the conference participants on behalf of the University. He said that such a conference complemented Emory’s identity as an ethically engaged community.  He talked about Emory’s religious heritage and how intellectual discussion was very much encouraged.
Kasur Lobsang Nyandak, Representative of H.H. the Dalai Lama to the Americas, in his remarks, said following the Conference of Tibetan Buddhist Dharma Centers of the Americas that they had organized in 2003, there was a strong recommendation for the continuation of such a process.
Kasur Nyandak acknowledged the cooperation received from the lamas, scholars, leaders and practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism.  He said that the changing nature of our times demands that all teachers, students and practitioners work together to preserve the essence of the Buddha’s teachings and to ensure the best way for the Dharma to continue to serve humanity without any boundaries.

In his keynote address, His Holiness the Dalai Lama said it was an honor to inaugurate the conference. He said following the tragedy in Tibet, particularly since 1959, it was fortunate that quite many learned Gurus, scholars and students have escaped.  He said the Tibetan Buddhist culture and Tibetan Buddhism are not only ancient traditions but also relevant to today’s world. Therefore, in the last 51 years every effort has been made to preserve them and now various Buddhist tradition, as well as Bon tradition, has been quite well established in India. Over 10,000 monks carry study, some few hundred Mongolians and over 5 to 6000 students study in various Tibetan monastic institutions, including nunneries.
In the 1960s and 70s some teachers have visited the West and subsequently set up Buddhist centers.  His Holiness said that the basic policy continues to be one where we do not believe in conversion saying we believe it is safer and better to stick to one’s own religious tradition.  However, he said there would be some individuals who may find the Buddhist way of approach more suitable to them.
His Holiness said that in one sense, the Tibetan tragedy is a sad one, but in another sense it has provided an opportunity that did not exist before.  He said that it is important for all the upholders of the Buddhist teaching to be harmonious.
His Holiness said that frankly speaking while efforts have been made to promote harmony with other religious traditions like Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Jainism, Judaism, etc, not enough was being done to promote the same within the Buddhist tradition.  He said, for example, contact between the Pali tradition and the Sanskrit tradition was not adequate.  Also, within the Tibetan tradition, sometimes there is a tendency to emphasize the different branches and remain stuck there rather than recognizing the commonality, which is the main trunk, he said.
His Holiness talked about meeting two Burmese monks in Australia during which they told him that although we are followers of the same teacher we have big differences. His Holiness said they thought the Tibetan Buddhist tradition did not include Vinaya practice. He said he explained that Tibetan Buddhists did have Vinaya practice and the monks were surprised.
His Holiness also said Tibetan Buddhists also had the tendency to dwell on rituals like chanting pujas without understanding their meaning, monastic dance to destroy evil, etc. He said that these had the danger of losing the real essence of the Buddha Dharma, which he said was becoming something like a social custom. He said serious attention was not being paid on how to develop inner spiritual qualities and how to move up the graded path of spiritually.  His Holiness said this was sad.
He said it was not that all Tibetan Buddhists are doing this as there are people who really do the practice well.
Talking about the responsibility of individual practitioners, His Holiness said during the Buddha’s time, the main holder of the religious tradition was the clergy.  Subsequently, in eighth century Tibet there were both the clergy and the lay practitioners who took genuine responsibility to continue the teaching of the Buddha Dharma.
His Holiness said he had two points to propose to the conference participants.  First, he said they should know each other, discuss and exchange different experiences. He said that as the Buddhist centers expand there would be more people and thereby naturally a risk of degeneration and corruption. He wanted the people to be alert to these potential dangers and to discuss them.
Secondly, he said all Buddhist centers need to pay more attention to the Nalanda tradition saying that all Tibetan Buddhist traditions, as well as Bonpo tradition, study the Nalanda masters. He said everyone should study the root texts authored by the Nalanda masters. Advising the practitioners not to misunderstand the priorities, His Holiness said the branches are there to strengthen the main trunk and so people should go to the authentic source i.e. the Nalanda masters and from there to the teachings of the Buddha himself.  His Holiness asked the conference to discuss frankly, seriously, and with a sense of responsibility.
His Holiness reminded everyone that service to others at various levels and various forms is important. Referring to the challenges ahead, he quoted from the teachings of the master Vasubandhu that said that the eyes of the Dharma teaching are coming to a close; the masters who can attest to the authenticity of the teachings are disappearing; and there are few individuals who, without understanding the depth of the Buddha’s teaching, are creating great disturbances and defiling the purity of the Buddha Dharma.
His Holiness concluded that he believed that the conference can bring some deeper awareness about each individual’s responsibility.
The International Conference on Tibetan Buddhism is being held from October 18-20, 2010. It brings together around 350 leaders, teachers, scholars, translators, and students of Tibetan Buddhism from both traditionally Tibetan Buddhist areas as well as western countries to engage in substantive discussion about the current state of Tibetan Buddhism in the modern world and how best to move forward collectively.
Thereafter, His Holiness, as Emory University’s Presidential Distinguished Professor, went to the Woodruff PE Center to hold his own version of “Office Hours” the period when a Professor opens his doors so that students can come and interact with him.  Emory’s President James W. Wagner moderated this session held in a town hall format.
In the beginning of the session, President Wagner informed the audience that the ticket sales have covered the cost of the programs during His Holiness’ visit and that some amount is being donated to the Emory-Tibet Partnership and the Science Initiative. President Wagner said His Holiness does not take any money and had in fact donated twice to the Emory-Tibet Partnership.
President Wagner then said some weeks back students and faculty were invited to pose questions to His Holiness. During the session, a selection of the video recording of e questions was played.  They ranged from spiritual issues to the nature of truth, to how His Holiness could handle his responsibilities, his greatest influence and his biggest fears. They also sought advice with life after Emory University. Emory students, faculty, and staff gather for a town-hall style conversation with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Representatives of students, faculty and staff were on the stage to pose follow up questions.
His Holiness, in his response talked about the affection of his mother being the source of his strength as a child. As he began to study Buddhist philosophy, he began to understand the benefits. He thus said experience was also one of his strengths.
His Holiness advised the students to have an optimistic attitude and not to take things for granted. He said they should know that there will be challenges ahead but at the same time understand that these will be the same ones that are being faced by others.

He also said that people should have a realistic attitude and approach and that they should have full knowledge of their goal and method. Without these he said the effort will be unrealistic.
He suggested that students have a warm heart so that their knowledge and education become constructive.
In response to a question on the Tibetan spirit, His Holiness said Tibetan spirit was very strong in Tibet as well as outside.
His Holiness concluded by saying that his generation belonged to the 20th century and that the students belong to the 21st century.  He said the students should have responsibility to take care of this planet and that they should have a combination of a brilliant mind and a warm heart.
The students thanked him through a video recording that said, “Thank You, Professor” as well as through a prolonged ovation.
Thereafter, His Holiness gave an interview to ABC’s Dan Harris that will be broadcast in Nightline some time in November.  The interview dealt with the Buddhist-scientist dialogue that His Holiness had initiated.
His Holiness then had lunch with the University President, trustees, and patrons.
In the afternoon, His Holiness participated in "The Creative Journey: Artists in Conversation with the Dalai Lama on Spirituality and Creativity" with Richard Gere and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker. They started with the question whether the arts have any special responsibility to promote compassion.  They also discussed what the artist and the spiritual master have to teach each other from their respective disciplines.
His Holiness and the panelists agreed that the arts had much role in promoting compassion. He urged the people in general to use their creativity to uphold democracy, liberty and individual freedom.  Regarding the role of the United States in promoing a better world, His Holiness said that since his childhood he had an admiration for the United States as the champion of democracy, liberty and freedom.  Since the United States is the leading nation, His Holiness said no matter what happens the American people should not let down their spirits. He added that if the Americans become demoralized it would have negative impact throughout the world.
Both Richard Gere and Alice Walker referred to His Holiness as a role model and a source of inspiration.  They also talked about the message of despair and redemption conveyed by the story of the Tibetan saint Milarepa.  Alice Walker said that the trials and tribulation of Milarepa echoed the experience of her community adding that she would be very happy for the story to be known to Americans in the south of the country.  This session was co-presented by Emory’s Creativity: Arts and Innovation initiative.
At the conclusion, Dr. Rosemary Magee, Emory Vice President and Secretary, thanked His Holiness the Dalai Lama calling him “Our Professor” and everyone involved with the programs saying it has been an extraordinary spiritual, academic and scientific journey.
His Holiness departs from Atlanta to Cincinnati, OH, for the next leg of his visit to the United States.

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