Thousands of people filled San Diego State University's Vieja Arena on April 19 to listen to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people and 1989 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, as he spoke about the importance of upholding compassion in a world that faces difficult changes.
Among the attendees were 18 UA undergraduates who traveled from Tucson as part of the first trip of the UA Honors College's new field trip program.
The field trip program seeks to enhance students' educational experiences by making it possible for groups to travel to attend interdisciplinary events or lectures relevant to their area of study and future careers. Field trips are one of the new Honors College programs made possible by the Honors College membership fee.
"The Dalai Lama is naturally interdisciplinary," said Louise Williams, who organized the trip. Williams is a UA junior double majoring in philosophy and religious studies and a member of the Honors Student Council. "One of the things that the Honors College is always trying to do is appeal to a diverse group."
Williams instigated the field trip because she thought the Dalai Lama would appeal to students on multiple levels. "He has religious, philosophical and political ties," she said. "This is an individual who naturally creates interest across the board in different disciplines."
The group that went on the trip included students majoring in philosophy, religious studies, journalism, anthropology and biology.
In his lecture, which was entitled "Compassion Without Borders," the Dalai Lama spoke of the importance of acting with compassion for all fellow human beings especially in a time when the world faces many difficult challenges and barriers to acceptance.
"Everybody is equipped to see affection or compassion," he said. The Dalai Lama also encouraged equal respect for all religions. If moral ethics are based entirely on religion, he said, "then moral ethics become very narrow. We need another way of approach: promoting moral ethics not based on religion."
"I became interested in Buddhism through the Dalai Lama's books," said Gabriela Diaz, a UA freshman double majoring in journalism and global studies, who attended the lecture. Diaz is a practicing Nichiren Buddhist and a member of the UA's Buddhists for Peace club.
"I really like how the Dalai Lama does not try to impose his Buddhism when talking about important things like how an individual can make a difference," said Diaz. Even though she is a Nichiren and not a Tibetan Buddhist, Diaz said the Dalai Lama's values and goals are the same as her own. "He has always been an inspiration," she said.
Williams, who studied at a Tibetan monastery in Nepal last summer, was interested in attending the lecture initially because it provided her with an opportunity to stay connected to Tibetan issues and community in the U.S. "It's a really small community," she said. "I've been looking for ways to get engaged and try to understand the dynamics of the Tibetan people."
"As a philosophy major, I think Buddhism is a really good bridge between Eastern and Western philosophies," Williams said. She added that she feels particularly at home with Tibetan culture because it reminds her of the Latino culture she is familiar with: "There are interesting similarities: The Tibetans love bright colors and artwork, and there are similar attitudes about aesthetics."
The Dalai Lama is what Tibetan Buddhists call a bodhisattva: a Buddha, or enlightened being, who delays his or her own attainment of nirvana, the state of perfect peace that is the ultimate goal of Buddhism, in order to help others. Tibetan Buddhists believe the Dalai Lama is the living manifestation of Avalokiteshvara or Chenrezig, the bodhisattva of compassion.
Born in 1935, Tenzin Gyatso was recognized as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama at the age of 2. In the wake of China's invasion of Tibet in 1949 and subsequent suppression of the Tibetan people and culture, the then teenage Dalai Lama was called upon to assume full political power and establish the Tibetan political administration in exile in Dharamsala in northern India.
Since then, the Dalai Lama has worked tirelessly to promote compassion, forgiveness, tolerance and religious harmony. He has never stopped working to peacefully resolve with Chinese leaders the oppression of Tibetan culture and religion and has advocated for the Tibetan landscape to be restored to its natural condition and set aside as an environmental preserve.
In 1989, the Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace prize for his humanitarian efforts. He was the first Nobel Laureate to be recognized for his concern for global environmental problems.
Prior to his lecture at San Diego State University, the Dalai Lama took part in an April 18 panel discussion on climate change at the University of California, San Diego.
The Dalai Lama Foundation also has worked extensively with Western scientists to promote environmentalism and solutions to global warming and to uncover bridges between Buddhist philosophy and Western science.
Perhaps one of the most notable such links are new theories of consciousness that are not inconsistent with Buddhist philosophies of consciousness, such as a quantum mechanical model of consciousness posited by Sir Roger Penrose of the University of Oxford in England and the UA's Stewart Hameroff, who is emeritus professor of anesthesiology and psychology and director of the Tucson-based Center for Consciousness Studies.
Recent studies, some involving the participation of Buddhist meditators, also have uncovered numerous physical and psychological benefits of meditation.
Nick Mahon, a philosophy, politics, economics and law, or PPEL, major, who also attended the lecture with the UA group, said he felt inspired to hear the Dalai Lama talk about the potential for young people to change the world. "I knew it would be both interesting and inspiring to see someone who is so influential in the world," he said.
"Through warm-heartedness, you have the opportunity to make a new world," said the Dalai Lama during his lecture. "From one individual to another individual, we will change."
"Ultimately," he said. "Everything depends on the individual."