Conceptualizing Power and Care with His Holiness the Dalai Lama

I have a long history of unconsciously pursuing His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. 

When I was in high school (around 2005) someone had unintentionally left at home a book called "Siddhartha" by Herman Hesse. The book is a novel dealing with the spiritual journey towards enlightenment of a man during the historical time of the first realization of Buddha. I read it spontaneously and the concepts were quite distant to me at that point but without knowing I had opened the door to a life-long exploration of Buddhist philosophy. 

I would do occasional readings on the topic in the years after, until I went to study at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville in 2011 (no obvious connection with the Dalai Lama so far, I know). There I signed up for a course in Non-violent Politics, which was led by a brilliant American professor... accompanied by a Tibetan Buddhist Monk! We studied the political movements of Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and... His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama (HHDL). As part of my curriculum I read and analyzed HHDL's book  "Ethics for the new Millennium" and it became my personal bible. I became very close friends with my Tibetan teacher and spent a whole semester immersing in his teachings within and beyond the course. I regretted to learn that by his invitation HHDL had given a lecture at the University of Arkansas just the year before I enrolled. Ever since I promised to myself that one day I will attend a lecture of his in person, because it seemed like everyone (a fan like me or not) was completely moved after seeing him.

I continued reading and watching his teachings but I was aware that due to the complicated political situation between China and Tibet, HHDL cannot be invited to speak everywhere. In September 2015 he was scheduled to speak in London. I could not believe I was going to get the chance to finally see him in person. (As weird as it sounds, he is my own kind of a "spiritual rock star" or something of that sort?!) Unfortunately, everything went so wrong the day of his speech that with tears in my eyes I did not make it to London. This situation by itself was a crash course in non-attachment to expectations (I had a lot more to learn). A year later, September 2016 - there he is coming to a one-of-a-kind 3-day conference in Brussels on Power & Care. You bet I was the first one to get a ticket. 

What is so special about HHDL? A more abstract perspective, which is obviously not for everyone to believe and HHDL does not impose himself either, is related to the Buddhist concept of reincarnation. The Dalai Lama is a title (not a name) which exists through the ages since 13th century in Tibet. The Dalai Lamas are believed to be incarnations of Chenrezig, who is someone who has achieved the greatest level of compassion and reached enlightenment. According to Buddhism, once one achieves enlightenment, they are free to leave the cycle of life on Earth and to get liberated from eternal suffering. However, they can choose to come back for the benefit of other living beings. So are believed to do the Dalai Lamas and as such - beyond belief in reincarnation - they have played a noble role in the unification of Tibet and the preservation of Buddhist values and traditions.

What is special about the current Dalai Lama, though, is that he is immensely capable of adapting his teachings to modern life. He himself is constantly referring to other religions to prove that what matters are the values and they exist in the same form across all different religions. He is also always referring to science and working together with scientists (economists, psychologists, anthropologists, sociologists etc.) in order to translate his concepts of the world into a credible and understandable language for our modern society. He says he can't impose any beliefs, which are not supported by science.

Therefore, the Power & Care conference in Brussels was dedicated to exploring how society can be Power-full with Care, from a scientific and spiritual perspective. The dialogue was focused on the rather positive connotation of Power, examined in comparison with all negative implications of the word related to violence, injustice and control over others. There were five sections looking at Power and Care from the perspective of anthropology, psychology, religion, economics and personal commitment in a panel format where HHDL had a dialogue with experts from all these spheres. The experience of this conference for me was full of absolutely hilarious moments, meeting greatly inspiring people and contemplating on issues, which move me daily. The knowledge and viewpoints I acquired were vast but here are a few key takeaways -through my own interpretation, which I would like to preserve and expand:

Principles of Power and Care:
- Human tenderness is essential for human and brain development. People who treat others with care are more capable of recognizing people's reactions and minds. Power in the sense of controlling others, decreases the trust in others. Lack of care results in the idea that others don't care either. People treated with care are more resilient after any form of social exclusion.
- Compassion should be integrated in education - both through attitude and content. Power, used with compassion, actually empowers people to care more.
- One principle happiness is based on is that the sense of harmony is more important than sense of competition. 
- In order for one to be able to take care of another person, they need to attain a certain level of power in order to know they are capable of taking care.

Understanding and training Care and Compassion:
- Daily practice of care and compassion can increase attention and awareness. It enhances the cognitive abilities of the brain and its capacity to mentalize what others believe in.
- Meditating for 20 minutes per day on the concept of compassion can change a person from an egoist to an altruist.
- Any time we feel aggression, we need to focus on turning it into compassion towards the object of aggression. This object is our external enemy, but aggression is a much more dangerous internal enemy of ours.
- One needs to make a distinction between empathy and compassion. Empathy is feeling WITH someone and if not handled could often lead to empathic fatigue. Compassion is feeling FOR someone - it means powerful loving and leads to non-judgmental acceptance. The integration of power and care is indeed compassion.
- Our mind is used to first generalizing and only after - focusing. In order to generate compassion, we need to investigate. Our convictions should be built through developing deep understanding of ideas and others. On the way to true compassion our convictions will be first effortful and only after conscious practice, compassion would become effortless and spontaneous.
- Without being self-centered, we need to spend time on observing ourselves. We need to consciously discover what are the situations allowing us to observe ourselves and to consciously create them.
- Listening without judgement based on past experiences and convictions is a powerful tool for empowering others, when you listen to someone with an open mind and heart - you give them existence.

Understanding Religion:

- Whether you like it or not, all religions exist together. They do so in order to serve the different conceptualizations of the world of different people, and all are based on the same principles like love, forgiveness, self-discipline.
- The institutionalization of religion has led it to be misused and misinterpreted. 
- Terrorists of any religion do not exist - they are no longer practitioners.

Cultivating Social change:
- Changing the world has to happen consciously.
- We often have the luxury (although not very often used) to learn from history and past situations in order to solve our current problems. However, sometimes there are no past situations to learn from when solving modern days and future issues (For example, 9bln people living on the planet.) - in those cases we need to learn from the future as it emerges - like in writing - you are writing your future thoughts.
- The core of many issues of today arises from the separation of self and the surrounding environment:
Ecological divide - the separation of self and nature.
Social divide - the separation of self and others.
Spiritual divide - the separation of self and identity - many people don't find meaning in life.
These challenges are based upon what inspires and motivates us to act in a certain way - and these are our values and beliefs, this is what we need to work on.
- If we want to be change makers in our societies, there is no failure, but always "why not".
- Personal contribution is greater and more sustainable from an economic perspective when it is motivated by care, rather than by anger. The voice of care should be trained by visualizing the benefit that each person would get from helping others.
- We all have immense power to make a change, but very often we are simply not asked to do it. 

In HHDL's words - we all need to start making the change from ourselves but this is no longer enough in the current turbulent situation of violence, poverty and climate deterioration. We need to ensure we unite around the same ideas and address any issue that speaks to us - whether through education, through peace structures or else.

One of the closing remarks of His Holiness the Dalai Lama was a question directed to each person in the audience: What prevents you from making a change? 

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