Interfaith Summit on Happiness with the Dalai Lama

On Understanding and Promoting Happiness in Today’s Society, at Emory University

What do Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam teach us about the concept of happiness?

What do these ancient traditions hold in common about this often elusive state of being, and what are their greatest points of difference?

How do they define happiness?

Is happiness the purpose of life, or is it a reward only available after life?

Listen to His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama discuss happiness with The Most Reverend Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori, the 26th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church; Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth; and George Washington University Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr, a world-renowned scholar on Islam.

Moderated by Krista Tippett, host and producer of the award-winning public radio program “Being” (formerly titled “Speaking of Faith”). Hosted by Emory University.

Voiceover:

This programme is brought to you by Emory University.

[Applause]

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama:

Spiritual brothers and sisters. Of course, happiness, perhaps I think, the real, I think, meaning, of happiness, or when I say the happiness, mainly in the sense, deep satisfaction. So there are naturally two levels, one mainly a little bit physical experience, and one mental experience.

So, desire for that, I think since we human beings started on this planet, I’m saying maybe a few hundred thousand years. But of course, the nature of the happiness, I think, over the last few hundred thousand years I think, some changed, because human intelligence change.

So the perception, or the level of happy experiences, also may be different. So I think very reason I feel from the Buddhist viewpoint, of course, that very reason, the different religious tradition developed on this planet, certainly not for misery, not for trouble, but for deep satisfaction. That is very clear.

And particularly when we [are] passing through some difficult periods, it looks hopeless. At that time, religious faith will give us hope, inner strength. So I think the various religious tradition last, I think more than 2000 years, I think it really made [a] tremendous contribution for millions of people.

So today, now to the first century, of course, the material development highly developed, but it’s still, I think, religious tradition still had very, very important role. And particularly the people sort of get, I think, the satisfaction from material value, material facility, mainly physical level. Those, I think, rich family, there are physical comfort, I think very high standard, but that [is] no guarantee, the same sort of standard in peace of mind. More worry, more anxiety, perhaps more jealousy, more fear.

So [at] this moment, I think this century, modern period, in order to provide mental-level satisfaction, inner peace, various religious tradition, I think [is our] role.

And then meantime, in order to make more effective contribution through various religious tradition for a better world, better human beings, more compassionate human beings, more law-abiding human beings, mainly, is a separate discipline or moral principle, the various religious tradition, among ourselves, closer to our understanding.

And through that way we can make more effective contribution, but at sometimes some people may say, before sort of, helping humanity, firstly, you yourself manage well. No longer quarrel or something. People, they say that, isn’t it? So, I think among ourselves, real sort of harmony on the basis of mutual admiration, mutual respect, mutual appreciation, that very possible to develop. So these are, I think, very important also. Like this meeting, or this gathering, I think [is an] immense help. So, that’s all. Next.

[Laughter]

Krista Tippett:

You know, there’s a phrase in American culture, ‘the good life’. Someone asked me a few months ago has that discussion, that recurring theme of ‘the good life’ been raised again in the wake of the economic downturn. And I realised that I wasn’t hearing anyone talk about the good life, but I had just accepted this invitation to be a part of this conversation and I realised that, in fact, I think that American conversation, that the longings behind that, and the focus of that have shifted in fact, to a far-flung conversation about the nature of human happiness.

And I believe that this five-year project at Emory and this summit on happiness today is a powerful expression of that, and also an expression of how it represents a shift in perspective, because even in previous generations, when we talked about the good life, it was in terms of simplifying conditions and circumstances. It was about the conditions and circumstances that might lead to a good life.

I think that this discussion we’re now having about happiness is about an inner orientation that can make life good in and through many kinds of circumstances and conditions. So it is a less materialistic conversation. It is in essence, a spiritual conversation. Though, we all know that spirituality is defined and described in many different ways in 21st century lives.

The way his holiness, the Dalai Lama, has translated his wisdom on happiness has very interestingly, I think, energised and deepened this cultural interest we have in happiness. We have just begun to experience his wisdom and his graciousness here. And now we are going to add some distinguished Jewish, Christian and Muslim voices to that conversation. We have Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks of the United Kingdom, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of the Episcopal Church, and professor doctor Seyyed Hossein Nasr of George Washington University.

So we are going to turn this into a discussion in a moment. But first each of the three of our leaders will take a seat alongside his holiness, the Dalai Lama, Rabbi Sacks will begin, and give us an introduction to the contribution their tradition might make to this collective unfolding discussion on the nature of human happiness.

Rabbi Sacks:

Friends, I think you’ll agree we have been privileged to hear words of wisdom and grace from one of the great spiritual masters of our time. Your Holiness, we are blessed by your presence, inspired by your teaching and if we could only learn one thing from you, which is how to laugh the way you do, I think we’d increase the happiness in the world. It’s infectious.

It’s at moments like this that we realise how wrong Tolstoy was when he wrote, at the beginning of Anna Karenina, that “all happy families are alike and each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” As if happiness were like the answer to a question in mathematics in which there are many wrong answers, but only one right one.

Happiness isn’t like that. It comes in many forms. There is the happiness of one who is at peace with the world. And there is the happiness of one who successfully changes the world. There is the happiness of a Mozart that is as sweet and natural as a spring breeze. And there is a happiness of a Beethoven carved from the rock by struggle and pain. And so it is with cultures. Each culture conceives of happiness in its own way. And we are enriched by the sheer multiplicity of ways in which human beings have flourished and made of blessing over life.

So let me, therefore, from the Jewish tradition, add just one dimension already hinted at which I think we tend to forget nowadays. The Hebrew, the biblical Hebrew, has two key words for happiness. One is Asher and one is Simcha. And they are very different. Asher is the happiness we feel. Simcha is the happiness we make. Asher is the happiness we can experience on our own, but Simcha is the happiness that only exists in virtue of being shared.

I would define Simcha as ‘social happiness’. So, in the Bible it’s something that is shared by husband and wife. It’s something that on festivals is shared by the whole community. It’s something to which we invite the widow, the orphan, the stranger, the people who would otherwise be vulnerable and alone. Simcha is the happiness we make when we come together to give collective thanks for the miracle and the gift of simply being alive. It’s something exuberant, joyous, celebratory, and it is something we only feel when we leave behind the separatenesses of each of us and become a part of a “We”, an “Us”, a community. Simcha tells us that happiness is part of the tenor and texture of our relationships and the way our culture is geared to a shared sense of gratitude.

In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses says something very paradoxical, but which we rediscovered, to our cost, in age after age. And we are rediscovering it today. There is Moses speaking to the new generation who will carry on where he left off and he says: You and your parents have just spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness. You had no land, no home, no comfort, no security. You thought that was the difficult part. Actually, that was the easy part. The difficult part is affluence, because that’s when you forget where you came from. That is when you forget why you are here.

Affluence makes you forget to give thanks, and when a society forgets to give thanks, it loses the art of happiness. People think of the “I” rather than the “You”. They lose the art of relationship, marriages begin to fail, communities grow weak, society begins to decline. And all says Moses, because in his words, “You forgot to serve God with joy and gladness of heart out of the abundance of all good things.” And how right he was.

The consumer society is constantly tempting us, all the time, to spend money we don’t have, to buy things we don’t need, for the sake of a happiness that won’t last. In fact, the consumer society, by constantly making us aware of what we don’t have instead of making us thankful for what we do have, has turned out to be the most efficient system yet devised for the manufacture and distribution of unhappiness.

Simcha reminds us of the basic distinction just made by his holiness between material goods and spiritual goods. It’s a very interesting difference. If I have a certain amount of money and I give some of it to you, I have less. If I have a certain amount of power and I give it to you, I have less power. But if I have a certain amount of love or friendship or trust, and I give it to you, I don’t have less, I have more.

Spiritual goods turn out to be the things that the more we share, the more we have and so it follows that spiritual happiness is the greatest renewable source of energy we have and we make it by sharing.

So the one Jewish insight I would add to our conversation is, let’s think a little less of the happiness I feel and more of the happiness we make when we come together as families, as communities, as communities of faith, respecting and loving one another joined in that bond of fellowship and love. Thank you.

Krista Tippett:

Bishop Jefferts Schori, would you like to take the place of honour now?

Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori:

It is a joy to be with you. Thank you for your introduction to happiness from Buddhist perspective. I was struck by your saying that happiness is both physical and mental. In Christian tradition, it is very important for us that God became human, that God took human form, and therefore bodies are of utmost importance, but as Rabbi Sacks has said, sometimes we take the goods of this world too seriously. We think that they are God, rather than God.

Happiness for Christians is about right relationship, right relationship with God, with self, and with other. Other, both other human beings and all of the rest of creation. And it is that part that we are learning anew. Right relationship with God is putting God first in the centre of things. Understanding as Rabbi Sacks has said that nothing can replace God. Right relationship with other human beings and also with the rest of creation is understanding that all is made in the image of God, that it all reflects the divine. I’m reminded of Indra’s net and the remarkable understanding that each part of creation reflects the whole that is learning that we are only beginning to touch.

Happiness in right relationship means using the blessings of this world for the benefit of all, that none of us can be truly happy unless we all are. We talk about that both in terms of Shalom, great Hebrew vision of peace, right relationship with God and neighbour and creation, and Christian take on that probably most clearly called the reign of God.

Dalai Lama:

Reign?

Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori:

Reign. When God rules. When God rules all is in right relationship, we cooperate with that understanding. When we cooperate, we find greater happiness. When we don’t take ourselves as God, we find much greater happiness when we are not in the centre of things. When other created things are not at the centre too, we are finding right relationship. Happiness communally, happiness in community, not easy. The eternal search. But it is, in pursuing that, that we find greater happiness.

Seyyed Hossein Nasr:

Your Holiness, we’ve met for 14 years on different continents. It’s a great joy to see you again, because your presence itself is happiness. To discuss happiness is one thing. To be happy is something else. And the paradox of our world is that in order to listen to a lecture on happiness, people have to stand in line for two hours unhappily to get in. That’s the world in which we live.

Allow me to make a few comments from the point of the Islamic tradition. Upon the brief but very fecund and profound comments that you made upon happiness. First of all, this division between physical happiness and meditational, I prefer that to mental, happiness. If you allow me to use a presumptuous Buddhist term, which has a very deep Islamic resonance, one perhaps can talk about nirvanic happiness and samsaric happiness. But samsaric happiness is really a mirage, and it’s that which we pursue most of our life.

From the Islamic point of view, the word for happiness, which appears in the Quran, sacred scripture of Islam, is the word sa’ada, sa’ida, whole series of terms which are related to each other. And it’s identified very clearly with the paradisal state. That is a state of those in Paradise, in Heaven. There are many other terms, of course, which have correspondences to Buddhist eschatology. You have written a wonderful book about this, somebody should compare that with Abrahamic eschatologies, but that means something very deep.

That is, we live in a world in which we’re not often happy, but we never leave the pursuit of happiness. Which means itself that we’re not really made for this world alone. The very fact that we are never fully satisfied with all the physical and psychological demands of our lower passionate soul, means that we’re not only that. So unhappiness itself is the proof in the sense of our spiritual character. Otherwise, everyone would be happy in doing everyday things.

And every happiness that we seek outside of spiritual happiness comes to an end. And the ending is always sadness. What separates happiness from the experiences of life other than happiness, is sorrow, longing, separation, termination, pain, all of these things, all of which means that the state of happiness for those who only seek it, in the Samsari world in a sense, is always temporal finitude. It always comes to an end. And that is, I think one of the deepest intuitions that all the religions of the world have presented to human beings.

In Islam, we do not only talk about the pursuit of happiness, unless by pursued you mean a kind of profession, but pursued in the ordinary sense, not pursuing, but attainment happiness. We are in this world, not only to pursue happiness, but to attain it because there are some people who have the idea that it’s life itself or even the truth, there’s no such thing as truth. I’m a philosopher. I speak as for one moment as that, just following the truth is enough. Whereas, our traditions believe that what is important is to attain happiness, as Your Holiness has also said in so many of your writings.

Then you pointed very briefly to something which is extremely important. And that is the levels of happiness. Happiness is not only one level. Everything in the deeper sense, in our universe, is layered, it’s hierarchic, it’s structured. I don’t mean in a political sense. I mean in an inward sense. In the sense that you are the Dalai Lama and the simple peasant who doesn’t have your knowledge, it’s all in Tibet, and there are all levels in between. And happiness is the same way.

Somehow our soul realises that there are modes of happiness and each human being characterises his life according to what he or she conceive this mode of hierarchy to be. That what is it that makes me most happy? Then what is the second one? What is the third one? And people who go through life without being able to smile at the moment of death are usually those who have gotten their priorities wrong, have not been able to see this hierarchy. Of course there’s happiness in drinking a cold glass of water when we are thirsty. Not of course saying Cola is happiness, which I received on the aeroplane as I was coming down here. I don’t mean that. All the way from that to what you alluded to, meditation,

Concentration reaching the neuronic consciousness. In the same way that we have levels of consciousness, there are levels of happiness. And happiness is the human being who through life can go through these various stages. Happiness does not preclude or exclude social happiness, but it’s not only social happiness. Happiness has to start from within us.

It’s a happy human being who creates a happy ambience. A happy ambience does not necessarily create a happy human being. Let me just conclude, because we only have a few minutes to speak. In a philosophical sense, to be happy is to be oneself. And here this Islamic tradition emphasises that God created us with a primordial nature. What we call din al-fitrah or al-fitrah in Arabic, our primordial nature and that primordial nature was combined with joy and happiness in this paradiso. And so in a sense, happiness is a right, but not as fallen beings.

We first have to rediscover that primordial nature. And life’s goal is precisely to rediscover who we are. Once we know who we are, we are happy. There are very few human beings in the modern world who are happy with themselves. And I have many friends who go to some village in Afghanistan before it was bombed or India or someplace, then see that people are happy. They said:”What right do you have to be happy? You don’t have television. You don’t have refrigerator. You don’t get stuck in 495 traffic.” Like I did five hours a day in Washington. At that point they don’t say… They think that happiness should be impossible in those states is because they do not realise that these people are perhaps closer to being who they really are. They’ve also fallen, but not as much as this totally exteriorised modern human being who has to always concentrate all of his energies outwardly.

And I could not but agree 100% in what are their rabbi said about the consumerism. We live in a world in which we are fooled into accepting the causes of unhappiness as happiness. And that is one of the great tragedies, which is result in night out destruction of the very environment in which we live. The environmental crisis is due to this substitution really. Is to do, of course to a false science of nature and all of those things, but also to a consumer’s philosophy, which believes that happiness is to have, is to want more and more. Once he was asked of a great Sufi master from horizon, “What you want?” He said, “I want not to want.” That is the epitome of happiness.

And in conclusion, just let me quote one single Arabic sentence, very famous proverb that says, [Arabic 00:30:13] “That is he who lives happily dies happily. And happiness is a permanent state of the soul. And we are here to attain it.” Thank you.

Krista Tippett:

So I’d like to ask each of you one question and then have us interact. And if you have questions of each other, I’d also welcome that. Your holiness, as several people have already mentioned you radiate happiness. You seem to embody happiness and you also have a wonderful sense of humour. And yet you are familiar with suffering. Your life has unfolded on a canvas that is marked by gravity and the fate of your people and your tradition. So, how does your understanding of happiness, your notion of happiness encompass that, encompass suffering and the hardness of life and speak to that?

Dalai Lama:

Of course, my life not easy and that’s clear. Perhaps I think, firstly, when I see some problem, some tragedy, I always look from different angles. And sometimes tragedy, one aspect tragedy, but that same event may also may have some positive thing. So when I look more holistic way, then that even not a 100% negative and to also part of positive. Now one example, I usually used to telling people, we’d lost all country. Itself sad, but that brings different or new opportunity. This immense benefit, so like that. There’s one too. Then the second, I can mention did you, when we’ve heard some sad thing, if you look very closely and it looks unbearable, look from distance, there’s not that much to know, unbearable wanted.

Dalai Lama:

Then another thing as one, but this master 8th century and mentioned that when we face some problem, think, analysed it progress situation. If that situation can overcome eventually then no need worry, make effort. If there’s no way to overcome that, there’s no use much sort of, sadness, much worry. So that I feel realistic approach. So these things I usually used to do and also involve a friend spent, I think one week together, then you may notice a certain period, my sadness or with my anger, some Jamba also due to some irritation that also as a human being isn’t impossible, but all okay.

Krista Tippett:

I think it can be very interesting for this next hour or so if we not only honour and enjoy the echoes of similarity, but also the differences. So I wonder, and I’d pose this to you Rabbi Sacks and even Bishop Schori. It seems to me that the Hebrew Bible, let’s say the Psalms really wallow in sadness and suffering and anger as a way through those human experiences. So I wonder how do you… you know.. Is there… How would you… How do you respond to this idea and how might you see it differently? Or what might you add to that approach to sadness, Rabbi Sacks? I know that you have just finished the sitting Shiva at the death of your mother. So you’ve been in a period of grief and mourning, which is very much lived and embodied.

Rabbi Sacks:

Yeah, it is true that if you read the Jewish literature and you read Jewish history, happiness is not the first word that comes to mind.

[Laughter]

We do degrees in misery, post-graduate angst, and advanced guilt. And we do all this stuff you know and yet somehow or other, when all of that is at an end, we get together and we celebrate and where I love what his holiness has just said, how he himself has lived the story that I resonate with a story of suffering and exile, and yet he’s come through it still smiling. And that to me is how I have always defined my faith as a Jew. The definition of a Jew Israel is, as it says in Genesis 34, one who struggles rustles with God and with humanity and prevails. And Jacob says something very profound to the Angel. He says, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” And that is how I feel about suffering. When something bad happens, I will not let go of that bad thing until I have discovered the blessing that lies within it.

When my late father died, now I’m in mourning for my late mother. That sense of grief and bereavement suddenly taught me that so many things that I thought were important, external success, all of that is irrelevant. You lose a parent. You suddenly realise what a slender thing life is, how easily you can lose those you love. And then out of that comes a new simplicity. And that is why sometimes all the pain and the tears lift you to a much higher and deeper joy. When you say to the bad times, “I will not let you go until you bless me.”

Krista Tippett:

To that word, blessing, blessed. I guess this is a sneak preview of your talk tomorrow. The Ship Deford short because I’ve read it in advance. And you talk about all the many words in Christian tradition in biblical Greek that add up to happiness and blessing as one of those. And I was… I’m very struck when you bring this discussion with happiness and connection with the beatitudes where Jesus talks about blessedness and happiness. And it is, it actually sounds very Buddhist when I read it in the context of preparing for this. And yet I think…So Rabbi Sacks, you said you’ve also written that about the Oy Vey Theory of Jewishness, and I think that there’s been a temptation in Christianity, not a temptation, a tendency to think about happiness that will only be complete after this life. Right? In the pure unmediated presence of God. Talk to me about how you work with that tendency and how you see that evolving in the imagination of Christians. Now.

Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori:

There’s this ongoing tension between seeing happiness as joining with God, his communion with God, that’s only possible in the afterlife. And the insistence that human beings are created to be happy, that happiness is possible in this life. And I was struck in thinking about the question about suffering. That there’s a couple of places in the Psalms where it says happy are those who will dash the enemy’s babies against the rock. It’s an insistence on justice. It’s a demand for restoration of right relationship. It’s not finding joy in death. It’s taking what is, and insisting that greater happiness for all is possible.

There’s the particular piece of Christianity that insists that sometimes suffering is a root to happiness for the larger community. That kind of suffering may not be chosen, but it contains blessing within it. The sense that our goal is this fully restored creation at right relationship with all that is. And sometimes the journey there requires us to enter into suffering and to demand, to insist that there is blessing in the midst of that, wrestling with the angel. It must be there. You have created us to be happy. You have created us to be good. Now show us, show us the way through this. Show us the possibility for which all that is, is created.

Krista Tippett:

Professor Nasr, it seems to me that a distinctive word that Islam brings to this discussion of happiness and virtue is the notion of beauty. You’ve written a great deal about that. I’ve been so struck across the years by Muslim conversation partners talking about the moral value of beauty and that the saying of the prophet that “God is beautiful and He loves beauty.” I’d love for you to say a little bit more about the link you understand between beauty and virtue and happiness.

Seyyed Hossein Nasr:

First of all, in the Arabic language, the word for beauty and virtue is the same and goodness, all three. The root which is also the root of my own name. My name is Hossein now made famous thanks to your President and your President. Everybody knows it, that the rule to HSN in Arabic means these three things, beauty, virtue, and goodness. And Islam, Muslim mind they’re not separated from each other. In the deepest sense, goodness, in the ordinary sense of these external actions, in a deeper sense with virtues within us, beauty can deal also with external forms and it can deal with beauty of the soul, beauty of the spirit within us. But beauty in a sense is more interiorizing. Beauty is what draws us directly to the divine, to the divine reality. I says presumption to talking to part of this thing about Buddhist sayings, but the Buddha says the duty of my image saves.

So the beauty of celestial beauty that is the centre of the sacred art of various traditions is salvific. It’s a way of salvation and ugliness, which is the opposite of beauty in Arabic, also means evil or the ugly is the evil. One of the signs of living an evil world is the ugly ambiance we created for ourselves. And look at the remarkable predominance of beauty in nature. Take us human beings out and look at nature. Remarkable predominance of beauty from the fish that swim under the same coral reefs that we’re now destroying so rapid in the Gulf of Mexico, to the great mountains, snows are melting. Thanks to the fact that I driving too many cars. I’ve been a person at the forefront, the environmental movement for 50 years. So I feel very sensitive towards this. I think what is happening is proof precisely of the era of our worldview, but we look at nature, look how beautiful it is.

And many people today in the west who are atheists are the grittiest protectors of nature because they find through the beauty of nature, the vacuum created in their soul and the laws of sacred as human form. And therefore even there, the deepest sense is spiritual. The great paradox is that in the United States, they’re the greatest defenders. The atheist, the greatest defenders of the natural environment and what a paradox is good, I think of the more paradoxical it doesn’t name on history. Now Islam looks upon this quality of beauty as not being something accidental, to be virtuous is to be beautiful, to be good is to be beautiful. And that is why wherever Islam men went, it created a civilization based on beauty. Look at Islamic art, the carpets, the tiler. And that again is one of the great tragedies that we have now, some of the ugliest cities in the world and Islamic world, a great contrast between a city Isfahan and as modern as part of Karachi or Cairo, they’re all part of the same civilization, but the spiritual aspect of beauty has not disappeared with the arguments of urban sprawl.

It is central to Islamic spirituality and Islamic spirituality sees even morality in terms of spiritual beauty. Because a moral act should emanate from a virtuous soul and a virtuous soul is the soul that is beautiful. If I were to translate the word virtuous soul into version on Arabic, it would mean beautiful soul. So yes, beauty is central and is beauty that brings us happiness because our souls in that primordial condition that I mentioned were created in beauty, we’re drawn to beauty like a firefly to the candle. And our soul is drawn to beauty. And beauty makes us happy, except depends what condition his soul is in. As he said, you can listen to the 21st concerto Mozart, the second movement, which was a celestial piece of Western music and be happy for a long, long time.

You could listen to this “bang bang”, which is called music to them and be happy with five minutes and then get bored and go do something else. But as soul seeks beauty and its beauty that makes us all happy, everything. It means, it says a beautiful dish of maiden when we are hungry. So yes, there’s a very deep nexus between beauty and happiness. And happy is the person who realises inner beauty.

Krista Tippett:

Would any of you like to respond to each other, any of this. Yes, Rabbi Sacks.

Rabbi Sacks:

I was very moved by the beauty of your words. And I agree with them, totally. I just wanted to add a little footnote, a very great Rabbi Abraham Cook, who was the rabbi in Israel in the early part of the 21st century, found himself stuck in London, where I come from during the First World War.

He hated London. But there was one bit of London he loved, which was the national gallery. And he would go to the national gallery and sit day after day, looking at the portraits by Rembrandt. Even said that when God created light on the first day of creation, that was a special spiritual light because the sun and the moon didn’t get created until the 4th day. So it wasn’t physical light. It was a special holy light. And he said, “God took some of that light and gave it to Rembrandt.” And the thing about repeat the characters in Rembrandt’s paintings is that they’re not beautiful, but they shine with an inner radiance. And as well as the love of beauty, I also think there’s a religious challenge to see beauty in things that outwardly don’t look that beautiful. And that is special.

Krista Tippett:

I’ve noticed in some of what you’ve all written in preparation for this conference as the monotheists among us here at McFadden, but there’s a lot of attention to defining happiness and to the many words that are used in our different traditions, and in our languages, and in our traditions, original language. And it makes me think that in this culture, in particular, if we are going to take happiness seriously in a whole new way, as I think many of us want to, we do have to wrestle a bit with that word. That also leads me to wonder if American culture has some have been fundamentally led astray from the outset by defining happiness as a right. As a right. Is this something that we have to work with in order to have this new conversation?

Seyyed Hossein Nasr:

I have very much concerned with this of late and trying to compare the attitude of various religions to the question of rights. Because Western civilization keeps talking about human rights, human rights, human rights all the time. And other religions, civilizations, and other, they don’t like being human is you have overseen somebody differently. And that is the question of the relation of rights to responsibilities. I think I have something very important there by emphasising the rights of man to happiness, nothing is said about the responsibilities of man. And many American generations have solely expected the governments to provide for them help to exercise their rights, but never really the responsibility is very much. And they used to had individual conscience taught in churches and synagogues. I think the time has come for us.

To realise its first responsibilities than rights. The word responsible comes from the Latin word rests, which means response echo. We are ourselves responses to God’s creative act. So by existing, we are responsible and it’s from accepting that responsibility that issues all our rights. I think we’ve been doing balanced in our present generation and the generation that is to come. Once again, a correct balance between responsibilities and rights. Just talk about human rights is going to end by just terminating human existence. We need to accept responsibility first and foremost, towards other creatures, human beings, towards God’s nature and ultimately towards God himself of course.

Krista Tippett:

Your holiness, I wonder how you react to happiness being defined as a right.

Dalai Lama:

I always believe, and also share with the people, the very purpose of how life is for happiness. Those non-believer, also they felt that religion, religious fate is it brings a lot of complication. So without that the easier to achieve happy life. So I think the very purpose of our existence is for happiness. I think our life, I do ultimately based on hope. There’s no guarantee that tomorrow or next month or next year or next century something wonderful, something good. Nobody got into that. Something better. But if it’s simply you see, “Oh”, “Ah”. In spite of today’s difficulties or future will be better. So in that effort, if hope gone completely hopeless, then I think that very attitude may shorten our life. Then a person could a little bit impatience and experience hopelessness, then suicide.

So therefore our life depend on hope, hope for better, for happiness. So therefore, I feel maybe too simple maybe, but I feel like that. The variable was all life, we can say happiness. So that mentioned your constitution and then also see equally, very right? You

You said there, that happiness not come from sky. But we must make a happy life. So we have the responsibility. The government cannot provide happiness. Happiness must create within ourself, and our family. So ultimately our own responsibility, isn’t it? That’s my view, of course. But here, I want make clear, of course to the audience. Buddhism, Buddhist thinking is more on the law of causality rather than creator, Buddhism and Jainism, so if you go more…

Translator:

Deeply.

Dalai Lama:

More sort of philosophical field then we have big barrier. (laughing.) Even some people say, you see, Buddhists, Buddhism is a kind of atheistic.

Translator:

Atheistic.

Dalai Lama:

Atheism.

Krista Tippett:

Atheism.

Dalai Lama:

But again you see some people say, Buddhism is not atheism, because athe means anti.

Translator:

Anti-God.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama:

So atheism means anti-God. In that sense Buddhism is not anti-God, Buddhism respects the different traditions, theistic traditions, certainly. And myself also has deep admiration, for all those major traditions. I would say there’s no question, is there, of more than 1000 years or 2000 years, these major spiritual traditions give immense benefit to humanity. So therefore, obviously this is sufficient, plenty of reasons to respect, to admire, to appreciate. But in the meantime, I always made a distinction, faith, respect, are two different things. Faith, my own case, faith is Buddhism, but respect to all religions.

Krista Tippett:

Bishop Schori and then Rabbi Sacks.

Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori:

Happiness is not a right, but a duty. And a duty, not just to oneself, but to the whole community, to the whole of creation. When we see it, we see it primarily as a right, it is so individually focused that at least many Americans lose the perspective of the larger whole. Right to pursue happiness on behalf of society, on behalf of all creation.

Krista Tippett:

Rabbi Sacks

Rabbi Sacks:

I’d like just to reflect on one other word, which is pursuit. Because as anyone who thought deeply about how Aristotle was very good on this, Ecclesiastics likewise, finding happiness doesn’t necessarily follow from pursuing it. Sometimes the deepest happiness comes when you’re least expecting it. And there is a wonderful story about an 18th century Rabbi, Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, who is looking at people rushing to and fro in the town square. And he wonders why they’re all running, so frenetically and he stops one, and he says, “why you run running?” And the man says, “I’m running to make a living.” And the Rabbi says to him, “how come you’re so sure that the living is in front of you and you have to run to catch it up? Maybe it’s behind you and you’ve got to stop and let it catch up with you.” Now, which bits of contemporary culture do we stop and let our blessings catch up with us.

Now that is called the Sabbath, which we all share. The Sabbath is when we celebrate the things that are important, but not urgent. And I remember once taking an atheist, I think an atheist, who was the premier childcare specialist in Britain to see a little Jewish primary school and some of the stuff they do there. And she saw on Friday, you know, the little children preparing for the Sabbath, the little five-year old mother and father blessing the five-year-old children, welcoming the five-year-old guests. And she’s fascinated by the Sabbath, which she has never experienced. And she asked one five-year-old boy, “what do you like most about the Sabbath?” And she says, “oh, what don’t you like?” And the five-year-old boy being an Orthodox child says, “you can’t watch television, it’s terrible.” And then she said, “what do you like about the Sabbath?” And he said, “it’s the only time daddy doesn’t have to rush away.” And sometimes we don’t need to pursue happiness. We just need to pause and let it catch up with us.

Krista Tippett:

And I think that gets at precisely why the practise of meditation, the teachings of Buddhism, and the teachings of his holiness in particular have been so magnetic for so many people in the west. As they have discovered this, there is at the heart of Buddhist teaching a notion about happiness, that finding calmness in the mind, right? As part of it, which is something you just pointed at. And I’d like to draw out the three of you about corollaries in your traditions. Obviously Sabbath is one, for generating calmness of the mind.

Seyyed Hossein Nasr:

Islamic tradition, the five daily prayers themselves. You pull yourself out of the flow of time in a space that is sacralised and the ablution itself in that sense washes the soul as well as the body. And for a few minutes, even if your mind is running like that, you have to force yourself to pull yourself out of that context. Of course only the saints succeed completely. But nevertheless, the exercise has a tremendous effect upon having at least certain punctuations put upon the sentence of our life every day, that goes faster and faster. And secondly, of course, the month of Ramadan, the month of fasting. In which to a whole month, the tempo of even big cities slows down. From around 6:15, 6:20, when the sunsets, you go to such a big city as Cairo or Karachi, where the streets are cluttered, you can’t drive, all the streets are empty, everything slows down. And this power Ramadan has been able to preserve despite everything,

I think, of course you have, for example, you used to have Lent and you have of course, Yom Kippur, the holy days in Judaism. So we share that but in Islam you have a whole month of fasting, which changes the whole tempo of life. And the daily prayers, they are very, very central. They’re like Buddhist meditations in Islamic form, but coming in a punctuated manner throughout the day. And of course, some people are then have explored extended prayers. We have our own form of meditation in vocation, contemplation, and that’s only for people who are spiritually very active, you might say, like let’s say Monks in Tibet. That for the ordinary Muslims, those other practises are ubiquitous, they run throughout all of society. In some Islamic cities, let’s say for the noon prayer, you could go to the Bazaar, put your hand in and pick up all the jewellery and put it in your pocket and go. But, all those shops are left open, there’s absolute quiet, and everyone is in the Mosque praying. It’s really quite a remarkable experience that continues to this day.

Rabbi Sacks:

Obviously in Judaism as in all the religious traditions there are elite forms of meditation, but what really interests me as, as interests you, is just the simple, basic act of prayer. And prayer for me, daily prayer, three times daily, we’re not quite up to five times daily but we’re impressed.

Three things happen when I pray. The first thing is thanks. You know, the first prayer we pray, thank you God for giving me back my life. When I was on honeymoon with Elaine, for reasons we didn’t go into, I almost drowned. I was in Italy, I couldn’t swim, I was out of my depth, there was no one close. And I remember as I went under for the fifth time, thinking two thoughts, number one, what a way to begin a honeymoon. And number two, what’s the Italian for help? So, you know, when I get up every morning, I know what it feels, thank you God for giving me back my life. And that is the first, that underlying sense of gratitude you get when you pray.

The second thing is confession. The truth is that it is so important to be able to say, God, I got it wrong. Because God forgives when I get it wrong. And he believes in me more than I believe in myself, if he didn’t have total faith in me, I wouldn’t be here to begin with. Our cultures, but you know, our modern western culture makes it very hard to fail. But we all fail. Allow for when we have an unforgiving culture, we have to fake it and pretend we never did fail. And when I am able to say to God, God you know that I got it wrong. And he says to me, yeah Jonathan you got it wrong, but try again next time. And you feel the ability to acknowledge your mistakes. Then you grow, you learn by those, so that is the second thing.

And the third thing is simply the basic experience of prayer altogether, standing in the presence of a deeper form of being. Knowing that this universe is not indifferent to my existence, deaf to my prayers, blind to my hopes. That somehow there is something that is giving me hope. And when I feel in that presence of the being at the heart of being, then we experience the greatest line of all in the life of faith from Psalm 23, though I walked through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me. We can face the future without fear. If we know we do not face it alone.

Krista Tippett:

Bishop Schori and then,

Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori:

We share, we share many of the same forms of prayer. Prayer as awareness and attending. Christians may happen in other traditions as well, sometimes pray with images, sometimes pray without images, kind of emptying prayer. I think the part that is perhaps most attractive to new learners is about understanding all of existence as prayer. The Celts were very effective at blessing each moment of the day, blessing the milking of the cow, blessing the covering of the fire at night. Brother Lawrence blessed the washing of dishes. Runners begin to understand the blessing that comes with putting your body to work and emptying the mind. There are practises that each of us participates in that are about simple awareness of God’s presence in every breath, in every moment, in every encounter, in every challenge. It’s that awareness and attending that is I think so significant.

Seyyed Hossein Nasr:

There are points that I agree with completely, and they’re all very much emphasised in Islam. In Islam, as in Judaism, there’s a sense of priesthood is divided among all human beings and each person stands directly before God. But perhaps there’s one thing that the Rabbi doesn’t know, and this hall doesn’t know that I should mention, the Muslims owe a great deal to Moses. You said you prayed three times a day, we pray five times a day. We believe that when the prophet ascended from Jerusalem to heaven, God taught him the daily prayers that we perform. And when he was coming down Moses met him and said, “how many units of prayer to God order you to tell your followers?” He said, “51.” He said, “they’ll never do it. Believe me, I have a thousand years’ experience go back and bargain with God, go back and bargain with God.” And so the prophet went to bargain, it came down to 17 units. Thank you very much. Otherwise we will have to do 51. So Muslims always thank Moses for that.

Krista Tippett:

And your holiness, Buddhism and mindfulness, meditation, some of these Buddhist practises to calm the mind have become very important in many lives, including people who are devout Christians, Muslims, and Jews. Buddhism offers itself up. I can imagine that people have said to you though, when you have, it’s not just about calmness of mind, it’s training your mind and you in particular, your daily practise is known. You spend hours in meditation and prayer. I think, I think most of us in this culture feel that we do not, or cannot carve out that kind of space for training our minds to get to the point, as you said that in the midst of something that feels sad or tragic, we can gain a distance on it. But what advice do you give people who feel that it is hard to make that kind of space in a modern life?

Dalai Lama:

I always believe, and also accordingly I expressing or telling people, different people, different religious tradition. It is much better to keep one form tradition. It’s much better, most suitable. So in the west, you should look Christian background generally. And to some extent, Islam also. So all these feel to religion, so it is much better to keep that tradition. And then like, I think Buddhist terminology, mindfulness,

Translator:

mindfulness practise,

Dalai Lama:

See a constant sort of watch ones own mental state. Whether you use that term or not, all religion practises that isn’t it? Separate discipline. Not like Ramadan, or five times prayer or three times prayer, mindfulness working and getting that sort of prayer, your mind fully concentrate on Allah or God, like that. That also is a single pointed mindfulness practise, meditation. So all major religious tradition, different study I think, different term, but same meaning.

Some my Christian friend, is showing interest or in fact I think practise a certain, throughout the day, techniques or method to increase compassion, to increase patience. So, that’s okay, these are common practice. Basically it’s a practice of love, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, self discipline, and contentment. All this same practice, common, common. So one thing, the theory of some kind of relativity, absence of independent existence. One my Christian friend, one Monk, now he has passed away. He always showed interested in this Buddhist practise. And then one day he asked me about this theory of emptiness. Although he himself you see, had some kind of explanation according to Christianity. Total submission of oneself to God. So the self centred attitude emptied, that kind of,

Translator:

Meaning.

Dalai Lama:

Meaning, good. But the other meaning of emptiness means absence of independent existence. No absolute. So he sort of further sort of inquired about that. Then I told him, this is not your business. This is Buddhist business. So in the philosophy field you see these differences, theistic religion and non-theistic religion. So it is better to keep one’s own sort of tradition, that’s much [more] effective, much better. Some people look to take something from here, take something from here, something from here, no real solid basis. That’s not good. [foreign language 01:14:44]. I think even food on its own has a sort of a uniqueness, I mean, they’re more tasteful. Everything mixed [laughs], they’re tasteless.

Krista Tippett:

So speaking of food, bodily pleasures, where does the body come into all this? Where does the body come into happiness? Bishop Schori, you mentioned running. And I know that you-

Dalai Lama:

No, I’ll have to add, it is important I think that people usually, as you mentioned, rush, rush. [foreign language 01:15:37] On this is our whole attractions towards the external facilities. See it lost the recognition of importance of sort of inner values,

Translator:

internal resources.

Dalai Lama:

Internal resources and you think more inward. You will find there’s no need for physical rush. Of course, mental rush is still there. So that I think is some of the problem. And too much busy life, too much attraction about outside, and many people believe the real sort of happiness comes from outside, from money, from power. This is fundamentally wrong. Real happiness must come from within. These are just factors [foreign language 01:16:50] or conditions, real sources are from within, whether we believe or not believe. That as human beings, is the essence of being with consciousness. The ultimate source of happiness within ourselves, that’s very important.

Krista Tippett:

But again, I do want to ask about this being embodied. It can sound like we’re having a discussion about happiness. It’s very cerebral, very mental. You, for example, Bishop Schori, have spoken about running as a body meditation. Let’s talk a little bit about our physical selves in this condition of happiness.

Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori:

I think there are two essential pieces to that. One is the ancient ascetical tradition that trains the body so that the mind can, in some sense, do its work more effectively, the mind, and the heart, and the soul. And the other is this sense that I will speak of in my own tradition, as incarnation. Our bodies are a blessing. They are evidence of God’s love, for what is created. And the sense of happiness of the whole creation, Shalom, the reign of God is about bodily needs satisfied. People have enough to eat, they have shelter, they have meaningful work, they live in peace. They can watch their children grow up and the elders can wander in the street. It’s both, it’s both understanding bodies as tools for working toward happiness, for working toward justice and peace, and that that justice and peace and embodied blessing needs to be available to the whole community.

Rabbi Sacks:

Obviously, Judaism has a certain approach to the physical dimension of the spiritual life. It’s called food. In fact, somebody once said, you know if you want a crash course in understanding all the Jewish festivals, they can all be summed up in three sentences. They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat.

But I think that is part of our faith. That God is to be found down here in this world that God created and seven times pronounced good. And I find one of the most striking sentences in Judaism is in the Jerusalem Talmud is the statement of Rav that in the world to come, a person will have to give an account of every legitimate pleasure he or she deprived themselves of in this life. Because, God gave us this world to enjoy. And I must say that quite apart, and I mean absolutely Judaism has taken, I think we share this, but Judaism has said that there are three approaches to physical pleasure. Number one is hedonism, the worship of pleasure. Number two is asceticism, the denial of pleasure and number three is the biblical way, the sanctification of pleasure. And that I think is important and very profound. And I must say that you know, sometimes the best kind of interfaith gatherings… I mean, theology is extremely wonderful. It’s very cognitive. That is a very polite English way of saying boring, and sometimes the best form of interfaith is to just sit together, you eat together, you drink together, you share one another’s songs. You listen to one another’s stories and just enjoying the pleasures of this world with people of another faith, that is beautiful. I would add just one other thing, if there is one thing I find beautiful beyond measure it’s that in my own tradition, in what we call Hachnassat or Him, hospitality, very real elements of Christianity and Islam and Buddhism, it’s a super element in Sikhism what’s called Langar, you know, it’s not just my physical pleasures, it’s giving physical pleasure to those who have all too little. And one very great Hasidic teacher once said, “somebody else’s material needs are my spiritual duties.” And that I think is where we joined in sharing our pleasures with others.

Seyyed Hossein Nasr:

And the body in a sense is like a double-edged sword. On the one hand there’s needs for denial, on the other hand, the body is the manifestation of Divine Presence on the highest level. And there is no sanctification possible without a certain form of asceticism. Germans saying that there is no culture without asceticism, and that’s true that we have to deny in order to be able to confirm that which transcends that what we deny. The testimony of faith in Islam, La Illaha Illa Allah, there is no God, but God saw the denial of all the gods with a small G, all the false idols that we worship in order to confirm the divine reality. Now, in all the monotheistic religion, in fact, in all religions Hinduism, Buddhism, there’s an element of asceticism in order to free the soul from the entrapment, none of the body itself, but the image of the body upon the psyche or the psyches, that element the psyche was dominated over the body and which in a sense imprisons us, there is no religion without asceticism that’s impossible.

However, to deny the reality of the body sanctified, what he called sanctification, is also a very great error and it has great traditions in Buddhism, which began by emphasising some Saudia and with the sacred body of the Buddha, and we have that in another form in Islam, we have that in all the Abrahamic religions, the fact that we believe in the resurrection of the body, and not only of the soul, which was shared with – Islam shares it with Christianity and with Judaism, and also that, in Christianity, the body of Christ is central, the body of Christ is one of the paradoxes for myself as a Muslim, looking upon Christianity is a religion in which you eat the body of the founder every day in the Eucharist at a certain sense, symbolically, but there was such a long period of theology of opposition to the sacred aspects of the body.

So only side stream currents and Christian theology delved into it. And now it’s coming to the fore and the question of the denial of the sickness of the body, which also has to do with sacred act of sexuality and the relation that we have with the world of nature and the denial of the sacred aspect of nature, they all go together, cluster together. And to realise that our body has also the sanctified aspect, that is a projection of, in a sense, the subtle body, the spiritual body on this plane, and especially physical beauty reflects sometimes a very, very deep beauty is not skin deep necessarily. And that spiritual beauty is always reflected in the physical. We grow it when we are born as a young man and woman who might be beautiful, but that have done nothing for that. God has done that. When we are all different, it’s still beautiful, is the reflection of our actions in this world, the person who grows old beautifully, there’s something inward that has been transformed. And so the body is very, very precious, the care for it, the understanding of its significance on a deeper level of spiritual significance, which have this in Tantrism in the Indian universe, and we also have it in Islam is I think a very, very significant revival of religious teaching that has to take place in all the religions today.

Krista Tippett:

Your Holiness, I wonder how you think about the body? Where does the body come into your imagination about spiritual happiness?

Dalai Lama:

Without a body there’s no longer brain. Then, difficult to think. [Chuckles] So, from the Buddhist viewpoint, of course, there’s traditions which are based on law of causality, the thinking, analysing is the most important. For that human brain is a really, really smart, other animals from the Buddhist viewpoint, they also have the feeling yet they have no such wonderful sort of a brain. So therefore we believe if we consider this body is something very, very precious. [foreign language 01:27:39]

Translator:

For example, there’s a Buddhist practice that involves one’s relationship with an attitude towards one’s body, one’s material resources, and also one’s collection of virtues, and in the connection to all of these, one’s needs, there are different stages of practice that involve first of all, kind of letting go. And then, the second stage, [crosstalk 01:28:08] and it is under certain circumstances, we have to-

Dalai Lama:

The souls as such you see, even your body your organ, something really benefit then give. In other circumstances, you must protect.

Translator:

So there is a kind of a guarding and protecting and nurturing of the body, and then, [crosstalk 01:28:29] and then also perfection of those resources and body independence then increasing and enhancing their capacity. So there’s a complex relationship between you know, what body resources and one’s virtues.

Dalai Lama:

And also, I already mentioned at the beginning is it that two different kinds of satisfaction. One satisfaction of course, a comfortable shelter, sufficient food, and also satisfaction to sleep. It provides certain degree of satisfaction. That also we have to acquire. Nothing wrong. And the comfortable sort of sustain your body fit, then your mind mental functions become more effective, physically too much tyre, but then mental function also difficult.

So in any way, there’s, some happiness, certain degree of happiness or satisfaction, related to it sensorial, that’s in body. Another level of happiness or satisfaction is a mental state, between these two mental states is more important. I think obviously mentally happy or even if you see some purpose, even if your physical struggles difficulties, now Ramadan is a daytime, whole day fasting. You may feel little hungry or some sort of even tiredness, but mentally you voluntarily take that, that hardship. So that, gives you satisfaction mentally, so mental satisfaction can subdue physical difficulties. Other hand, mental unhappiness mental sort of pain, cannot subdue by physical comfort. So, the mental state is more superior, more important.

Krista Tippett:

And Your Holiness, compassion is obviously central to what you teach, and also to your understanding of happy life. You have written and spoken a great deal about practising compassion towards enemies, towards those who hate you. This is a moment in American political life and cultural life where there’s a great deal of hatred and lack of compassion of enemies, and I wonder, just to bring this discussion to another level, to a social level, what advice you might offer to this moment in our collective life

Translator:

For example, in the gospel, if you find the commandment that if someone hits you on your right cheek, then turn the other cheek.

Dalai Lama:

So there’s this sort of same idea, practice of patience, practice of tolerance.

Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori:

Yes, but also subverting the violence, using the violence, in some sense, the energy of the anger to change the situation.

Translator:

[foreign language 01:32:14]

Krista Tippett:

What does that mean in practical terms, how would that look?

Dalai Lama:

That’s also similar. That also similar. Now here, you see, we have to go into some more deeper level, real demarcation of violence and non-violence is not on the level of physical action, but mental action. Certain physical rough action motivated by central concern of the wellbeing of other in order to stop their wrong dream. If they carry wrong dream, ultimately they will suffer. So… purely the sense of concern of their long-term well being used some harsh method and force forcefully stop their wrong dream, it’s non-violence.

Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori:

Hitting on one chic in the ancient world, the superior would hit with the back of the hand. And if you turned your head, he would have to use the other hand and look you in the face. So suddenly the dynamic has changed. He would have to see you. He can’t simply hit an inferior.

Rabbi Sacks:

In the 23rd chapter of Deuteronomy, so unexpected. And I think we all have to hear it, here it is. Moses is talking about the experience of the Israelites in Egypt. We read about it in the book of Exodus, an age of oppression of slavery, of almost genocide attempted genocide, and eventually the Israelites leave, they go through the desert and as they’re about to cross the Jordan and enter the land, Moses says these words, “Do not hate an Egyptian, for you are a stranger in his land.”

Now that language is very odd. You’re a stranger in his land sounds as if the Egyptians gave them a hospitality as if they put up the Israelites in the Cairo Hilton. And it wasn’t like that. So what is Moses saying, “Do not hate an Egyptian for you were strangers in your land.” He is telling the Israelites, you have left the physical Egypt. Now you must leave the mental experience of Egypt. You have to let go of hate, because if you do not let go of hate, you will never be free. If the Israelites had continued to hate their enemies, Moses would have taken the Israelites out of Egypt, but he would not have taken Egypt out of the Israelites, they would be slaves to their past, slaves to their feeling of pain and injustice and grievance. This is the line he taught them. And the line we have to repeat day after day in this difficult and dangerous 21st century, you have to let go of hate if you want to be free.

Dalai Lama:

A lot of my Muslim friend, they explained to me one interpretation of Jihad, not only the attack on other, but real meaning is combat or attack, your own wrong dream or negativities.

Seyyed Hossein Nasr:

The greater Jihad, the bigger Jihad is to combat your own negative forces within you. Yes.

Dalai Lama:

So in that sense, the whole Buddhist practise is practise of Jihad.

Seyyed Hossein Nasr:

Exactly, absolutely.

Krista Tippett:

A great conclusion for an Interfaith Summit. Yes.

Seyyed Hossein Nasr:

I have no choice, but to say a few words, because what our dear friend Rabbi Sacks said about the question of hatred and anger, right now is directed more than anywhere else towards the Islamic world as far as the west is concerned, the Buddhist world does not share in that nor does the Hindu world. And it brings up of course, a very intractable problems at the heart of bushes, the Arab Israeli conflict, which goes back precisely to rooted attitudes if I can put it mildly, which have to be given up if you’re going to have peace, but there’s something more profound that is going on here. I was alluding to it last night when I give a talk here, which is very, very sad. And that is that we’ve all been engaged as represent different religions, to try to better understand each other during the last half century, half a century ago, people in Egypt or Iran know much less about Buddhism than they do now. His books had not been by the hundreds, many of the books that he had written had not been translated, let’s say into my own mother tongue Persian.

A lot of things like that have changed, but one thing which is going the other way is that rising hatred in America against Islam until a few years ago is against Islamic so-called extremist now it’s against Islam itself. And many of the old texts written hundreds of years ago in the middle ages in Europe and Latin, have been resuscitated and regurgitated right here in Atlanta and other cities, and coming out of the mouth of people from whom one would not expect this and claim to be Christians and brings up a terrible response, terrible reaction, which is going to endanger, I said last night, also the future of all Christian communities in the Middle East and Islamic world. And the question always comes up, the question of compassion that you ask.

Compassion is meaningless if you have no power to either do good or evil. Compassion towards the Australian Aborigines, what effect does that have? And usually it’s combined when you can do something, and you exercise it as the Buddhists have emphasised so much. Now, people do not understand two things. First of all, Islam as a religion, none of it is not deprived of compassion, but after Buddhism, there is no religion that speaks as much of compassion as Islam does, every chapter of the Koran begins to dispel Ar-Rahman Ar-Raheem the name of God, most merciful and compassionate, or almost full our compassion. And secondly, that compassion towards other creatures has done any less in the Islamic world that anywhere else you cannot say, God created humanity and it divided the compassion. He gave 4/5th to Tibet, 1/10th to Belgium, and then the rest is scattered over the rest of there. Of course, that is not at all the case, but what is involved here is a question of power.

It’s not the Islamic world has invaded the two neighbouring countries of the United States, it’s the other way around. And the great problem for the Muslims is the excess of compassion at a time when you’d been bombed every night, and the important for Christians in this country to understand what it means to be placed in such a situation, how to exercise Christian compassion, Christian charity here in a very, very complicated situation.

And I think the leaders, the religious leaders, spiritual leaders of these traditions, religion, including Islam must be able to speak up to this issue. Simply vilification that I have all the monopoly on compassion, you don’t have any of it you’re just brute force, that’s not going to solve any problem at all. And we need that itself to understand, that the other can also be compassionate is a form of compassion. If you’re a follower of Christ or of the prophets you must exercise that. No Muslim has a right to say that a Christian does not have compassion because somebody dropped a bomb on his brother’s head last night and vice versa. And this is a very important issue we are stuck at, especially in what’s called the Middle East today.

Krista Tippett:

That’s a very big subject. I’m out of my medium. I’m used to being in a recording studio where there aren’t people applauding and have wonderful answers. And we’re almost at, we are out of time. Yes, you may.

Dalai Lama:

But this sort of topic, I want to add one thing. One year after the September 11th event. So I’m going to anniversary a prayer meeting in Washington, the National Cathedral. At that time I was in Washington, so they invited me to that ceremony. So there, I mentioned these sort of the unthinkable sort of destruction carried by a few people whose background Muslim, these few Muslims, sort of behaviour cannot symbolise or represent all Islam. So it is absolutely unfair or wrong due to few individuals, misbehaviour and whole sort of system, whole tradition, and now consider a little bit negative. It’s totally wrong. As far as mischievous people, few individual mischievous people, every tradition, among Hindus, among the Jews, among the Christians, among the Buddhists, in every sort of religious tradition, some mischievous people always there, so that cannot sort of symbolise or represent the whole tradition.

I mentioned there, as soon as then, in many occasion in Europe in Latin America, and also in India, I always used to say, that’s what the share people, it is very important to make a distinction, the whole system, and a few mischievous people’s activities must be differentiated. That I want to tell you, I think that media people and also even some sort of writers create impression, clash Western civilisation and Islam. The size things are just for one individual sort of view. I think there is no valid basis. So some Islam practitioner, as we all know, because of that, mentioned that word, genuine Islam practitioner should extend compassion towards all creatures.

Seyyed Hossein Nasr:

As all men should.

Dalai Lama:

And then also it’s just say, genuine practitioner of Islam, if anyone who create bloodshed, he or she actually not changing Islam practitioner. This is that. We must, touch the essential message and don’t look, these few individuals’ behaviour, that’s very important.

Krista Tippett:

We need to finish Professor Nasr, you’ve written that one of the Arabic words, most commonly used for happiness literally means expanded. This follows very much on what His Holiness just said. And Rabbi Sacks has written that in the 21st century, all religious people must feel themselves enlarged rather than threatened by the presence of religious others. I personally feel that this discussion has been a wonderful demonstration of that. And of course, again, it is such an honour to be here with His Holiness and with all of you and I want to thank you so much and thank you all for coming. And this concludes our conversation.