Science, climate change and a person's experience in childhood are all closely linked to compassion and caring for others, the Dalai Lama said in an exclusive interview with KPBS.
The 14th Dalai Lama, a 76-year-old named Tenzin Gyatso, is the spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhism. The Nobel Peace Prize winner visited San Diego to speak at three local universities. He also spoke exclusively with KPBS. Although English is not his first language, he did not use a translator.
In his interview, the Dalai Lama said cultivating compassion begins at birth, because the more affection a baby receives, the more able he or she will be to show kindness to others.
"The whole rest of life, other people show you smile, genuine sort of closeness feeling," the Dalai Lama said. "You feel happy. Even animals also like that. So the person who received maximum affection from mother, that person also sort of cultivated the potential showing affection to others."
Problems in our society arise, he said, when people are not properly nurtured.
"So then our mind, our brain, through education and also difference of experiences, that eventually, these basic values or what are called dominant, not have the catching up our intelligence, experience growth, that also should grow," he said. "Then our life become more human. So now here, country to country, obviously those countries, their constant fear does damage about that. So from that viewpoint, America, free country, democratic country, so more opportunity. Still is more sort of alive. This is my feeling."
The Dalai Lama also said science is a tool of compassion because it shows people the importance of a sound mind and offers hints for how to achieve it.
"I think scientific finding, immense benefit to get our wellness and eventually conviction, peace of mind is not just a luxurious item, but peace of mind is actually very important for our survival, for our healthy survival," he said. "A lot of problems we are facing, essentially, manmade problem. Own creation. Not due to lack of intelligence. In some cases, lack of full knowledge or holistic view, that is also part of the problem. But mainly lack of moral principle. So long you have this genuine sort of concern, well being of other. That's the foundation of moral principle."
The Dalai Lama spoke with two researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography about climate change. He told KPBS compassion is undeniably linked with climate change.
"Compassion is concern of others' well being," he said. "Climate change has been immense difficulties of pains or illness or hard life on this planet. So through that way, you have sense of concern of the well being, not sky, not just the environment itself. But we live within the environment. So that directly relates with our survival, our life. So through that way, more concern of well being of humanity, then naturally concerned about environment."
Last year the Dalai Lama separated his roles as spiritual leader and head of the Tibetan government in exile, allowing for the election of a secular leader. He told KPBS he believes in the separation of church and state.
"Oh, yes! Absolutely!" he said. "Spirituality actually must be above politics."
"So one reason, in my childhood, and particularly when I take the responsibility, I already have sort of keen desire, we must change our system," he added. "Then as soon as we reach India, 1959, at once we start working for democratization. Now here if remain in a political sort of field, supreme leader, at the same time religious leader, that may become hindrance of proper democracy.
"And then another thing, now this is mainly for our interest about Tibet, our struggle. Whole struggle depend on within person. For dangerous. Foolish! Not for this only institution or even not only for Buddhist dogma, but before national sort of right, our right. So therefore this struggle must carried by people themselves."
He added, with a laugh, that since handing over power of the government, he is "quite free now."
The Dalai Lama also said people can be compassionate without religion.
"Animals, I will ask you, animals have any religion?" he said. "Cats, dogs, and some I mean, birds many species of mammals, they also have the sort of potential to show affection firstly because of the biological factor. And then like dogs, if you the owner of the dog, really showing not just food but real affection, then dog very much appreciate. Isn't it?"
"So they also have the - they appreciate others' affection, they also have the sort of ability to show their own affection. And then as soon as we're born, child, no religious faith," he added. "So that's my main argument. So the affection is mainly biological factor. Then further sort of strengthening, that religion helps. And without religion, also there is a way, it could be this way, through education, through scientific findings, then you get conviction. Not necessarily really love other, but for their own interest they are showing love, compassion to other like that."
The Dalai Lama delighted crowds at UC San Diego, University of San Diego and San Diego State University by donning visors with the name of each school. At SDSU, Mayor Jerry Sanders presented him with the key to the city and he responded by placing a "khata," a Tibetan ceremonial white silk scarf that symbolizes purity and compassion, around the mayor's shoulders.
At UCSD, 4,200 heard him speak, while 4,700 people attended his talk at USD. More than 12,000 came to see him at SDSU.