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Following Dalai Lama's interview, we take a look at the significance of his visit to to San Diego.

April 19, 2012 3:21 p.m.


Dr. Sthaneshwar Timalsina, Associate Professor of religion in India, San Diego State University.

Related Story: Dalai Lama Says Science, Climate Change, Childhood Linked To Compassion


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

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CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. It's Thursday, April 19th. Our top story on Midday Edition, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama is winding up a 2-day visit to students at university of San Diego. His lectures have filled the arenas at USD, UC San Diego, and San Diego San Diego state. His topic has been how to connect compassion to all aspects of human endeavor. KPBS had a rare opportunity to talk with his holiness, the Dalai Lama, earlier today. We are the only media outlet that was honored with an exclusive interview during his San Diego visit. Here is that interview.

CAVANAUGH: First of all, thank you so much for speaking with us this morning. Your holiness, your lectures to students in San Diego are about compassion without borders. I want to ask you first about compassion within borders. Do you think America is a compassionate nation?

DALAI LAMA: Well, I think every human being, born from mother, and at least the next few years, you see, received immense affection from our mother. So the child's first experience in this lifetime at the beginning, I think that immense affection from other is in our blood. So therefore, the whole rest of life, other people show you smile, genuine sort of closeness feeling. 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. But the problem -- so that's why I think everywhere, I think the problem is these basic sort of human values from our -- from the beginning, from birth, are not sort of 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. 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.

CAVANAUGH: There are many scientists and researchers here in San Diego, lots of them, and they make advances in medicine climate science, high-technology. Do you think science can be a tool of compassion?

DALAI LAMA: Oh, yes! Not directly, but you know medical science now, for example, medical science begin to notice for good health, peace of mind, self-confidence, optimism is something very important. And also preventive measure. And that level also. The mental attitude very, very crucial factor. Then another sort of field, the brain specialist, or neurospecialist, neuroscience, they now begin to feel or begin showing interest, the brain movement. Of course there are another factor, which sort of pushing these, the brain cells' movement. So what is that?

DALAI LAMA: That is what you call mind. Sometimes people feel mind is merely the -- in some animal, the energy or something from the brain. Now there are little sort of curiosities or I think doubt sometimes a sheer sort of mental attitude, some change in our brain. So these fields, now scientists are showing some interest. So the first part, the peace of mind, is very essential for our health. So in that level, 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. Then also, you see the family level, genuine harmonious, or genuine sort of full of affectionate family, not money, not power, not just mere education, but these basic human values is a key factor. So individual level, community level, national level, even international level. 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.

CAVANAUGH: You're also speaking about climate change. What does climate change have to do with compassion?

DALAI LAMA: Yes! Compassion is concern of others' well being. 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.

CAVANAUGH: Your holiness, you've recently separated your spiritual leadership as Dalai Lama from the temporal leadership that your position used to include. The Tibetan government in exile now has a secular leader. Does this mean that you believe in the separation of church and state the way we do here in America?

DALAI LAMA: Oh, yes! Absolutely! Spirituality actually must be above politics. Or some other sort of business. 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. 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. So once they carry full responsibility, then whether I'm there or not, they will carry the struggle. Now, after I handed over all my authority, I feel now our struggle become much, much safer. And me personally, the day I officially handed over, that night, very unusual sound. I am quite free now.

DALAI LAMA: I can do what my energy, my time, to my other sort of commitment. And then also emotional, religious harmony. So in these two field, now that more or less I think the spirituality or human values in these fields, I may consider my only professional field. The political, national struggle, these are not my profession.

CAVANAUGH: Your holiness, you've recently written a book called beyond religion, ethics for the whole world. Some people think that we can't be compassionate or ethical without religion. Can we get beyond religion?

DALAI LAMA: Yes, certainly! Animals, I will ask you, animals have any religion?


DALAI LAMA: 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?


DALAI LAMA: Just give food without showing affection, they might not get sort of 100% satisfaction. So they also, you see, when we human beings, we show affection, the poor animal also respond to us. Licking, or cats sometimes, you see, they are sort of with the palm, put her, and purr, purr, or something special sort of sound. You say very peaceful. Isn't it? That is the response of affection. 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.


DALAI LAMA: 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.

CAVANAUGH: My last question to you, do you feel it's your obligation to go around the world to give these lectures? Or is it also your joy?

DALAI LAMA: Not obligation. Without invitation, I never go.

DALAI LAMA: Then also when invitation come, then I inquire just to see new place or seeing just the one sort of family, then not much interest. The invitation come from some institution who really involving so-called my own profession, these fields. And then different universities or education sort of institution, I feel that is the place where the awareness of these things to start and to spread a more human community. So then on that level, yes, I have some obligation. I one individual human being. One of the seven billion human being. I believe each of us, our future depends on the rest of humanity. Humanity happy, I get benefit. Humanity in state of trouble, or violence, I cannot escape from that. So every sort of seven billion human being have to think about the well-being of humanity. So my own share making contribution, my own share. So I never feel I am something special. We all same. Now I am -- now a person, new nearly 77 year old, and also my life not easy. Last 50, 60 years, my life as a grownup, tremendous difficulties. That also some help, all these difficulties due to lack of sense of respect others' right lack of sort of sense of concern about others' well being. And then also, you see, when I here, I always listen BBC. The sort of sad events everywhere. In my mind of course natural disaster like tsunami, and these things, also I think indirectly may relate to human behavior. But then major sort of problems actually they're due to a lack of moral principle. In a free country, America, or India, and Japan, and many places, democracy country, free country, but still within the sort of rule of law, some injustice, some sort of problems, some discriminations, and also some sort of scandals or the corruptions. These things, you see, they are always in my mind, I think many people agree, lack of moral principle. Therefore we have to make effort through well through every corner, media people, education sort of institution, and family, parents, everywhere. It is our common goal, common interest promote more compassion toward the world. So like that. So therefore that's my own one individual sort of contribution. So let us have that kind of effort from all, except those child or handicapped or too old. But the many people, they sort of have the opportunity to create trouble or to create a good thing, now should think more seriously, should not indulge any work to create more problems.

CAVANAUGH: Your holiness, thank you so much for speaking with us.

DALAI LAMA: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: Coming up, we'll be joined by an SDSU professor of religion to talk more about the Dalai Lama's visit to San Diego, and then the man who introduced the Dalai Lama at yesterday's UC San Diego event speaks to us about his work in climate change.


CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Sitting down for a conversation with the Dalai Lama was a powerful and a delightful experience for me and for all of us on Midday Edition. We'd like to continue now exploring some of the themes of that interview, and joining me is an expert on Tibetan Buddhism. I'd hike to welcome doctor Sthaneshwar Timalsina, associate professor of religion at San Diego state university. Welcome to the show.

TIMALSINA: Thank you so much.

CAVANAUGH: And we're inviting our listeners to join the conversation, give us a call with your questions or comments. 1-888-895-5727. Now you sat with me here and listened to that interview. I'd like to get your initial overall reaction to what the Dalai Lama said.

TIMALSINA: This is an amazing interview because his ability, his skill to unpack very complex ideas without any technical jargon, and to be able to universalize the values coming from one specific culture. So he is not speaking to the Buddhist, or to Tibetans, he is speaking to the whole humanity. And he is still -- the ideas he has shared are sapped with what he comes up for the Buddhist values and with his philosophy.

CAVANAUGH: Can you give me an example of something in this interview that the Dalai Lama said that he simplified or universalized that has a direct relation to Tibetan philosophy?

TIMALSINA: Fundamentally, the Dalai Lama follows Mahayana Buddhism, and the pao a person takes when he joins the path, and the pao is unconditional compassion. I want to be the Buddha without any conditions. So to reach out, to help out to everybody who is suffering. So this unconditional compassion is through and through in his lecture. And when you asked a question on science, he simply applied the Buddhist philosophy of wisdom, how everything is interdependent, and how we cannot isolate our being from the existence of our planet. So there is this philosophy which means that everything rises being dependent upon the other, and there is nothing intrinsically independent. And in the last question, he was joking to say I chose to come, and I was not -- so there is this free will concept he is trying to share with us that I am free to choose my destiny, none the less there is this karma, so there is some obligation, and some free will. So every word he is speaking is very calculated, although it doesn't seem like that. But he is a very careful and very that you feel speaker. And a profoundly philosophically grounded interview.

CAVANAUGH: Have you noticed as you've listened to the Dalai Lama through the years, that he has evolved in the way he can express this message to people who are not Buddhists?

TIMALSINA: I can't say so. The first time I was immersed into this Dalai Lama in 1998, then after I have been observing most of the events that relate to Dalai Lama, and I can see this progression, particularly when he started with these global issues. But he had this potential just like he himself says, like in the first question about America and compassion, he didn't just immediately say oh, America is very compassionate, he did not reject it, but he said it has the potential to manifest it further the same way he had this potential when he first gave this lecture in Wisconsin, Madison. And now this is, like, going to millions. So the acceptability has increased, and his charismatic personality has moved outside, just as he said from political issues to a broader human conscience, and of course there's a greater appeal. To these.

CAVANAUGH: Now, he seemed relieved not to be the political leader of the Tibetan people anymore. The last time you were on the show with us, we spoke about the big change that it was for the Dalai Lama to relinquish that temporal power to secular leaders in Tibet. How is that turnover proceeding? How is Tibet now being ruled?

TIMALSINA: For right now, we cannot see that the shift of the leadership has made any significant impact because the repression against Tibetan people is ongoing. There have been -- even yesterday, I read two more monks have imolated themselves. So the number goes almost 35 within a year. And 12 of the 14 nobale peace Laureates just spoke ten days ago in support of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people. But this transition is not for a momentary solution. This transition is actually to keep the issue Alive. Before his holiness took this shrine of this throne of the Dalai Lama, there was a gap for almost 20 years of no Dalai Lama in the shrine. So actually now, are the leadership, political leadership, will have no gap. So the issue will continue.

CAVANAUGH: You bring up the important point that the situation in Tibet itself is not good, and there have been these imolations, there have been these people who have been committing suicide but they are -- feel they are oppressed, they have no political power. Some people criticize the Dalai Lama for not being more aggressive in his activism for a free Tibet. Is that fair, do you think?

TIMALSINA: I think the Dalai Lama is doing the best he can as a leader of peace. He's not a leader of violence. And people have to fundamentally understand the difference between these two things. And this is the fight of barely five million people in a country of 1.35 billion population. So it's something like zero.something, very minimal. And these people have no power. It's not even the philosophy of Buddhism anyway, to begin with. So there is their moral philosophy that is kind of guiding them, this guiding principle, and also the ground reality that there is no way they can achieve something bigger by leaving their nonviolent gesture, and I think that Dalai Lama is doing the right thing of advocating nonviolent resistance.

CAVANAUGH: Let me take a call. Marty from Rancho Bernardo.

NEW SPEAKER: I just wanted to say that I was so struck by the Dalai Lama's comment that it really is now for him what he does, in his life, one person for one person. And when I started out a long time ago as a medical provider, I really thought I had to do big things for a lot of people. And now I recognize it's what I do one day for one person when I see them to make them feel better. So it was really refreshing, and I just loved his laughter. So I just wanted to say that. He's such a delight to listen to.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much for the call. We appreciate it. I'm wondering, what did your students say to you when they -- they were all excited to see the Dalai Lama. Why were they excited?

TIMALSINA: They had all kinds of reasons. And the more sophisticated one I heard from some students is like I asked the question what it means to you, and some students said this shows that our university, because all three universities in San Diego invited the Dalai Lama, so they said our universities are opening up for alternative ideas. And we had not refrained to our own classical traditional way of thinking to the western perspectives alone. But other students oh, I liked his books, what are you talking about? He is the Dalai Lama! He looks like a Yoda! Everything. So there's this grand presence in Dalai Lama, and people don't even go with their just hesitation. They are already there to see this superstar.

TIMALSINA: Just his presence feels great, and I have been through that. I know what it feels like. You had just been through that!

CAVANAUGH: I have to say I know what it feels like too, and it's a pretty good feeling.

CAVANAUGH: Now, thank you very much for coming in and speaking with us.

TIMALSINA: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.