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Tenzin Gyasto, the Dalai Lama and foremost figure in Tibetan Buddhism, recently concluded a visit to MIT, home to the Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values. The Center organized several events this week with the Dalai Lama and other prominent spiritual and academic figures.

The first event was held on Sunday, Oct. 14 at the Marriott Copley Place Hotel in Boston in a ballroom filled with nearly two thousand people. Following a performance by James Taylor and cellist Owen Young, the Dalai Lama spoke with Catholic monks Thomas Keating and David Steindl-Rast in a discussion entitled “Beyond Religion: Ethics, Values, and Wellbeing.”

The Dalai Lama was generally jovial and made several jokes before taking his seat between the other panelists and donning a visor to protect his eyes from the bright stage lights. He spoke mostly in English with occasional help from a translator. His Holiness clarified the purpose of the talk, saying “[Ethics beyond religion] doesn’t mean there’s something better than religion, but values can use something separate from religious belief.” His main focus was the importance of compassion: “I want to show people compassion. If you have religious faith, great. Practice it. If not, still practice these values, and you will have happier days and months.”

The Dalai Lama pointed out that to him, secularism does not imply anything negative about religion, but rather encourages respect for all religion. Since, he noted, even among professing believers, many people don’t care very much about religion, it is necessary to educate people using common human experience or science.

His recommendation was that to bring change, “each person should think they can help make a happier world and start from the individual.”

Reverend Liz Walker moderated further discussion among the speakers following the Dalai Lama’s comments.

David Stendl-Rast responded in agreement with the Dalai Lama’s comments, noting, “Faith is basic human trust and is used differently in different religions.”

Thomas Keating echoed the message of compassion, calling it “something desperately needed today.”

“God draws people to himself,” Keating said, “and religion is only one way.”