On Tuesday, the Dalai Lama spoke about Buddhism in the modern world. In his talk titled “Stages of Meditation: Buddhism for the 21st Century,” His Holiness explained the basic principles of Buddhism and called for respect for all beliefs.
The Dalai Lama gave the talk in celebration of the 10th anniversary of MIT’s Prajnopaya chapter. Prajnopaya, which is Sanskrit for wisdom and compassion, is an organization that encourages the study of Buddhism and humanitarian efforts. The lecture was based on the Buddhist text “Stages of Meditation,” written by Indian yogi scholar Acharya Kamalashila in the eighth century.
After introductory performances by Boston vocal group Blue Heron and violinist Adrian Anantawan, the Dalai Lama was welcomed to the very crowded Kresge Auditorium by MIT’s Buddhist chaplain, the Venerable Tenzin Priyadarshi.
Accompanied by several monks, His Holiness took the stage. The stage at Kresge featured a raised platform, furnished with a coffee table and a couch, several cushions for the monks to sit on, and a tapestry hanging in the background. He amused the crowd by accepting and putting on an MIT baseball hat, which he later compared to a visor he had brought with him.
He began by speaking about the importance of religious tolerance, saying that “religious faith must come from within … it is up to the individual” to decide and sharing stories of others attempting to convert him to their religion. “You must have faith in your own beliefs and respect for others’ [beliefs],” he said.
The Dalai Lama also gave a brief overview of the principles of Buddhism. He explained that Buddhists believe suffering is caused by a misconception of reality that leads to unrealistic expectations. According to the teachings of Buddhism, people focus too much on external conditions and not the experiences themselves. The antidote to suffering is to “cultivate wisdom” and attempt to “understand the ultimate nature of reality,” said the Dalai Lama.
Another key idea in Buddhism the Dalai Lama mentioned is the idea of opposing forces that cannot coexist — if we wish to decrease one force, we can do so by increasing the other. He gave examples of ignorance and wisdom; if we gain wisdom, we will stop being ignorant. The Dalai Lama also applied this idea to the forces of anger and kindness.
The Dalai Lama peppered his talk with anecdotes of his travels and insights he had gained from talking to people around the world. He was an incredibly engaging speaker, keeping the audience entertained with his great enthusiasm and good nature.