The Dalai Lama Comes to the University at Buffalo

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama came to UB this week from September 18th to the 20th as part of a program that had been planned for well over a year.  He chose UB because of its highly international character, and there was also the added bonus of UB having 10 students from the Tibetan community in exile, according to The Buffalo News.

As part of his visit, the Dalai Lama took part in a discussion with several scholars, lawyers, and religious figures from around the world, entitled “Law, Buddhism, and Social Change: A Conversation with the 14th Dalai Lama.”  It was designed to elaborate upon the Buddhist concept of law, which has not been studied on nearly the same level in the West as Christian, Judaic, or Islamic law.  I found his views fascinating, especially because I am currently taking a seminar called “Law and Comparative Religion”, which, to quote my syllabus, is “a serious consideration of some of the basic ideas of Buddhism and Christianity, and the political and legal implications of each tradition.”

The goal of the discussion was to talk about how Buddhism can affect how we think about the legal process, and the Dalai Lama detailed several issues concerning law and politics.  He began by emphasizing the role that compassion should play in all human activities, whether or not someone is a Buddhist – you have to consider the effect that your actions have on others and not just focus on yourself.  He believes that Buddhist monks should not be involved in “party” politics, meaning using the political system for individual gain.  However, he does make an exception for those who take part because of national struggles such as the one taking place in Tibet now.  Since religion is an individual matter for each person, he also feels it should be kept separate from politics because of the corrupting influence that politics could have on it.  One of the conversation’s participants brought up the fact that Sri Lanka is trying to develop a penal system that combines compassion with the administration of justice.  In response, the Dalai Lama said that violence as a method of punishment, whether you personally believe it is justified or not, depends on the motivation of the person carrying it out.  The punisher must not do it out of feelings of hatred or wanting revenge – he has to do it out of compassion, in the sense that the person will continue to hurt society by his or her actions if allowed to go on unchecked.  His statements seemed to contradict the Buddhist teaching of not engaging in violence under any circumstances, but they also could be said to acknowledge the fact that in reality, people are not perfect, and that the security of society in general needs to be taken into account by the law.

In a related matter, His Holiness said that in any legal dispute, the Buddhist point of view involves being sensitive to the individual context of each disagreement, and weighing whether the benefit to society of pursuing the issue outweighs the harm that might be done to the parties involved.  He stressed trying to employ mediation and reconciliation before making the decision to go to court.  Even though I’m going to be entering an aspect of the legal profession when I’m done with my education, I agreed with his wanting to try to bring things to an acceptable conclusion without having to invest the time and expenses required for the formal judicial process. 

And on a personal level, I was impressed by the humility that His Holiness expressed, as well as the sense of good humor and happiness that permeated from him even when he was considering very serious points brought up by the conversation’s participants.  He seems to be a very approachable man, which is a quality that I wish more world leaders, both religious and secular, possessed.

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One Response to “The Dalai Lama Comes to the University at Buffalo”

  1. connie Says:

    Hi Lauren:

    Congratulations on setting up this blog! Thank you for sharing the description of the Dalia Lama’s visit. He is someone I have long admired, so I appreciate hearing about him.

    Cheers,
    Connie

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