Negi shares the Dalai Lama’s dream of spiritual revolution

Amanda Mainguy | Staff Photographer
Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi, director of the Emory-Tibet Partnership, speaks during Tuesday’s Interfaith Lecture in the Hall of Philosophy about the ways Emory is strengthening religious life in attempts to promote understanding of principles found in the Dalai Lama’s teachings.

When Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi was a boy, he “was seen as somebody that would do something in the future.” This meant that he was one of three children chosen to meet the Dalai Lama in 1974, the beginning of a mentorship and friendship between Negi and His Holiness.

Negi passed on some of the Dalai Lama’s teachings at the 2 p.m. Interfaith Lecture Wednesday in the Hall of Philosophy. He also talked about how his teachings were being applied today at Emory University, where Negi is the co-founder and director of the Emory-Tibet Partnership and a senior lecturer in Emory University’s Religion Department. His lecture, “The Convergence of Science and Spirituality: The Emory-Tibet Partnership,” is part of Week Eight’s theme, “The Global Religious Public Square.”

The Dalai Lama focuses on three main points in his work: promoting basic human values, promoting interreligious harmony and looking after the welfare of Tibetans, Negi said.

In 2007, the Dalai Lama wrote Ethics for a New Millennium, in which he called for a spiritual revolution focused on basic human values.

“Spirituality for the Dalai Lama, as for many of us, is first and foremost about being a good human,” Negi said.

The Dalai Lama’s book emphasized the necessity of compassion and love.

“He says that compassion and love are not mere luxuries,” Negi said. “Let’s keep that in mind — it’s not just a mere luxury that when we are having good times we think about compassion and love. He says that at the source of both inner and external peace, they are fundamental to continue the survival of our species.”

Not only do love and compassion promote non-violence, Negi said, but they also represent virtues such as forgiveness and tolerance.

In a globalized world, it’s more important than ever to create a world in which every person can feel at home — not just now, but in the future. Negi said the Dalai Lama believes this goal is achievable through love and kindness.

Reiterating what Karen Armstrong said during her Interfaith Lecture Tuesday, Negi said people need to come to terms with human suffering.

Suffering can be physical or mental, in cases such as depression. Negi said people of privilege, who may not suffer physically, can suffer from very real mental torment.

“When we are unable to feel for others, to take others’ perspectives and where they are coming from and so forth, it’s very easy for us to be more and more focused on our own interests, our own self,” Negi said.

Using Charles Darwin’s research as example, Negi said sympathy is one of the strongest social instincts that mammals have. Darwin revealed in his work that species with greater levels of cooperation and sympathy thrived, while species with lower levels of cooperation and sympathy struggled.

Quoting Albert Einstein, Negi again pointed out the importance of compassion. Einstein said:

“Failing to see the needs of the larger community is a prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. The true value of human being is determined by the measure and the sense in which they have obtained liberation from the sense.”

From a scientific standpoint, Negi said geneticists recently released research that traced all human beginnings back to two people in Africa about 175,000 years ago. From a religious standpoint, Negi said it is a common belief in monotheism that all people were created in God’s image. From a Buddhist view, all people want to be happy and free of suffering, he said. This links all peoples together in ways that should promote the Dalai Lama’s spiritual revolution and embrace love and compassion.

At Emory University, Negi said he helped create a program for “compassion training,” which was implemented among the freshmen class in response to a growing depression and suicide rate on the campus.

The compassion training helped students deal with everyday stress better. Negi said students had less inflammation, caused by a stress hormone IL-6, and their cortisol levels decreased more quickly than in students who didn’t go through the training. These developments can help decrease stress-induced injuries and depression, Negi said.

“How wonderful if we can learn to see the world as more friendly, and with that sense of tenderness,” he said. “That would reduce so much of our stress, so much of our physical illness. But also the draining of our emotional energy.”

Negi reminded Chautauquans that being attuned to others’ needs is a skill that can be sharpened.

“Compassion is a skill,” he said. “If we train deliberately, we can cultivate it.”