The final session of ML XX began with Roshi Joan Halifax quoting His Holiness from years ago – “Compassion is not a luxury, it is a necessity for human beings to survive.” Moving on to the sole formal presentation of the session, William George of Harvard Business School spoke of compassionate, authentic leadership. In his view it is essential for a healthy society. He sees the global financial mess not as an economic failure, but a spiritual failure; people’s desire for more and more satisfaction derived from materialism led down a path of greed and destruction. There is a loss of confidence in our leaders today, but failures in leadership ultimately come from leaders who place their self-interest ahead of others, inevitably causing great damage.
However, on the bright side, we are seeing the emergence of a new type of leadership, and this growing style is no longer based on ‘Top Down’ management – it is based on empowerment. The job of a leader is to serve, not to exert brute authority. The mission of organizations should be to serve society, not shareholders, according to Mr. George. Over the long term, this is what sustains performance.
But leaders are not born or made, they are developed. Bill asked the Dalai Lama, “How do you think we can develop more leaders?” His Holiness replied, “I believe it comes from the training of inner values. Which many of you out there may already know, but you may not be fully convinced. I think mainly education will help development. With proper thought, we can make education and other fields develop more compassionate people. Even Hitler didn’t start out evil from birth; it was his development and the circumstances of his life that allowed him to become who he was. Though the media in Jerusalem made it sound like I called him a ‘positive person’ when I first said this.”
His Holiness continued, “You should spread these ideas about this type of leadership through talks, to the media, so that they are well known. Make a list of the qualities that this leader would have and list them ‘A, B, C, and so on.’ And then when people go to elections, they can take this list and judge who their leaders might be based on this list!”
Richard Davidson returned to the stage and took a moment to thank His Holiness for making this twentieth Mind & Life dialogue possible. “This could never have happened with anyone else. No other world leader has spent so much time in dialogue with scientists,” he said to commanding applause. “Well, I don’t have a country to run,” joked His Holiness. “I have been quite free!” Thupten Jinpa chimed in, “He does it partly to pass the time!” After summarizing the first
session’s scientific findings, he said, “Over these sessions, we’ve seen that in practice as well as in basic research that there are distinct gender differences when it comes to altruism and compassion. Why do you think that is?”
“I think the neurons are the same, organs are the same,” His Holiness mused after a moment. “The Buddha would have wanted to give equal opportunities to men and women. Discrimination has often been in the way of equality. Masculine traits have been associated as strength. Feminine is wisdom. We must develop toward a ‘mother-centered being;’ she would be the ultimate source of affection. Over this meeting we have been learning that women biologically have more sensitivity to this. Throughout evolution, leadership only came recently, when groups evolved to become more complex. Power stepped in and kept stability, which pushed education and compassion to more secondary roles.”
“I’ve learned much from living in India – liberty, democracy.” he continued. “Because so many of the thoughts and ideas I have had developed while in India, I now consider myself a son of India. Which always irritates my bosses in China!” He also said that intelligence alone is not enough; we need more compassion. Education will help bring equality to males and females. Women should take more of the active leadership roles. “Although,” he quipped, “some females – not so compassionate!”
Ernst Fehr thought of some challenges for the future. “What in Buddhism could be translated to the context of this conference?” he asked His Holiness.
“It is clear that we need different religions,” began the Dalai Lama’s response. “They have different perspectives but produce similar effects. A Muslim friend told me how a true practitioner must love all living creatures. We have to tackle the root cause of the problems in economic systems. We must recognize secular ethics. There is Buddhist science, Buddhist philosophy and Buddhist religion. Leave out the religion and look at the Buddhist science. Buddhism brings the necessity of compassion to social sciences. Your happiness is related to others’ happiness. All interconnected. Buddhist science provides better knowledge about emotion.” He continued, “However, we should respect all religions; do not try to convert people. Respect. Is Buddhism useful for economics in society? No. But take the values and perspectives of a religious person, and utilize that.”
His Holiness thanked everyone for such an important conference, and he expressed how encouraged he felt with what had been discussed. Thus ended Mind & Life XX: Altruism and Compassion in Economic Systems. By all accounts, there were great dialogue, very insightful research presentations, examples of real world economic compassion and happiness with how it all intertwined. Tashi Delek!