Tricycle’s 30th Anniversary
The Dalai Lama interviewed by Daniel Goleman
In 1991, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review launched its inaugural issue featuring the Dalai Lama as its very first cover star.
30 years later, we’re coming full circle with an exclusive new interview with His Holiness, who joins us for Tricycle’s month-long 30th anniversary event series. He sits down with psychologist Daniel Goleman, his longtime friend and colleague, for a wide-ranging discussion on the mindfulness in education, the evolving dialogue between Buddhism and science, the work of putting compassion into action, dealing with destructive emotions, and much more.
In the 45-minute-long interview, His Holiness also speaks to the global pandemic and climate crisis—and the critical role of altruism for healing our minds and saving our planet.
Daniel Goleman: Your Holiness, 30 years ago, in 1991, we were with you in Dharamsala. I’ll show you a picture. This is back when I had hair (many, many years ago!). Also in that year, in 1991, a Buddhist magazine called Tricycle was started. And now 30 years later, they’ve asked me to interview you for their 30th anniversary edition to celebrate 30 years. So, my first question is that some schools in America have added mindfulness meditation for children, to help them be more focused and more calm. For example, this is part of the learning program at Emory University that you’ve been helping with. You often talk about how ancient Indian thought could add to modern education. What do you see as missing in modern education now?
Dalai Lama: Modern education was very much oriented around external things, material things. They have our minds concerned with faith, Christianity. Christianity and faith, you see, provide them inner peace, and the philosophy according to that of fate, is that God is the creator. We are all created by God. So, therefore, that gives you the full confidence — you pray to God, and since we are all created by God, God looks after us. So, there is that faith and there’s not much of a concept of training our mind. The West Indian tradition, Buddha himself, mentioned, “My followers should not accept my teachings out of faith, but rather through investigation.” Buddha himself said that. Then the Buddha spoke of the first dharma wheel, the second dharma wheel, the third dharma wheel. The first dharma wheel is more superficial, about the four noble truths. Although nirodha, the third noble truth, cessation [of suffering] — that itself usually just seems quite difficult to understand. Then, second dharma wheel at Rajagriha, now explains about shunyata. All our ignorance, ultimately, due to that ignorance, so, the antidote of that is shunyata. And then, third dharma wheel, Buddha also mentioned that basically, our mind is pure. So third dharma wheel [offers] more explanation about our mind. Second dharma wheel emphasizes the ultimate nature of things. There is also a big differences between appearance and reality. All ignorance is on the basis of appearances. So, in order to reduce that, we must investigate the deeper reality. Tongpa nyi, shunyata. So, the Buddha [gave] three great teachings. So, he deals with reality. So, it’s not just the faith — we must utilize our intelligence. Faith and intelligence must combine. So, in an Arab Muslim country and a European Christian country, you see mainly faith, God is like that. Whereas India, you are your own master. So, ultimately, everything depends on yourself. Buddha cannot save you, cannot protect you, unless you train your own mind. The way to doing that, the Buddha made clear. So, that’s Indian fellow thinking. India actually had almost 3,000 years of nonviolence, ahimsa, and based on karuna, compassion. So, around 3,000 years, and then in the meantime, India also develop shamatha — single-pointed mind — and then vipassana, investigation. So, this is actually India’s tradition. Basically, these are there. Then Buddha comes. He, as I already mentioned, he taught Dharma teachings according to different mentalities of different people, so that the Buddhadharma becomes very rich and then furthermore a knowledge institution. You see, the emphasis was more on reasoning, rather than faith. Nagarjuna, in his teaching and in his texts, always uses reason, reason, reason. And you see about the mind. So now today, a number of my friends, including scientists, now pay more attention to our psychology and our mind. You see, explanation of the mind through the brain is not sufficient. Mind is a different level. So the Indian tradition, and particularly the knowledge tradition, [offers] a lot of explanation about the mind, and then also, a lot of explanation about destructive emotions. So now, I think a number of scientists, gradually, are paying some attention to Buddhist philosophy and Buddhist psychology. So, I hope, we take modern science and ancient Indian psychology and combine these two things. I think we can serve humanity more effectively and more usefully. I feel that. And we can do it without a change in religion; religion is faith. This is just knowledge about psychology, about emotions. Faith is different. So when we talk these things, it’s not necessarily to talk about the next life or heaven or hell. It’s simply how to create peace of mind and a happy life, and ultimately, how to create a peaceful world. A happy world. Now, obviously, the problem (which is not only in the past but even exists today) is some conflict, ultimately rigidity, with self-centered motivation, lacking altruism. So, again, India’s tradition is secular. Secular means not connected with religion. The secular way we can teach in the education field.
Daniel Goleman: Yes, in schools.
Dalai Lama: In schools. Now, obviously, we can see children when they are young; the experience of a mother’s affection is still alive for children. They play together smiling. They don’t care what nationality, what color, what religion. Eventually, when children join school, then they notice different nationalities, different religions. So this is lacking in our education, to not properly educate young children or generations. What’s basic also is the more altruistic mind, or oneness concept — on that basis, education is also now emphasized. We entire 7 billion human beings are the same. We all have to live on this planet, and we all have the same sort of emotions, the same mind. We all have the seed of compassion. Some scientists say, we are social animals. In order to create a peaceful world through education, we can change people’s mental state. That [is the way], I believe — not talking about the next life and not talking about Buddha, not talking about Jesus Christ. Simply, how do they develop inner peace? These days, I always emphasize that the oneness of human beings is all 7 billion. Physically, mentally, emotionally, we have the same potential.
Daniel Goleman: That’s very helpful. You also have answered several of my questions already, like what what could Indian thought and Buddhist psychology bring to Western psychology? I think you’ve answered that. But I have a question about compassion. I’ve heard you appreciate Christians for good works like building clinics and schools. And also I’ve heard you say that Buddhists could be doing more to put compassion into action. What do you have in mind? What could Buddhists be doing that is more compassionate action?
Dalai Lama: The idea is mainly, as I already mentioned, the Buddhist literature [has] a lot of explanation about emotions and about the mind, and how to tackle anger and fear. That part is quite rich in ancient Indian tradition. Christians have just the faith, but if you have genuine faith towards God, God is something like infinite love. God is the creator of whole world. We are all, from the Christian point of view, from a religious viewpoint, we are all created by one God and that God is infinite love. We are all children of that kind of father. We are all brothers and sisters of that kind of father. If you seriously think that, then we all should live harmoniously and compassionately, according to God’s wish.
Daniel Goleman: What about Buddhists?
Dalai Lama: Buddhism is a non-theistic religion. Everything ultimately depends on one’s own action. If you help others, if you serve others, you get benefit. So altruism is a source of happiness. And a source of unhappiness is all the disasters due to anger; anger comes from fear; and fear comes through my self-centered attitude. I, I, we, we. In Indian tradition, ahimsa, karuna, also you should deal with that feeling. Then Buddhism in general, particularly knowledge tradition, there’s a lot of explanation. So we can take this analytical sort of thinking, we shoudl take Buddhism as an academic subject, not as a religion. It is common for everybody. In school, eventually, we can teach Buddhist psychology, I mean, Buddhist psychology according to this sort of text (but considered as secular, not religious).
Daniel Goleman: Right. It’s important. I have a question of a little different kind. This comes from Tara actually. When the pandemic began, the air became much cleaner. I know in India, that’s really true. And we saw that the Earth regenerates, trees grow back and so on, when they get the chance. People became kinder and helped each other more in a spirit of interconnection. How can this time be an opportunity for us to become better people and create a better world?
Dalai Lama: I think we can learn from those nurses or doctors. They are really serving, helping these helpless people, regardless of their own safety. They are actually implementing basic human nature, helping each other. Consider that all human are our brothers, our sisters — and particularly those those human being who have illness — and we share their suffering. And you see, truly helping. Some of these nurses are almost acting like Buddhas! It was wonderful, really wonderful. I think sometimes I feel more admiration for those nurses who are really helping than some monk, some lama. [laughs] They truly practice altruism by serving other people. Wonderful. Wonderful. I always pray for those nurses, those doctors who are really helping helpless human beings, I really admire and pray.
Daniel Goleman: Do you think that their example, or the experience we’ve all had, will leave people being kinder after this is over?
Dalai Lama: Yes. I think to some extent, yes. When we face some sort of serious problem, then our usual sort of thinking, “I, I” and “we, we” becomes less. For example, if one has a disaster come due to rain or earthquake, at that time, people don’t care what others’ religion is, what others’ race is. They come together and work together. Sometimes, some disaster, some difficulty, is in a way helpful to develop altruism, or sameness. We are all human beings and through that we are helping each other.
Daniel Goleman: I do think people learn from that experience, and that learning lasts with them; the sense of oneness, the sense of helping other people. Do you think it stays?
Dalai Lama: In education, we should emphasize the importance of the oneness of all human beings. We are actually brothers and sisters, and we should help each other. If it’s that, then we feel not only physical level, but on a mental level, much happier. When you feel “I,” only “I,” then you are feeling lonely. So the altruism is the best way to fulfill your own interest.
Daniel Goleman: So, for that reason, then maybe people will continue in that path. Because they experienced this. “I feel good doing this.”
Dalai Lama: That’s right. Yeah. Right.
Daniel Goleman: Okay. So one thing about, you know, it’s not just the pandemic, it’s not just the virus that’s going on now. There’s another slower crisis going on, which is the global climate change. I’ve heard you say that, at some point, the rivers in Tibet will be dry, like the rivers in Afghanistan are today. And that of course, would be a catastrophe for all the people throughout Asia who depend on water from Tibet. Would you talk about that? What timespan do you mean? Are you talking about centuries or decades? How long do you see till that happens?
Dalai Lama: According some experts about ecology… I remember one Chinese expert, he told me that decade by decade, global warming is increasing. In the next few decades, there is a real danger that all the water on this planet may dry. So, it’s a question of few decades. It seems that global warming indicates now the fire, too much heat, and the water is dry and all these ecology things now dry. That’s an indication of the beginning of the disappearing of our planet. So now, for the next few decades, it is our responsibility to take special care about ecology. Then we must now apply, we already have knowledge and technology that uses solar power and wind power. So we can use those in big factories now, because we should reduce the use of coal for these things. So now we should pay… I think the human mind, in a way, is not thinking long term. We just follow our last few centuries in our way of life and habits. Now things are changing. Now, a new change. We must pay more attention. Now, global warming is reality. Accordingly, we should pay more attention. I always, regarding Tibet, the political matter, I already retired since 2011. I totally retired, but Tibetan ecology, I often mention. Tibet’s ecology is really the source of water for India, China, and Vietnam Mekong. All these major rivers, which cover all these most populated countries, the ultimate source of this water comes from Tibet. So, we must pay more attention to the ecology of Tibet. The glaciers now reduce. This is our obvious reality. Now, we must think about our next generation; at least two to three generations. So we must pay more attention to ecology.
Daniel Goleman: Well, actually, that’s hopeful, Your Holiness, because if you if you see the next two or three generations as being able maybe to slow down global warming, or reverse it hopefully, then that means that the prediction of rivers drying up and so on would be far in the future. Is that right?
Dalai Lama: The global warming, nobody can stop that. But we can postpone.
Daniel Goleman: I see. And that’s why I said that the coming generations, the younger people find this very important. I saw you talking to Greta, the young girl from Sweden, and she’s an example of her generation, which is taking this much more seriously, I think. Do you think that that generation might slow things down?
Dalai Lama: Right. I have one almost empty dream. That is the Sahara, big land of sand, surrounded by Sea. So we can use sea water.
Daniel Goleman: Yes.
Dalai Lama: So these big desert lands should transform into green land. Similarly, Australia, on all sides, is sea water there.
Daniel Goleman: Yes.
Dalai Lama: In Australia, there’s a lot of desert. You can use that. I think if we put more energy and think more seriously, and spend more money, I think to some extent this sort of useless land can be cultivated. Perhaps eventually, the United Nations… The president of the United Nations, the Secretary, sat down with some people to think of how to prevent global warming and extend our living world like that.
Daniel Goleman: Yes. I hope that will happen. I like that optimistic view. Thank you. I have grandchildren, so I hope for a happy life on this planet. Let me ask you something completely different. You’ve been very active in the encounter between Buddhism and contemporary culture, particularly with science. What do you think are some of the major things each side has learned from the other?
Dalai Lama: We always use reason and analytical mind in meditation, always. The science is seeking the reality. So we both [have] differences… scientists now utilize a lot of different machines. Buddhist tradition, the knowledge tradition, only uses the brain. Both analyze the reality. So far my own experience, since my childhood, I have a keen interest in science, and after I came to India, [I had] an opportunity to meet with scientists and discuss. Now already — I think I already mentioned — many scientists are now paying more attention to a subtle level of explanation about reality, and then, particularly, about mind. So modern science, [which was] only about material [things] now pays more attention to our brain. Then that automatically brings attention about mind, about emotions, like that. We are not considering these as religious things, academic subjects. And then also, concerning well-being of the world, well-being of humanity, like that.
Daniel Goleman: So, you have been active in bringing a science curriculum into monasteries, for monks. Does that come out of this dialogue you’ve been having with science?
Dalai Lama: Now we already have a Buddhist, monastic college in South India. We already developed one branch of scientific research. Now, we’ve already started some small seed, that gradually I think we can really increase. There’s a benefit.
Daniel Goleman: I’m looking at it now from the other side. I’m a psychologist by training. And you know, Richie Davidson and I went to graduate school together. And it seems to be that Buddhism has a more subtle understanding of the mind. In fact, it talks about subtle levels of mind that Western psychology doesn’t know anything about that. Is that how it seems to you, that something is missing in Western psychology, modern psychology?
Dalai Lama: Oh, to some extent, yes. The science that comes from the West is mainly oriented around external things, with the byproduct, you see, [that] we’re now talking about the brain, talking about mind and emotions. Now, ancient Indian tradition, including Buddhism, [has] more explanation about mind — for example, why in a waking state we use one level of mind and emotion, then the dream state is a deeper level, another level of mind and emotion. And you can train, during dreaming, a more subtle level of mind, emotion. Then [at the] most subtle level, then [there is] no longer emotion, but still pure mind is there. We can meditate on it. So, a more deeper experience of the subtle mind affects the grosser level of mind — some effect like that. These, of course, in Buddhist literature are mentioned as a model of buddhadharma. But we can take as an academic subject. We can discuss. We can teach.
Daniel Goleman: I think that’s something that Buddhism and Buddhist understanding can teach to modern science, because modern science doesn’t know anything about it. Don’t you think?
Dalai Lama: Right. Right, yes. Yeah, right. Already some scientists know, [and are] really showing interest like that.
Daniel Goleman: I think that’s wonderful. Along those lines, I know that when your tutor Ling Rinpoche passed away, his body remained very fresh and took thukdam for a long time. The same thing happened recently to one of my teachers Chokling Rinpoche. You’re helping Richie Davidson do research on thukdam. This, I think, depends on a more subtle level of mind. Could you explain what thukdam is and why this project is important?
Dalai Lama: One professor at Moscow University was showing interest about that. Some facility actually remains in Bangalore… then when some monk, after death, remains in thukdam, some instruments are used. So already, [there is an] experiment. But here in Dharamsala also, [there are a] number of cases after death. Now, for example, my own teacher, Ling Rinpoche, for 13 days remained in thukdam. And then one good scholar, also a practitioner in South India, for almost three weeks remained in thukdam. So now, some — like the Russian professor of Moscow University — they’re really seriously paying attention. And Richie Davidson also noticed dying, dead person, when some machine is [connected to] their head, there is some unusual sort of indication; some cases there. Now, further, whenever we have this opportunity to experiment, this shows clearly the different level of mind — when the brain is no longer working, but still, the subtle mind is there. Therefore, the body still remains fresh.
Daniel Goleman: Yes. That’s very good explanation. Thank you. It also occurs to me, many years ago, you requested a Mind and Life meeting on destructive emotions. And given the different levels of consciousness that you’re describing, are there different meanings of when an emotion becomes destructive?
Dalai Lama: The destructive emotions are mainly related with the grosser level of mind. More subtle [mind] also uses subtle level of some emotions. Otherwise, the grosser level of emotion is no longer there.
Daniel Goleman: Are there different signs of destructive emotions, at the gross level and the subtle level?
Dalai Lama: I don’t know. I think we still need to see more experiments and more discussion.
Daniel Goleman: That will happen. I’ve heard you mentioned a difference between disturbing and destructive emotions. Can you say something about that? What’s disturbing and what’s destructive?
Dalai Lama: Obviously anger or fear, jealousy — all these destructive emotion are very much based on too much self-centered attitude. Then, altruism is thinking [about the] well-being of the entirety of sentient beings, and particularly, sentient beings on this planet, and particularly, human beings, and sometimes tears come. So some emotions, but these emotions are very positive, not disturbing your mental state. More sense of compassion, more inner strength, like that. I myself, as soon as I wake up, I am always thinking about altruism. Very helpful, very helpful. Not only in this life. One Shantideva prayer [says], so long as space remains, I will remain in order to serve sentient beings. This really gives you inner strength, determination. So, more inner strength, or positive inner strength — then these destructive emotions, not much effect. Another way, as I mentioned earlier, [at the] more subtle level, [there is] no longer any danger of destructive emotions coming.
Daniel Goleman: I see.
Dalai Lama: And then, a little grosser, then the element of these destructive emotions becomes more and more stronger. So, that’s why meditation — one reason to meditate [is that a] deeper level of mind reduces the power of those emotions which are related with a grosser level of mind. Among the Hindus also, I know, some have some experience with a deeper level of meditation. Shamatha, shinay is common. So, one time I met a Hindu yogi and I have some discussion. They also have the experience, not a very, very subtle level, but a more subtle level — you see, the body is like a dream body separate from this body while you meditate; more subtle level of body, with that body separate from this body.
Daniel Goleman: Is that a good sign of progress?
Dalai Lama: Yes, yes. That shows the effect from meditation, and big differences [from the] grosser level. And now, for example, the dream body can separate from this body. I know, one official whose mother is sometimes asleep, and before sleep, the mother said, “I will sleep more days, don’t disturb.” After one week, when she awakes, the dream body was separated from this body and visit a different place. So, after one week, she mentioned that place, there are such-and-such things there. You see, if we have some ability to create a dream body, then you can be the best spy! [Laughs] As an academic subject, the meditation, at least for mental rest… People who have much disturbed their mind, and due to too much thinking, then just meditate, thoughtlessness. That also, I think, is good for mental rest.
Daniel Goleman: It’s true, yes.
Dalai Lama: The one-pointed meditation, not thinking, that is useful for strengthening the ability of our mind. Then, vipassana, analytical meditation. The mind will not now follow [and be attracted by] sounds and seeing, but mind remains standing still. And then use vipassana, analytical meditation. There are many different analytical meditations. Now we, and I myself as a Buddhist practitioner, I always use the analytical meditation about shunyata. Very useful, very useful.
Daniel Goleman: Yes. And Your Holiness, our time has reached an end. This is such a joy. I really enjoyed talking with you and I’m very grateful that you took the time, and I look forward to seeing you again in about a month with Richie Davidson. We’re going to be asking you questions for the 20th anniversary of that destructive emotions meeting that we had with you and Mind and Life. So I’ll see you again then, and again, thank you. I’m gonna ask Tara to join and say goodbye. Thank you.
Dalai Lama: Thank you. I hope, and also I feel, that some of my experience and my knowledge — at least some people will get some new ideas, new help, in their peace of mind. So, my body, speech, mind, dedicated to the well-being of others. Okay.
Daniel Goleman: Okay. [Laughs]
Dalai Lama: Thank you!