Tenzin Gyatso, better known as the 14th Dalai Lama and an internationally recognized religious scholar, took the stage at Stanford University, continuing a Bay Area visit that included a meeting with East Palo Alto students Wednesday.
The audience, composed of university students, faculty and staff, as well as young and old people from beyond the Bay Area, filled the bleachers and chairs on the gymnasium floor to listen to the Dalai Lama speak on topics that revolved around the event's title — "The Centrality of Compassion in Human Life and Society."
Sipping out of white tea cups, the religious leader sat with Stanford neuroscientist Dr. James Doty and discussed the connections between a healthy body and a healthy mind and explored the ways in which spirituality and religion might inform science and vice versa.
The effects of kindness, giving, nurturing, empathy and a host of other human traits that previously have been considered scientifically immeasurable are actually quantifiable and yield valuable data, according to research by Stanford's Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE).
CCARE, which hosted the event, was created after a 2005 visit from the Dalai Lama. His talks with Doty inspired the spiritual leader to make a donation of $150,000 — revenues from his book sales — to Doty. Doty, in turn, founded and now directs CCARE, which includes neuroscientists, physicians and religious leaders.
The Dalai Lama spoke for about an hour, occasionally turning to his translator for help finding the right word.
"We are the same human being; mentally, emotionally, physically we are the same," he told the crowd, calling on everyone to give up any "us versus them" mentality they might have. He said that humans are social animals who seek companionship, compassion, altruism and nurturing from each other.
He told an anecdote from his childhood that showed that the seeds of compassion in him were planted by his mother. Though he was a spoiled child, when he was "naughty" his mother always showed him compassion. He encouraged parents in the audience to lead by example.
He also called upon the youth in the room to make their generation one that favors dialogue over violence to resolve conflict.
In the half-hour long discussion between Doty and the Dalai Lama, the two touched upon the science that shows a healthy mindset can lead to a healthier physical brain and body.
"Inner peace must develop through the mental process," the Dalai Lama said.
"I thought it was incredible," Luana Dias, a freshman at Stanford, said of the event. "I think I agreed with him on every level."
Louis Marion, another university freshman, said he was especially enthralled with the Dalai Lama's ability to merge concepts of science and religion so fluidly and believes that the spiritual leader was right in his analysis of consciousness and its ability to impact physical health.
Gayle Downs, who drove in from Cayucos, near Moro Bay, said she also believed that the mind is inextricably linked to the health of the body.
Scott Wainner, from Walnut Creek, said that he enjoyed the Dalai Lama's ideas overall and his middle-of-the-road approach to science and religion. But he also found certain points that the monk made to be too idealistic.
Wainner said he felt in certain dire instances, where people's lives and livelihoods are in jeopardy, dialogue and compassion might be unrealistic. In those instances, he said, people would likely be unwilling to sacrifice their lives or abandon their core beliefs. Nevertheless, he said, people should always strive to do all they can do to resolve conflict without harming others.