TSUDANUMA, Japan, 18 November 2013
Under sparkling autumn sunshine His Holiness the Dalai Lama was received at Chiba Institute of Technology (CIT) by journalist and writer Yoshiko Sakurai, who would be his interlocutor in a conversation about the contribution of science and technology to human happiness. She introduced Chairman of the Board of Directors, Osamu Setokuma and University President, Professor Kazuhito Komiya.
In a lecture theatre, before an audience of 600 teachers and students, Ms Sakurai told His Holiness that students at this 71 year old institution have a long established concern for the welfare of humanity. She also recalled that when Hideki Yukawa became the first Japanese winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1949, he said he had been able to develop his Meson Theory because he was both Japanese and a Buddhist. She wondered what His Holiness thought of the potential benefits of science and technology from a Buddhist point of view.
“Respected professors, teachers and young student brothers and sisters,” he began. “I am extremely happy to be here with you because I belong the 20th century generation. And although several of us are still here, the 20th century is over and we are at the beginning of the 21st century. The shape of the future depends on what we do now. Creating a better future, without violence, a more compassionate future, is possible. Despite many landmark achievements that took place, the 20th century was also an era of unparalleled violence, which included even the use of nuclear weapons against Japan. We cannot change the past, it remains only a memory; event the Buddha cannot change it. Yet we do have the opportunity to shape a better future and the responsibility for doing so rests on the shoulders of young people like you.”
He spoke about the wonderful ways technology has changed our lives. It has made them easier, but also busier as people pay attention to their mobile phones. From the point of view of a Buddhist practitioner, he said we spend too much time involved with sensory activities, watching, listening to and tasting things we find attractive. This distracts us from our special human faculty; our intelligence. There are birds and animals with much keener senses than us, but none of them have intelligence that can match the human brain, the brain that produced science and technology.
He cautioned that by itself technology is no guarantor of a happier world. Science and technology can be used positively or negatively depending on our motivation, which involves the mind.
“When we consider others as human beings like us and we remember that just as we don’t want suffering, nor do they, how can we then do them harm? Only human beings have the ability to develop an inclusive sense of altruism, concerned for the welfare of all living beings. If we 7 billion human beings rely only on material development, we can’t be sure of a positive outcome. If we employ technology motivated by anger and hatred it’s likely to be destructive. It will only be beneficial if we are motivated positively to seek the welfare of all beings. Human beings are the only species with the power and potential to destroy the world. It is because of the risks involved in indulging in unrestrained desire and greed that we need to cultivate contentment and simplicity, which is why our religious traditions teach self-discipline. Therefore, we need to consider our actions more carefully.”
His Holiness explained that mothers gave birth to all of us, and the affection she showed us sowed the seed for us to show affection to others. We have a biological instinct to be concerned for our families. Now we have to consider the whole of humanity as part of one family. And because our enemy is also a member of that family, we need to show concern for him too.
Expressing appreciation for the different philosophical standpoints of our different spiritual traditions, His Holiness explained that a unique quality of the Buddha’s tradition was that he advised his followers not to accept what he said at face value just because he had said it, but to rigorously examine and investigate it for themselves. This is what Indian masters like Nagarjuna did. He explained that he had been interested in science since he was young and described looking at the moon through a powerful telescope that had belonged to the 13th Dalai Lama. He recalled seeing how the mountains on the moon cast shadows and realizing that the source of the light was the sun, while, contrary to the scriptures, the moon had no light of its own.He revealed that in the 1970s he discussed with an American Buddhist friend the possibility of taking his study of science further and she warned that science is the ‘killer of religion’. He said he thought about it and decided that just as scientists do, Buddhists investigate and employ reason to reach an understanding of reality, so there should be no contradiction. He opened a dialogue with scientists focussing on cosmology, neurobiology, physics and psychology that in due course gave rise to the Mind Life Institute, which is now 27 years old. In April 2014 there are plans for a Mind Life meeting in Kyoto.
Among questions from the audience, a professor told him that he was involved in building robots to interact with human beings and asked whether His Holiness thought a robot could ever emulate emotional response. His Holiness replied that he has discussed elsewhere the possibility of a computer emulating the human brain and said he doubted that a robot would ever take the initiative the way human beings do, but that it remains to be seen.
Another questioner from Spain wanted to know about the future for Tibet in the absence of His Holiness.
“I’m 78 years old and the institution of Dalai Lamas is about 600 years old and Buddhism is more than 2500 years old, but archaeology suggests there have been Tibetans for 20-30,000 years. Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism flourished before the time of the Dalai Lamas, so they can prosper in the future too. It was in 17th century that the Fifth Dalai Lama took responsibility for the temporal and spiritual affairs of Tibet, but when we first achieved an elected leadership 12 years ago I semi-retired and after 2011 I retired completely and brought an end to this role for the institution of Dalai Lamas too. So now I am really just a simple Buddhist monk. Elected leaders will look after our temporal affairs and young spiritual leaders will emerge to look after our religious traditions.”
To a question about whether it is possible to create a better future without resort to violence, His Holiness said he had already spoken about this. He spoke of how moved he was to witness in the memorial museum evidence of the immense violence that took place at Hiroshima. He said that as long as we have strong negative emotions and we view our fellow beings in terms of ‘them’ and ‘us’, there will be a tendency to try to destroy them. We have to counter this with education. The world’s response when the tsunami occurred here is grounds for hope. The future of Japan depends on its neighbours, such as China and India. Asia needs the West, just as the West needs Asia, he said. Because we are now so interdependent, we need to build trust and confidence. He declared that self-centred attitudes on a national as well as personal level are a source of trouble.
Bringing the conversation to a conclusion Ms Sakurai reported to His Holiness that CIT will in future be welcoming students from Tibet. She expressed the hope that the bond between His Holiness, the University and Tibet would strengthen. In voicing his gratitude His Holiness mentioned that the 13th Dalai Lama had made efforts to learn from Japan, but events had intervened.
Before the end of the meeting, American folk singer Peter Yarrow came onto the stage. Explaining that with his group Peter, Paul and Mary he had sung in Washington when Martin Luther King led the march for civil rights, he introduced himself to the audience by playing a few bars of another of his songs — ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’.
He told His Holiness of his admiration for his thought and leadership and that he has composed a song based on His Holiness’ words — ‘Never Give Up’. He played it to a class of 10 year olds in Tokyo, some of whom had faced problems with bullying, explaining that if they love each other, people will join them in working for peace. They understood; one child telling him that while he didn’t have to accept what a bully had done, he could learn to see him as another human being. Yarrow hoped that this will help children to become peacemakers at an early age.
His Holiness was effusive in his appreciation, particularly of the idea of making a distinction between what someone has done and the person him or herself. Laughing, he showed his gratitude by not only offering a khata, a white silk scarf, to Peter Yarrow but also to his guitar.
Leaving one building for another for lunch, His Holiness was driven across the campus in an 81 year old vintage car that had been restored at the University. He and members of the University were then entertained to a traditional Japanese lunch. Afterwards Takayuki Furuta, director of the Future Robotics Technology Centre led a demonstration of current developments in robotics. One vehicle revealed remarkable agility in driving, walking and negotiating obstacles while remaining quite level. Another showed an ability to negotiate stairs and other obstructed environments and has already been put to good use in the stricken Fukushima Nuclear Plant. A third example of robotic development was a wheelchair capable of taking evasive action when faced with an obstacle. His Holiness enjoyed the display and proved himself adept at manipulating the controls.
From Chiba he drove to Tokyo, where tomorrow he will participate in a dialogue with scientists on the theme ‘Universe, Life and Education’.