Peace Summit Panelists Endorse His Holiness’s Call for Teaching Secular Ethics in Schools

Panelists at the Newark Peace Education Summit in Newark, New Jersey,

Newark, New Jersey, USA, 14 May 2011 - On the last day of his current trip to the United States, May 14, 2011, His Holiness participated in two sessions at the Newark Peace Education Summit, made a keynote address and found agreement and support of the co-panelists on his call for incorporating teaching of secular ethics in the education system.In the morning, His Holiness participated in a panel on “Peace in Education.” His co-panelists were Prof. Pedro Noguera of New York University; CNN Broadcaster Soledad O'Brien; U.S. Assistant Deputy Secretary for Education, James Shelton; Educationist Anzella Nelms; Martin Luther King III, oldest son of Martin Luther King Jr.; youth representative Kathi Lloyd; Actress Goldie Hawn; and Newark Mayor Cory A. Booker.

In his initial remarks His Holiness talked about one of the purposes of education is to develop a realistic approach. He said everyone wants a happy life and there needs to be a realistic approach to attain that.  In ancient times, he said, in Europe education was closely connected to religious institutions, which (along with family) also took the responsibility of imparting moral education and the development of warm-heartedness.  Subsequently, educational institutions became separated from the church.

However, in the last 200 years or so, with the development of science and technology, people could see direct benefit from these, including in the reduction of diseases, etc. Thus, people began to have increasing trust in material development of science and technology.  But, His Holiness said, as society continued to develop people could see from their own experience that material development alone could not bring inner peace.  Coupled with that there was a development of modern science showing interest in the issue of mind, he said.

His Holiness said that the existing education system mainly focused on knowledge with the learning of moral ethics being taken for granted.  His Holiness felt that research needed to be conducted to see how to introduce the teaching of inner values in the school curriculum.  His Holiness suggested that right from the Kindergarten stage there was the need to teach children that using force was wrong and that while problems will be there, they needed to be resolved through dialogue. He said that there were some who feel that such issues as compassion and forgiveness were religious issues. His Holiness said this was wrong. He said while all religions preached about these, compassion, forgiveness, etc. were biological factors and that these were needed for our survival.  His Holiness added that his ultimate dream was for the United Nations to come with some resolution on these matters so that they can be incorporated in a universal education system.

The other panelists, in their presentation, drew from the experience of their work on how the education system needed reform to enable the development of positive individuals. Several of them, including Soledad O'Brien, supported the idea of including moral ethics in schools, as suggested by His Holiness. Martin Luther King III said he felt “truly honored and humbled” to be with His Holiness to discuss this important issue. Goldie Hawn related the experience of her Foundation that teaches students social and emotional tools to lead “smarter, healthier, and happier lives.” Newark Mayor Booker spoke passionately about the need to understand reality citing the cases of gun violence that had taken yesterday even as the peace conference was being held in the city.  He said that when the idea of this conference came up he was pleased that the organizers had taken steps to include Newark residents, including students (one newspaper reported 1,500 students were present at today's summit), educators and others, in it.  The Mayor said, "This conference cannot be another conference we get together and talk about problems ... We cannot do the same things we did last year and expect change this year." He said there was the need for good people to stand up against violence and other social issues saying that silence and inaction of the good people were wrong.

His Holiness then met briefly some artistes and staff of Tibet House US. He then hosted lunch for the two Nobel Laureates Shirin Ebadi and Jody Williams.

he afternoon His Holiness returned to the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, venue of the conference, for the afternoon session.  The theme was “Peace in the Community” and His Holiness’ co-panelists were Nobel Laureates Shirin Ebadi and Jody Williams; human rights pioneer Van Jones; Earl "The Street Doctor" Best, who supports the homeless; businesswoman Kirsten Giardi; actor Edward Norton; peace-building strategist Aldo Civico; Gay & Lesbian activist Daryl Presgraves; and Youth Representative, 11-year old Aaliyah Beckford.

The panelists, who were either community activists or connected with organizations that worked at the grass root level, outlined the nature of the community and the challenges to cultivating peace therein.  Many of them referred to books and writings by His Holiness that have encouraged them in their effort.  Eleven-year-old Aaliyah Beckford, in her remarks, said that “the Dalai Lama has influence me to make a difference in my community.” She added that participating in the discussions today was a life-changing opportunity to her. Similarly, Actor Edward Norton, addressing His Holiness, said, “Your writing and teachings have meant much to me.”

remarks, which were a combination of his reaction to the panelists as well as his Keynote statement, His Holiness said he was really impressed by the two days of presentations by the various speakers. He said they were all sincere and more importantly spoken out of experiences.  Referring to the passionate and moving account of the “Street Doctor” His Holiness said, “You spoke with very very strong feeling.”

His Holiness suggested that if we look at the overall perspective, despite the many challenges, there is no reason to be feeling demoralized or pessimistic. Supporting this assertion, His Holiness said that if we look at the 20th century, the latter part was more hopeful than the earlier part. From war-dominated early period, in the latter period there was more emphasis on the concept of co-existence. On the ecological front the situation changed from no attention to it in the early part of the century to universal attention that was paid to the environment in the latter period, he said.  From the situation in the early part when science and spirituality (meaning some kind of moral values) were separate, in the latter period they came closer.  His Holiness said in the past 30 years or so he has been having serious discussions with scientists.

His Holiness said since the 21st century is a continuation of the 20th century, there is sound basis to be hopeful.  His Holiness recalled his meeting with the 96-year old Queen Mother of England in 1996 when he asked her whether the world was getting better or worse. He said without any hesitation, she had responded that it was getting better and cited two indicators. She said when she was young concept of human rights and right to self-determination did not exist whereas these were now actively paid attention to.

His Holiness asked the people to maintain optimism. He said while prayer may be useful for individuals, action was more important to generate peace in the community.

His Holiness talked about the interdependence nature of the world today saying the new reality is that America’s future depends on the future of other countries. Thus, he said people needed to realize that destruction of others is really destruction of self.  He said that it is in human nature to be selfish but he encouraged people to be wise selfish involving fuller knowledge and a holistic approach while dealing with any issue.  He added that too much self-centered attitude is foolish.

His Holiness also explained his thoughts on the nature of forgiveness that he had been advocating. He said forgiveness does not mean bowing down to the other side or let them do whatever they like. He said it involved differentiating between the action and the actor. We have to oppose the action of wrongdoing, without any negative feeling, but to the actor we have to give the same treatment as any other human being. From a theistic perspective, His Holiness said while the actor is God’s creation, the action is not so. It is an issue of Free Will being used wrongly, he added.

Addressing the young members in the audience, His Holiness told them that the 21st century belonged to them and that they had an immense responsibility to create a better world. He said that the 20th century to which his generation belonged saw much wrongdoing and the result is the mess we are in today. He said the potential for conflict is always there and the people needed to realize that the spirit of reconciliation is the only realistic approach. He called for schools to teach the importance of the concept of dialogue.

His Holiness said the younger generation needed to have a clear vision to make this world a demilitarized one and for a more equal distribution of resources.  He said he identified himself as a Marxist but not as a Leninist, which he was totally against.  He called for the reduction in the gap between the rich and the poor, but said just giving money was not the solution.  He said there was the need for education to give courage and self-confidence to the weaker section of the society. He recalled visiting a family in Soweto in South Africa where a man seemed to hold the view that the Black people’s brain was little inferior. His Holiness said he felt saddened at hearing this and took the opportunity to explain to this individual that this was a narrow-minded perspective that did not conform to reality. He also cited the experience with the Chinese authorizes, who also had a different perspective of the different nationalities in China.  His Holiness said he was eventually able to convince this individual that he was same as any other person.

His Holiness advised the educators and the teachers to promote a sense of global responsibility among the students.  He also said the students should learn to investigate for themselves and not to take anything at face value. Here he quoted the Buddhist philosophy of education that not only included hearing (from the teachers) but also self-investigation.

His Holiness concluded by thanking the organizers for holding this important conference.

Prof. Robert Thurman of Tibet House moderated the panel sessions.

His Holiness left the hotel in the evening for the airport on his return journey to India. His Holiness began this trip to the United States on May 1, 2011 and participated in programs in six universities in the states of California, Minnesota, Arkansas, and Texas as well as a peace conference in New Jersey.


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