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Lions Roar : January 2007
(and sometimes father-child), and of the students’ own responses, is the vital first step on their journey from self-awareness through empathy to compassion. “You can’t get to compassion without empathy,” she says. “You can’t act compassionately unless you understand the feelings of the other person. And you can’t under- stand the feelings of the other person unless you understand your own feelings.” While the program can begin as early as the third grade, Gor- don tells the story of a fourteen-year-old boy whose life had been one of abandonment. His mother had been murdered in front of him when he was four, and since then he had lived in a suc- cession of foster homes. In self-defense, he had adopted an emo- tional posture of distance and menace, so it was a surprise when he asked if he could try on the mother’s Snugli. “And I have to tell you,” Gordon picks up the story, “this guy had made himself look so hard, and the Snugli was green with pink piping. He tries it on and then the Roots of Empathy instruc- tor asks, ‘Would you like put the baby in the Snugli?’ He did it so gently, and you know what? He put that baby in chest-to-chest, and the baby just molded to him. The mother was really taken aback, because she had just explained to the class how the baby wouldn’t cuddle in with her. “Then this big boy went off into the corner and he rocked back and forth with the baby, hugging it in the Snugli. When he came back a few minutes later, he took the baby out very gently, and gave the baby back to the Mom, and then he said to our in- structor, ‘Do you think that if no one ever loved you, you could still be a good father?’ He saw himself—through this baby-and- parent relationship—as someone who could possibly give some- one a good life. “I’m using this mother-child relationship as a lever for chil- dren to find the humanity in their own hearts, by finding human- ity in that baby,” Gordon continues. She felt encouraged in her approach when she heard the Dalai Lama talk about his relation- ship with his own mother as the inspiration for his teachings on compassion. Although the Dalai Lama’s approach is not particularly couched in Buddhist terms, it reflects the Buddhist view that the true nature of all beings is basically good, including an inherent capacity for compassion. These good qualities are seeds we all possess, and these seeds need only be cultivated to bloom into the unbiased and universal compassion that heals the world. The approach to teaching compassion he recommends for the Western educational system is very much influenced by his own experiences as a child and how he was molded by the Tibetan monastic system. “Immediately after birth, the young child has a connection with their mother. That is the way our life begins,” he told his audience in Vancouver. “That’s why I think milk is the symbol of compassion. Biologically, compassion is the basis of our lives; it is not created by religion or education, but by nature. In my own case, the first hours of my birth were my first lesson in the value of compassion. It left a tremendous feeling deep inside me, and traces of that feeling will remain to my death. “So the seeds of compassion are already very strong from birth, and then we can educate people in order to sustain and nurture compassion. Proper education is very important. In my own childhood, I already had some feelings of compassion for others, including animals and insects, and when two small in- sects would fight I always supported the weaker one. But that compassion was biased. I would feel angry when one insect was bullying another insect, and sometimes I used violence. THE DALAI LAMA CENTER for Peace and Education in Van- couver, announced during His Holiness’ visit to the city in Sep- tember, will be the first bricks-and-mortar institution in the world to bear his name. Founder Victor Chan describes the center’s vision as a combination drop-in center and dharmic re- search institute that will promote international peace. It will be a focal point for putting into action the Dalai Lama’s teachings on cultivating peace and compassion. “After the wonderful discussions in Vancouver in 2004 involv- ing His Holiness, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Iranian lawyer Shirin Ebadi, I wondered how we could use all the energy that had been created by these three Nobel Peace Prize winners,” Chan says. “ Then I woke up in the middle of the night and the penny dropped. We needed a place that could focus the energy and build on the teachings of the Dalai Lama.” Chan, a well-known writer and photographer who has been a student of the Dalai Lama for more than thirty years, followed him around the world last year, to India, Japan, Sweden, and Switzerland, “to pitch the idea of a physical cen- tre where people could come both to study and to do research.” “The promotion of human values is of number one impor- tance,” the Dalia Lama said to Chan in Gottenberg, Sweden, during discussions about the proposed center. “ Then number two: pro- motion of human relations. Regardless of differences in nationali- ties, religious faiths, race, rich or poor, educated or not, we are all human beings. What we need is more effort—effort to sustain and further develop these values.” The center will be the first purpose-built educational institu- tion in the world with His Holiness’ name attached to it. (There Promoting Human Values ROBERT MARTIN on the new Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education 64 SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2007