Panel unites hearts and minds

Published June 1, 2004

Joining the Dalai Lama in a panel discussion were Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Iranian lawyer Shirin Ebadi.


They were the Nobel Trio singing a three-part harmony.

South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu joined fellow Nobel peace laureates the Dalai Lama and Iranian lawyer Shirin Ebadi at the University of British Columbia for a round-table talk on bringing the heart and mind together in education.

Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi of Colorado and B.C. native educator Jo-ann Archibald accompanied them.

Michael Ingham, bishop of the diocese of New Westminster, moderated.

Ms. Archibald, of the Salish clan, explained how her people bring heart and mind together in a circle: a circle, she said, has no end so there is always room for one more person. We connect with one another, she added, by joining hands with our left palms turned up to receive our ancestors’ teachings and we pass them on to the next seven generations by holding our right palms down.

The Dalai Lama called for “human” or “secular” values that even the irreligious can embrace: values that make us “good,” “warm-hearted,” and “sensible.”

But it is not enough to pray and then lie back waiting for God to solve our problems, said the Dalai Lama; we must solve them, ourselves, using compassion, tolerance, co-operation, communication, religious harmony, exploration, learning, analysis and heart. “We have the potential to develop all these qualities,” said the Dalai Lama, but so far modern societies’ educators have favoured the mind over the heart.

The Dalai Lama, the exiled Buddhist leader of Tibet, was in Vancouver beginning a 19-day Canadian tour; he received the 1989 Nobel prize for his peaceful efforts to win “meaningful autonomy” for Tibet. China annexed Tibet in 1951.

Ms. Ebadi, who called for universal laws to govern the world, agreed that reason and intellect are not enough to enable humanity to solve international problems.

She asked that people open their hearts to “the all-inclusive force that is the God of the Universe … When you open up your heart to God the intelligence and the knowledge you have becomes purposeful; that is when you realize how to use them in the service of humanity. Otherwise, intellect without heart is nothing more than an addiction to the problems of humanity.”

A lawyer, Ms. Ebadi won the 2003 Nobel Prize for her human rights activism on behalf of women and religious minorities; she was the first Iranian and the first Muslim woman to win.

Archbishop Tutu, meanwhile, questioned the intellect of the Nazi doctors who subjected concentration camp inmates to experiments, recalling photos of the distorted faces of inmates used to determine the altitudes humans could tolerate.

“Those doctors … were very, very smart.” But, he said, “you wonder about the heart of” those who can “subject a fellow human being to the kind of feelings that were reflected in those pictures.”

And Archbishop Tutu recounted how South Africa’s apartheid doctors carried out “nefarious” medical experiments: efforts to find out how to control blacks’ fertility and plans to damage Nelson Mandela’s brain so that he would be useless to the anti-apartheid cause.

“Mercifully,” he said, the doctors “were not able to succeed. Had they succeeded we would not have had Nelson Mandela do as much as he has done.”

Recalling others who have influenced the world for the better, he pointed out that Mother Teresa is noted for her “warm-heartedness, her compassion,” and not for her intellect. And, he said, we remember Mahatma Gandhi who gave up a future as a lawyer and an “eminent jurist” for a much simpler life.

“People are attracted to a Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama,” said Archbishop Tutu, “but it’s not their eloquence that draws them.” The Dalai Lama speaks English with difficulty, often through an interpreter; people see his heart, he added. And Nelson Mandela “is not a very interesting speaker, yet people hang on every single word he utters.” They do not hear what he says as much as “they see that he cares very, very deeply.”

Rabbi Schachter-Shalomi decried people’s unwillingness to stand the “anxiety of not knowing” the answers to modern problems, an anxiety that drives us to accept the “easiest and most immediate” and often inadequate “answers” of our traditions.

The rabbi illustrated this point with a question his daughter asked: “When we are asleep, we wake up, yes? So when we’re awake, we wake up even more, no?”


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