Students studying Tibetan and Himalayan history and religion got the experience of a lifetime last week when they had a private audience with the Dalai Lama. The twenty students participating in SIT Study Abroad’s Nepal: Tibetan and Himalayan Peoples program, met with His Holiness during an educational excursion to Dharamsala, India, and discussed the importance of finding happiness within, employing secular ethics, and practicing compassion toward others.
Explaining that he thinks of himself as “one being out of seven billion human beings,” the Dalai Lama said people are all essentially the same and want a “happy life and no more suffering.” However, he underscored that happiness can only come from within.
“The ultimate source of happiness is not on money, not power, but within ourselves,” His Holiness said.
He told the students that it is everyone’s responsibility to teach the next generation and that this work should not fall primarily to spiritual or religious leaders, as it often does now. The Dalai Lama advocated finding a secular approach that respects all religions and those who do not follow any particular religion. He said this is especially relevant because recent surveys have indicated that more than one billion people are not religiously affiliated. While people sometimes believe those not affiliated with religion are not interested in basic values such as compassion and affection, this is not accurate, His Holiness said.
“These are also the same human beings,” he said. “They also want a happy life, and they also have the same potential to create peace of mind.”
The Dalai Lama later added that the secular approach would include all of humanity in the pursuit of peace and happiness.
“Therefore, for these people, the nonbelievers, we should find ways and means to make evident that the ultimate source of happiness is within ourselves, irrespective of whether they are a believer or nonbeliever,” he said. “So I am fully committed to tell people, or to educate people, or to share the secular approach to inner peace.”
The Dalai Lama urged the students to start creating a peaceful and happy world by cultivating peace and happiness within and then sharing it with others.
“Dear human brothers and sisters please keep in mind, the ultimate source of happiness is within yourself and then practice that and share with more people,” he said. Later he added, “We individuals must make efforts. Firstly, create happy individuals, then happy families, then happy communities; through that way it is possible, through awareness, through education, within this century, there can be a happy humanity, peaceful humanity.”
His Holiness also answered questions and blessed each student.
The students said they were honored to meet the Dalai Lama and said the experience would be forever etched in their minds.
“Meeting with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” student Mike Greenwald (Wesleyan University) said. “[He is] teaching the importance of compassion, nonviolence, and even secular education; I left the audience with a firsthand understanding of Buddhist core values.”
“It was incredible being in the presence of a world leader who has done so much good for his people and people around the world,” said Mallory Feldman (Tufts University). “I am grateful to him for giving us his time and wisdom. I am also incredibly grateful to my SIT family for making this amazing encounter possible.”
Students in the program in Nepal spend about a week each fall semester in Dharamsala as part of the semester-long program, which examines Tibetan and Himalayan history and religion and the contemporary issues faced by Himalayan communities. On this excursion to Dharamsala, the students also met with the Gyalwang Karmapa, the leader of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, to discuss issues including environmental protection and arts and music in spiritual practices. Read more about their meeting with His Holiness the Karmapa.
SIT Study Abroad is a program of World Learning, a nonprofit organization advancing leadership through education, development, and exchange programs in more than 60 countries.
Learn more about the Nepal: Tibetan and Himalayan Peoples program.