Our Trip to India: Dharamsala Day 11

by Siegfried Othmer | October 31st, 2014

by Siegfried Othmer, PhD

Sue and I have just returned from a sojourn to India, where we taught our training course at the Tibetan Medical Institute, Men-Tsee-Khang.
Day 11

September 26 (Friday)

This was the third day of the Dalai Lama’s teaching. After finishing with Chapter 9, the Dalai Lama switched into the English language to touch on a number of his current themes. Now, finally, we were able to listen to him directly, and on matters that are of more universal concern. The Dalai Lama was closely miked, so his every sigh and halting breath came through. And then there was that joyous laugh that set the tone. The intimacy of the moment was precious. The uniqueness lies in the emotional accessibility of the Dalai Lama, unprecedented in a man of such stature.

As on many other occasions, he spoke to the need for a secular ethics. The land of India has had a tradition of secular government precisely because it is a country so divided into diverse religious communities. The same is true of the world at large. The only realistic option is to embed ethical precepts in a secular context, and to support that through the educational system. This is an endeavor that his friend, Professor Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin, has taken up as well.

I wanted to respond to him. There is something missing, I would have wanted to say. Everything he was recommending depended on the rational faculties, on the domain of knowledge, on the assumption that proper understanding and right belief lead to right action. This is very much in line with Buddhist thought. The Buddha’s concern with the relief of suffering led him to a rationally based reframing of our understanding of reality, of the self. What has developed over the centuries—in fact, the millennia—is a Buddhist version of cognitive behavior therapy—self-administered, in this case. It is more organic, to be sure, than a code of behavior handed down on stone tablets, or conveyed in a therapy session, but it is still ultimately left-brained. Such an esoteric approach, one that places a high demand on the intellect and on personal discipline, will never become the operating system for most ordinary folks who remain in the grip of the vicissitudes of daily life. Is it not noteworthy that historically those who have manifested the Buddhist ideal most closely are those who have withdrawn from ordinary life into almost total absorption into the life of the mind?

What secular ethics requires for its implementation is a taming of our unruly affective domain. In the Western idiom, we need to cultivate the ‘heart space’ as well as train the mind. If the training of the mind were to get you there, then you could not have had the rise of Nazism in the country with the best universities in continental Europe, and you could not have had the institutional churches, both Catholic and Protestant, become fellow travelers with the Nazi regime.

After the final teaching the moment had come for the official photography in which each visiting group in turn gathered around the Dalai Lama for a photo. Sue and I managed to peer from the very back row of the VIP group photo. Someone stepped in front of me at the very last moment, so all that can be seen is one eyeball. Barbara, Virginia, Evvy, and Kara appear in the photo with the Vietnamese group.

In the afternoon at the class, Sue presented Alpha-Theta training, which was followed by an Alpha-theta practicum session. This was also the second opportunity to work with the child. The parents reported that she had in fact been calmer after the previous session, had slept more extensively that night, and had dressed herself in the morning, which was something new. Not bad for little more than eight minutes of training. The training continued, and Sue got about 15 minutes in on this occasion before the girl lost it and left the classroom to make a beeline for the out-of-doors.

In the evening the Vietnamese group hosted the dinner for the second time, and on this occasion we were again joined by one of the Dalai Lama’s chief aides.

Our Trip to India Continues

Dharamsala Day 12

Siegfried Othmer, PhD

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