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David Baxter

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Dalai Lama speaks with mental health scientists about stress
Sep 9, 2006
by TIFFANY CRAWFORD

VANCOUVER (CP) - The Dalai Lama, the jovial leader of millions of Buddhists worldwide who believes the purpose of life is to be happy, joined scientists on Saturday to discuss how stress can affect health.

The 71-year-old monk, clad in traditional robes, answered questions from three prominent scientists who work in fields related to mental health.

Among them was celebrity scientist Deepak Chopra, who noted that rising violence and terrorist attacks are increasing the world's yearning for peace.

The Dalai Lama replied that early stress in life from poverty or abuse leads to negative emotions such as fear, jealousy and anger which turn into violence.

Essentially, the Dalai Lama believes world peace begins with inner peace, tolerance and compassion.

He said that once people develop compassion, more meaningful dialogue can take place which will ultimately lead to a less violent world.

"In order to understand meaningful dialogue first you must understand others' interests and you must respect them as your brothers and sisters and also consider them as a part of yourself," he said.

He said people could look to the example of a nurturing mother to understand true compassion.

At one point Chopra, who studies the mind-body connection in relation to good health and has been featured on the Oprah Winfrey show many times, asked the Dalai Lama if world peace would come about if society elevated the profession of motherhood.

The Dalai Lama chuckled, scratched his head and said, "Yes that's good."

"The long term is the answer to deal with violence motivated by anger and fear, so we must have compassion to create more humanity."

He said he believed even a child who had suffered abuse could be healed by learning how to change his or her perspective from a negative one to a positive one.

"Make the effort. Work hard. Be united. I think you should know you have a responsibility to work together," he told a packed audience at Vancouver's Orpheum Theatre.

Psychiatrist Alan Young, associate director at the Institute of Mental Health at the University of British Columbia, asked the Dalai Lama for his thoughts on the parallels between compassion and mental ill health.

He wanted to know why it seems people have less compassion for people with mental disorders than for those with physical ones.

"It would be a scandal if someone had to sleep in the street with cancer but why is it not for someone who has schizophrenia?" said Young.

"I don't know." said the Dalai Lama, noting the centre would be a good place do more research on why people fall ill from depression with seemingly little reason.

The Dalai Lama journeyed to Vancouver over the weekend to open a new centre for peace and education and wrapped up his visit Saturday night before a crowd of 14,000 people at GM Place.

Mayor Sam Sullivan and Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Monte Solberg were on hand to present the Dalai Lama with the honorary Canadian citizenship that Parliament unanimously decided to award him earlier this year.

It was only the third time the honour has been granted. South African leader Nelson Mandela and Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who saved Jews from extermination during the Second World War have both received the honour.

"Your Holiness, if you know anything at all about our Parliament, you will know that we never agree on anything, let alone unanimously," Solberg said. "Clearly you really have had the ability to bring people together."

The honorary citizenship drew strong opposition from China, which warned the gesture could harm relations.

The Foreign Affairs Department says Canada recognizes China as the legitimate government of both China and Tibet, but has great respect for the Dalai Lama.

He fled into exile in northern India in 1959, following a failed uprising against Chinese rule, but is still widely revered in Tibet.

After the ceremony, the floor was handed over to the Dalai Lama, who spoke about how to cultivate happiness.

"I feel for a successful and happy life much of it depends on our mental outlook," he said, as he sat cross-legged on a couch onstage. "The money, power or even health, I think is secondary. If mental state is calm, at peace, then you really enjoy your life."
 

ThatLady

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What a wonderful article! Of all people that should be able to speak to the issue of stress with some experience, the Dalai Lama is a shining example. He's been exiled from his country, and must live away from his people. Yet, he maintains a positive, giving attitude. We could learn much from a man like this. :)
 

stargazer

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That's absolutely wonderful! The Dalai Lama is such a great man.

I was also stricken by this observation: "He wanted to know why it seems people have less compassion for people with mental disorders than for those with physical ones." I have noticed this to be true. When I was at my worst, and in need of the most help, was when people had the least compassion on me. Also, I have myself had a hard time having compassion on some of my friends when their mental health conditions are "acting up." I'm trying to get better about it, though.
 
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people do not understand mental illness, therefore they're less compassionate. people do understand a broken leg, or cancer, or heart disease. those things everyone seems to be able to relate to.

i had no idea what depression was all about until it happened to me. it has changed my perspective considerably. i have a lot more insight into the kind of pain people may be going through that is not physical.

the best thing to try and do is educate others, although i still hesitate to tell people what happened to me. maybe when i am well it will be easier.
 

Daniel

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"If mental state is calm, at peace, then you really enjoy your life."

A calm mind is not necessarily a happy mind. So I don't buy this Buddhist message, unless you have the personality of a Buddhist monk or a Florida retiree. Most people I know don't want peace per se. They want pleasure. They would rather have a one-week vacation in Hawaii with expensive fine dining and thrilling sex than a year of peace, calm, and contentment.
 
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are you sure of this daniel? i have had some rare moments in the past week or so of peace and it sure beats all the stress and anxiety. now that i have felt it, i would much rather be at peace and content than have just the one week in hawaii. i think those people who prefer that don't know the feeling of inner peace. :)
 

Daniel

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are you sure of this daniel?

The example I gave wasn't great, but I agree with the idea behind it. Sure, people who are burned out or clinically stressed out would be more than glad to exchange a certain level of pleasure for peace and calm. But most people aren't burned out and don't have clinical levels of stress/anxiety. They just have moderate, job-related stress and so like to relax by watching TV. But what motivates them is pleasure, not pain avoidance or the desire for peace.

i think those people who prefer that don't know the feeling of inner peace

The Buddists would agree, saying the true peace is the highest form of happiness. But this isn't true for most people. For example, if you are stress-free for more than a week or two, the pleasure of escape/calm will naturally dwindle until you feel stress again. Then, if you are like most people, you will start feeling bored and you will want some dopamine.
 

stargazer

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I gotta admit, Daniel's got a point to be considered. A lot of us "manic" people thrive on the rush of the thrill all that ultra-high energy, just constantly grabbing, grasping, sucking in more & more & more. But of course it gets tiring after a while. The time's I've been *truly* calm, though--I don't know. It just seems a higher state of being, on some very real plane.
 

Daniel

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BTW , if anyone wants to chill out Buddhist style, I recommend the podcasts (like podcast #10) by Professor Robert Thurman of Columbia University:

http://bobthurmanpodcast.com

Even if you don't agree with everything he says, he has a great sense of humor.
 
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daniel thanks for explaining more. you do have a point. one will get bored if everything is going along smoothly for too long. i have acutally been there too at one point in my life. no ups, no downs, everything just fine. it did get boring. i actually got kind of sick of being happy for weeks on end. strange how we need both the ups and the downs. maybe it's because they make us feel alive.

it's funny stargazer, being happy does take energy too, just as much as being down. i guess being at peace is the neutral middle ground. we just need to balance all of it.
 

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