Posts Tagged ‘Nobel Peace Prize’


June 5, 2020

The title of this post is the title of an important book by the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman. The subtitle is “Overcoming the Obstacles to Psychological Balance. The Dalai Lama is the leader of Buddhism in Tibet. In 1989 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and, in 2007 he as awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award given to a civilian by the U.S. government. Paul Ekman is a distinguished psychologist with special expertise in facial expressions and emotion. He has long known and worked with the Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lama spends a very large percentage of his time traveling the world lecturing, and joining in symposia. On a weekend in April 2006 he sat down with Ekman for eleven hours of intense discussion on 24 pages of questions about emotion and compassion that Ekman had written. Some additional questions emerged from that conversation. Two addition sessions were added that included additional experts were shared over a period of 15 months for a total of 39 hours. This book is a summary of those discussions.

This summary consists of statements by individual speakers that were followed by statements of other speakers. So these were interactive discussions that HM will summarize. Although the Dalai Lama is quite fluent in English, sometimes he would digress into Tibetan and the Tibetan would be translated for him. This appeared to happen when he was reviewing his meditations as those meditations are likely in Tibetan.

To the best of HM’s knowledge, the Dalai Lama is unique among religious leaders in that he does not require any beliefs for someone to call himself a Buddhist. Someone asked the Dalai Lama about a friend who wanted to be a Buddhist but who didn’t believe in reincarnation. This is rather strange as reincarnation plays a central role in the Buddhist religion. The Dalai Lama said that no beliefs were required. All that was needed was to be responsive to humankind and human suffering and to meditate. So only practices are required, not beliefs. Truth is not stated. Rather, one learns via meditation, but what is most important is brotherhood with fellow humans. The Dalai Lama encourages his priests and monks to pursue educations in science. He uses science to inform religion, in contrast to other religions who claim that science is wrong if it contraindicates beliefs.

The Dalai Lama notes, “And Buddha himself gives us liberty to investigate his own word, and he clearly stated, ‘My devotees, my devotees should not accept my word out of faith, or out of devotion, rather than investigation and experiment.’ That gives us liberty, you see, to investigate any object. Therefore, I thought a scientific approach and the Buddhist approach is not constrained by a literal reliance on the scripture] is the same. Investigate. Experiment. So, then I felt, you see, no problem.”

HM has spiritual needs and for a long time these needs were frustrated. He was unable to join any established church because when he engaged in critical thought he found inconsistencies and problems with their beliefs. He thought that God had given him a brain and wanted him to use it. But doing so led to the identification of problems with these beliefs and most religions regarded their beliefs as being central to their religion.

There is a wide range of practices observed by different sects of Buddhism. Some sects are highly commercial and sell futures and a variety of practices to gain income. Then there are Zen Buddhists who are highly contemplative and spend time pondering such koans as “what is the sound of one hand clapping?”

The Dalai Lama is the leader of Tibetan Buddhism who lives in exile in India. He shows how Buddha himself was not interested in beliefs. Rather the interest was in practices to make us into better human beings. And these practices are largely suggestive. You can adapt those you find helpful and ignore others. And the clergy is encouraged to pursue scientific education. So these Buddhists, rather than confronting science, use science to enhance their practices.

The Dalai Lama has worked with David Richardson in having his monks and priests participate in studies on meditation. HM learned from these discussions, that not only has the Dalai Lama contributed to research on meditation, but that there is a substantive amount of research on Buddhist psychology. Some of this research is already seeing clinical applications. HM will be spending future time reviewing this research.

Mindlessness in Vietnam

February 20, 2019

This post is based primarily on an excellent book by Max Hastings, or, more formally, Sir Max Hastings, titled “Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, 1945 to 1975.” France effectively colonized Vietnam in 1883. Beginning in 1940 the Japanese effectively controlled Vietnam. Initially, the Vietnamese were pleased to see an asian country drive the French out of Vietnam. Unfortunately, the Japanese were just as brutal as the French, perhaps even more so, in controlling the area. With the defeat of Japan, the Vietnamese were looking forward to becoming an independent country, but the French were hell bent on keeping control of the country.

The Wikipedia entry lists the Vietnam war as lasting from 1 November 1955 to 30 April 1975. As will become apparent, the preceding ten years are key to understanding a possible solution to the Vietnam problem. American involvement ran until 27 January 1973. American involvement ended with a sham peace treaty that left the North Vietnamese in place to just wait a decent interval so that the United States could claim that there had been peace with honor. It should be noted that Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the peace treaty. His North Vietnamese counterpart recognizing the peace treaty as being a sham, although offered, refused to except the prize. After the presumed decent interval, North Vietnam concluded its conquest on 30 April 1975. In fact, the United States was defeated by North Vietnam, but maintained this sham of “peace with honor.”

Walt Boomer, a Marine captain in the infantry who weighted 185 entering the war and 155 getting out of the war later remarked, “It bothers me that we didn’t learn a lot. If we had, we would not have invaded Iraq.”

Hastings does a masterful job, not just of covering the Vietnam War, but covering it down not only to the level of individual combatants, but also to the civilians’ suffering during the war. Vietnam and its culture were effectively destroyed. Only a distinct minority were Communists, and being a Communist did not provide security from the Communists, because Communists killed other communists. It was apparent the North Vietnamese tended to be better soldiers as they did have an ideology and a desire for independence from western countries. But many Vietnamese were loyal to the Americans and very much wanted to live in a free country. This loyalty put these Vietnamese at risk. What is especially bad is that when Americans hastily exited the country, they left behind their records indicating which Vietnamese had been helpful. The Communists found these people and either executed them or sent them to re-education camps.

So the only victors in the war were the Communists who were a minority. The United States was not the only loser, but also the French and a majority of the Vietnamese. The Vietnamese culture was effectively destroyed.

So what does the title of this post, “Mindlessness in Vietnam” Imply?
Remember what mindfulness means. Unfortunately, many dictionaries define mindfulness as a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique. Mindfulness also means being aware of the minds of others, and being respectful of their thoughts and feelings. So the title implies that the interests of the Vietnamese themselves, and their culture were ignored. HM contends that it was this lack of mindfulness of the Vietnamese that made the loss of Vietnam inevitable. Kinetic effects can accomplish only so much. And there was no shortage of kinetic effects in Vietnam. Even the ultimate kinetic effects, nuclear bombs would not have worked.

So, was it possible that Vietnam could have been saved? Hastings writes, “It seems narrowly possible that Vietnam’s subjection to communism could have been averted if France in 1945 had announced its intention to quit the country and embarked upon a crash transition process to identify credibly indigenous leaders and prepare them to govern, as did the British before quitting Malaya. Instead, however, the French decided to draft a long suicide note, declaring their ironclad opposition to independence. The colonialists’ intransigence conceded to Ho Chi Min the moral high ground in the struggle that now began to unfold.”

The following is from HM and not Sir Hastings. Remember that by this time Great Britain recognized that colonialism had ended and had given independence to India. The United States a former British colony, had fought for its independence from England. Rather than providing support to France’s effort to maintain its colony, the United States should have informed the French that the age of colonialism was over and that they should give Vietnam its freedom. And it should have informed the Vietnamese, that they too had been a colony of a European country and that we were on the their side in advocating for their freedom.

Actually U.S. members of the Office of Strategic Services—US sponsor of guerrilla war, in July of 1945 dispatched to China a team of paramilitary agents led by Maj. Archimedes Patti, who pitched camp with Ho Chi Min. Although a staunch communist, Ho Chi Min was foremost interested in independence for his country. Although, the possibility of getting Ho Chi Min to flip was remote, it would have provided a solution to the Vietnamese problem.

Even sans Ho Chi Min, the United States could have aligned itself with the Vietnamese in their quest for independence. Although the Communists would present a considerable obstacle, they still represented a minority of the Vietnamese. Getting on the right side of this conflict was essential to achieving victory.

Not to be overlooked is the blatant racism of the French and in America’s support of the French. The Vietnamese were regarded as gooks, dinks. They were not white people, and it was the right of white people to govern.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Force for Good

December 12, 2017

The Dalai Lama envisions a force for good. That force begins by countering the energies within the human mind that drive our negativity. To change the future and not repeat the past, The Dalai Lama tells us, we need need to transform our own minds—weaken the pull of our destructive emotions to strengthen our better natures.

Absent that inner shift, we remain vulnerable to knee-jerk reactions like rage, frustration, and hopelessness. These only lead us to the same old forlorn paths.

With a positive inner shift, we can more naturally embody concern for others—and so act with compassion, the core of moral responsibility. The Dalai Lama says that this prepares us to enact a larger mission with new clarity, calm, and caring. We can tackle intractable problems, like corrupt decision-makers and tuned out elites, greed and self-interest as giving motives, the indifference of the powerful to the powerless.

By beginning this social revolution inside our own minds, the Dalai Lama’s vision aims to avoid the blind alleys of past movements for the better. He cites the message of George Orwell’s cautionary parable “Animal Farm:” how greed and lust for power corrupted the “utopias” which were supposed to overthrow despots and help everyone equally, but in the end re-created the power imbalances and injustices of the very past they were supposed to have eradicated.

The Dalai Lama sees that the seeds we plant today can change the course of our shared tomorrow. Some may bring immediate fruits others may only be harvested by generations yet to come. But our united efforts, if based on this inner shift, can make an enormous difference.

The life journey that led the Dalai Lama to this vision has followed a complex course, but we can pick up the final trajectory to this book from the moment he attained a sustained global spotlight.

That global spotlight began when the Dalai Lama earned the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. He was a new breed of celebrity. He was neither thrilled by fame and money nor overly eager for exposure in the world press. His very being seems to tell us you are not the center of the universe—relax your anxieties, drop your self-obsession, and dial down those me-first ambitions so you can think about others too. He immediately gave away the cash award that goes with the Nobel Prize. His main concern was who would be the most worthy recipients.

He refuses to be sanctimonious about himself and laughs at his own foibles. He flavors compassion with joy, not dour and empty platitudes.

Goleman notes that these traits are no doubt grounded in the study and practices the Dalai Lama has immersed himself in since childhood and and still devotes himself to for five hours each day (four in the morning and another hour at night). “His self-discipline in cultivating qualities like an investigative curiosity, equanimity, and compassion undergird a unique hierarchy of values that gives the Daily Lama the radically different perspective on the world from which his vision flows.”