His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Geshe Lobsang Tenzin
The link between compassion and my professional work drew me to study CBCT. I entered the first class that Geshe Lobsang Tenzin, a faculty member at Emory, taught four or five years ago. I was also in the first cohort of teachers he trained, and last year I had a chance to teach my first CBCT course for the Deans at Emory’s medical school. The school is now offering an elective in CBCT to first and second year students. This is not a requirement, but the students are strongly urged to take advantage of the course. Chris Larsen, Dean of the medical school, tells his students, “You’ll be a better person. You’ll be a better member of your family and community. You’ll be a better doctor. I’m sure some of you are wondering, I have all these required classes. Do I have time to take another course? Do I have time to meditate? I think you do. You all know I’m a transplant surgeon. I’ve published 300 articles. If I can take 30 minutes out of the day to meditate, you can, too.” There are only a few places that offer this kind of opportunity to students. It’s fabulous.
I’ve been teaching CBCT to both first- and second-year medical students and it’s been a wonderful experience. The students love it. A room has been set aside on campus from noon until 1:00 where anyone can meditate. One day during the week we offer a guided meditation. Soon they will dedicate a room for meditation at any time. It’s not limited just to the daily afternoon mediation. CBCT has caught on. Anyone can come. It’s pretty exciting. And this is in a medical school!
I’ll also be teaching CBCT to veterans from Vietnam who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Forty years after the Vietnam War and they are still struggling. Who knows what they have seen, heard, and maybe done? Imagine carrying around this burden for so long. They’re coming because they think that something in CBCT will be helpful. I hope so.
Julie: Could you envision at some point CBCT being offered at CDC?
Steve: Yes. It could be offered as an elective as we do at the medical school. There are so many groups at CDC that come together for all sorts of things: because they like to cook together or hike together or something. A CBCT meditation class could be organized in the same way. I believe it would be very valuable for many people at CDC. Compassion arises at the individual level. People feel better being with others who have similar values. I think it would be wonderful.
Julie: Our Center for Compassion & Global Health is working toward developing a conference that would bring Buddhist leaders and global health leaders together into conversation about compassion in action.
Steve: His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaks about secular ethics. CBCT is based upon a Buddhist practice, but we’re not teaching Buddhism to these students. The benefits of CBCT – such as love, compassion, treating people the right way – cut across all faith traditions. Such a conference might examine the ways in which faith traditions understand our deep connections that emerge from, what I call, “the well” that each of us has. “The well” is our core source of love and compassion that doesn’t run out. It is a deep connection can be broadened to people who are like us – our friends and relatives – but also to strangers and the entire world. That’s what CBCT is trying to teach – expand our circle of love and caring to embrace the world.
None of us would be here unless one person had cared for us when we couldn’t care for ourselves. The biological basis for our continuity as a species is love and caring in a selfless way. We all have that. We’ve all seen that. We can tap into how we have benefited from someone else loving us and expand this circle of care and compassion outward. Every major faith tradition speaks to exploring these feelings.
Global health is a platform, and an opportunity, to practically apply care and compassion to the world, to entire populations, because of our focus on social justice. Global health moves beyond “aspiration” compassion – “I wish it could be better for everyone” – to “engaged” compassion, as does the teachings of the Dalai Lama. Engaged compassion links Buddhism and global health together. I think such a conference would pack the house. Emory would be a great place to hold it.
Julie: What is it that sustains you personally in your work and your life?
Steve: My sense of compassion and caring. I identify with the people who don’t have a voice, who are invisible. I was taught, “to whom much is given, much is expected, much is needed.” This still drives me. Also, working with others who share my values and drive to do this kind of work – what I call melancholy optimism – sustains me. This is an optimism that things can get better, but melancholy because so much more is needed. This is not the best of all possible worlds. We can do better. That keeps me going. Everybody gets discouraged from moment to moment, and then I just keep going.