Religious Studies Professor David Gray discusses teachings on ethics, compassion, and business ahead of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s visit to the Mission Campus.
Santa Clara University Associate Professor David Gray teaches courses on Buddhism, Buddhism and Film, and Buddhism in America, as well as Tibetan and East Asian Buddhism. He recently spoke with Deborah Lohse, assistant director for SCU’s media relations, about the upcoming visit of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Santa Clara University on Feb. 24. Learn more about the visit and how you can watch this sold-out event here.
What are some key messages we can expect to hear from His Holiness the Dalai Lama?
His Holiness has tended to focus on several key Buddhist teachings in his books and the lectures he gives. One of them is compassion, which is a general Buddhist moral principle but also the idea that we’re all interconnected—that we live in an interconnected world and the things we do have an impact that goes beyond ourselves. They affect others around us. The decisions we make affect other people, affect the environment—this has been a big focus of his writings. I’m sure these will be ideas that he’ll be emphasizing when he speaks here.
What is his perspective on business?
His Holiness will argue that, on the one hand of course, businesses have the goal of making successful products, making money for shareholders, and making money for investors, but he would also argue that the same kind of moral responsibility to be compassionate—to look out for the greater good that affects all of us—applies to businesses as well. He would probably say that truly successful businesses should be attempting to create a product that is of maximum benefit for as many of us as possible, while causing the smallest amount of harm. It’s the same sort of idea that he calls the universal ethic, which he’s written about in some of his works—it applies to business as well as to individuals. I think he would argue that businesses need to have more than just the bottom line in mind; they need to also take into consideration the effects business decisions might have on communities, on the environment, and on social justice.
What’s been his impact on the world?
I think it’s safe to say he’s probably the best-known Buddhist leader in the world. There are many different Buddhist traditions of course, but among spiritual leaders, teachers, and intellectuals he’s probably the best known, the one who’s traveled the most around the world giving talks, the one who’s published so many books. He also has really sought to cross cultural and religious boundaries, engaging in a great deal of interreligious dialogue. He is really attempting to open up pathways and conversation with Hindus and Muslims, Christians, and so forth.
He’s also a very, very popular person. He travels all over the world and meets with many people—political leaders, Hollywood stars, filmmakers, religious leaders from other traditions. Millions and millions of ordinary people attend his talks and lectures around the world and he really seems to have a big impact on many people. On the one hand he is very learned and his knowledge is deeply respected in the community. On the other hand he’s very charming and has a kind of disarming personality. It’s clear he really has a strong emotional impact on many people, and I’m sure he’s affected many people positively.
Do you see similarities between the Dalai Lama and Pope Francis, who is a Jesuit?
I have had the good fortune of meeting the current Dalai Lama but I have not had the good fortune of meeting Pope Francis. From a distance, I can see a number of similarities. They both seem to have a very similar focus on social justice issues, advocating not only for these specific kinds of theological or philosophical perspectives of their own religious traditions but also looking at the greater cause of humanity and how we can make the world better for everyone. Both seem to have that universal focus but also seem to have this kind of humility and appreciation of a simple lifestyle. Even though both are influential in their traditions and, of course, could have many luxuries or trappings of power, I’ve observed that His Holiness doesn’t really ask for or want that sort of stuff and is quite content with living simply. The same is definitely true for Pope Francis as well. Another common feature both men share is the idea of taking personal responsibility for the things we talk about. Both ask us to focus specifically on what each of us can do to make our universal goals a reality.