It was standing room only as more than 500 people filled Lane’s Ragozzino Performance Hall on May 10, but it was quiet enough to hear a pin drop. The speaker, Geshe Thupten Jinpa Langri, started his presentation by leading the audience through a brief, silent meditative breathing exercise.
The presentation was about his new book, “Fearless Heart,” which focuses on the power of compassion. Jinpa said he feels that this book is especially important, because it is the first he has written for the general public, rather than for Buddhists or academics.
It is also the first book for which he has toured. Jinpa’s background is truly a blend of Eastern and Western culture. He has travelled alongside the Dalai Lama for decades, and also studied at Stanford. He earned his Ph.D. at Cambridge. This book, he says, represents this blend.
Jinpa quoted famous Western scientists and philosophers, including Franz de Waal and Bill Harper. He said that Western culture is just now exploring compassion; not only in psychology and sociology, but in unexpected fields, such as economics.
As an example, he described a psychological study on infants as young as four months old performed by researchers at the University of British Columbia. Researchers had the children watch toys with faces on them interacting with each other, some being helped up an incline and others being knocked down and stopped by other toys. When the toys were given to the children to play with, the infants showed a statistically significant higher preference for the friendly, cooperative toys than for the violent ones.
“There is a natural sense of concern that we feel in the face of someone else’s suffering or need,” he said. “All of us know that we have this capacity.” Until now, science has had trouble explaining compassion because, for years, the social story of Western culture has been based on selfishness and survival of the fittest. This underlying official story is supported by our institutions and repeated, he said.
“I think the ideas about compassion and courage are very important for the Western world,” said Oshrit Livne, Lane student.
In addition to recognizing compassion, Jinpa wants us to embrace it, intentionally making it a more powerful and dominant force — an active part of our operating principle in life. He described this as both attention and intention: the observance of compassion with its underlying motivations and the purposeful use of compassion.
He said it is all about mindset, we can make compassion a part of daily life — not just situationally applicable when it presents itself. He quoted the Buddha saying, “we are what we think, with our mind we create our own world.”
Jinpa said that we all hold the key to compassion within ourselves — our ability to feel connected; the trick is to embrace it and overcome our fears. “An element of courage is necessary,” he said. “We have to open our heart.” He went on to explain that allowing courage to be expressed in turn leads to more courage. “Compassion is innate,” he said, “we just need an environment where we can express it.”
Compassion is not just about caring for others, but caring about oneself. He explained how one can embrace compassion to understand the tough times within one’s own life, and to learn and grow from it.
His message was well received by the audience. “He was a miracle to come and see today,” said Ellie Markelle, while waiting in line for her book to be signed.
The event was hosted by the Palmo Center for Peace and Education and the LCC Peace Center.