The Colgate Scene
July 2008

A beacon of inner peace

[Photo by Luke Connolly '09]

When the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet came to campus in April, nearly 5,000 people streamed into Sanford Field House to hear him speak about compassion, inner peace, and happiness. The Dalai Lama spent two days on campus, taking part in a dialogue on science and religion with faculty members, and in a panel discussion about religion and universities, among other events.

His visit to Colgate coincided with protests over Chinese control of Tibet and the Olympic games in Beijing that had him in international headlines daily. Although nearly 200 protesters gathered outside, his infectious humility and undogmatic approach won over his audience.

Initiated by Robert H.N. Ho '56, who has a long-standing relationship with the Dalai Lama, the visit was historic for Colgate, said President Rebecca Chopp. "I have been overwhelmed by the number of students, faculty, staff, parents and families, alumni, and members of the community who have reached out to express thanks to the university for hosting this Global Leaders Lecture Series event," she said, complimenting the many ways in which colleagues from all areas of campus collaborated to pull together such a memorable event.

And although the Dalai Lama spoke of recognizing what is universal and common amongst us humans, each of the audience members surely took away unique impressions based on their own individual life experiences. We asked a few to share their reflections.

Drew Kostic '08 receives a kata, a Tibetan Buddhist scarf of greeting, from the Dalai Lama before a luncheon in Watson House. Kostic was chosen to deliver a speech of welcome to him, on behalf of the student body. [Photo by Susan Kahn]

Drew Kostic '08
Psychology Major
Colgate Buddhist Student Association, Students for a Free Tibet

Since before I was able to drive a car, I was poring over texts depicting Tibetan Buddhists. The history, the mystique, and the philosophy behind their way of life fascinated me to no end. Throughout my years at Colgate, I was given brilliant opportunities to expand on this love affair: during my sophomore year, I eagerly jumped on the readings of my Core Cultures class on Tibet; during my junior semester abroad in Tibet, I nervously rehearsed my Tibetan language skills with the locals of Lhasa.

But it was during my senior year in which I truly embraced Tibetan Buddhism on a personal level. For my honors thesis in psychology, I studied how a Tibetan Buddhist perspective about death might lessen an individual's anxiety about his or her own death. On top of the creativity, responsibility, and independence I gained from the experience, the results taught me new lessons about Buddhism. My research found that individuals who were taught to think about death like a Tibetan Buddhist — that is, to believe that one's own death must be kept in the forefront of one's mind to remind the individual of impermanence and acts as motivation to pursue intrinsic goals and be compassionate — were less anxious about their death.

Yet despite the mountains of data I had collected, the best support for my study came with the visit paid by the Dalai Lama. Whether it was a personal conversation, or a speech to thousands, His Holiness brought to life the message of my research: compassion, focus, and general happiness could be derived from the Buddhist way of life. And although one can find this evidence in his words, it was in his demeanor, his laugh, and his ever-friendly eyes that the happiness he felt and hoped to share with others was evident. Those compassionate eyes brought four years of facts, figures, and theories to life for me, connecting the real world to the academic one.

While I was abroad, I met countless Tibetans who risked their lives to worship His Holiness. When asked why they would do such a thing, they gave a unanimous answer: because the Dalai Lama gave them hope for a happier life. Now that I have met the man — and seen the philosophy of my research come to life — I, too, can say that I embrace that hope.

Professor Vic Mansfield receives an embrace from the Dalai Lama after presenting him with a copy of his new book, Tibetan Buddhism and Modern Physics. [Photo by Susan Kahn]
The Dalai Lama expanded on his views about religion in a panel discussion, "The Moral and Spiritual Power of Religion and the University," in front of nearly 100 students involved with religion on campus through academic study, student clubs, or campus ministry. No matter the question, he always circled back to his main message: "Religion is personal business. Ethics is very much [the] business of society and community." [Photo by Susan Kahn]

Vic Mansfield
Professor of Physics and Astronomy

I was always blessed with exceptional health and strength — until the summer of 2006, when I was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive, and non-curable form of T-cell lymphoma. Despite my decades of spiritual work and meditation, I have always feared death, and here it was closing in on me. While grappling with my mortality, I was completing my book Tibetan Buddhism and Modern Physics: Toward a Union of Love and Knowledge. I took a medical leave of absence that fall, which meant I could not teach the Core Cultures: Tibet course that I have been privileged to teach for about 25 years.

With much chemotherapy, and support from my wife and Colgate, I recovered sufficiently to teach the course the next fall. But in October, just as the Dalai Lama was receiving the Congressional Gold Medal, my cancer roared back. Around that time, the Dalai Lama agreed to write an introduction for my book, and with assistance from friends I finished the Core Tibet course. I will skip the medical details, but December 2007 was a deep descent into darkness.

A few months later, my health improved again, and I was thrilled to learn the Dalai Lama would visit Colgate in April. It was my great privilege to be involved in many aspects of his visit, including presenting some new material to His Holiness on science and Buddhism as part of the special panel held at the Ho Science Center.

I also presented an inscribed copy of my book to him. I thanked him for his leadership in the science and Buddhism collaboration, and for writing the introduction. I then said, "Most importantly, I thank you for the spiritual inspiration you have provided so many of us over the years," and gestured toward the audience, which contained many of my students from Core Tibet. Tears flooded my eyes, and His Holiness drew me toward him and buried my head in his shoulder.

Somehow I managed to recover from that extraordinary embrace to present some ideas on the conflict between causality in quantum mechanics and Tibetan Buddhism.

Within a couple of weeks of that life-transforming hug, my cancer erupted yet again and put me in the hospital for a week. Despite extraordinary support from my wife and friends, despair circled around me. Constantly recalling the Dalai Lama's tender embrace at Colgate rescued me from that darkest of emotions.

Editor's note: We regret to report that, shortly after writing this reflection, Vic Mansfield passed away. His obituary appears in Deaths.

Pam Kirkpatrick Denton '92
Chiropractor, Leadership Coach

Having dedicated my career to wellness and emotional healing, I have found myself on my own path to inner peace. So I felt a call to action as I heard the Dalai Lama speak to the crowd on Earth Day. I especially felt his message to prepare a plan of hope for humanity's shift to peaceful nonviolence. Although he has been exiled from the comforts of his own home, the Dalai Lama is still able to carry peace within him because he practices living from inner peace every day, and I felt that he was asking us all to look inward and do the same.

When he spoke of acting from positive emotions, not from anger, he affirmed what I strive to do not only in my personal life, but also in my work. I use a daily practice of yoga and meditation to keep my body attuned to the positive. I have found that sharing this practice professionally is one of the most important aspects of my own personal practice. The Yogic principle of loving kindness can go a long way, but it takes daily attention and focus to achieve.

I teach that peace is found when we release anger and negative emotions, and become willing to let go of destructive behaviors and step into positive, loving actions. The first step is to abandon the belief that inner peace comes from the comforts of modern-day society. In this superficial sense of comfort, one can become complacent and unmotivated to seek positive change.

One of my clients, Gwen, came to me for help with her chaotic lifestyle. She had lost touch with herself, and had basically given her life away to activities that she found meaningless. In our work together, she took her power back from those life-sapping activities, finding pleasure in a daily routine of yoga and meditation, journaling, and inner reflection. As she developed a sense of inner calm, Gwen realized that she had become more friendly and approachable, and was excited to share her changes — and to help others to discover what she had found.

I believe that it is our living responsibility to share that sense of joy, to meet in community and share peace daily. The more individuals who choose peace, the easier it will be to shift our destructive patterns of living. My personal call to action is to invite people to step beyond personal comforts and broaden their inner perspectives so we can create productive peaceful dialogue, as the Dalai Lama has asked of us.

Jonathan Sherry
Teacher and Coordinator of Gifted Education, Sherburne-Earlville (N.Y.) School District

I'm always looking for ways to bring textbooks to life. With an undeniable enthusiasm, I explore avenues that will hopefully force students to shift their fundamental paradigms and change the way that they look at the world. My job is to prepare our gifted students to set the world on fire with their incredibly unique brilliance. I do everything I can to make sure that none of my students go into hiding. I may be the catalyst to open their eyes to a host of varying experiences — but my intent is to have the adventures themselves act as an inspiration in blazing their own paths.

I brought 15 ninth- through twelfth-graders to the Dalai Lama's lecture, which was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and more importantly, a life-altering catalyst to view the world in a more engagingly happy way! Immediately afterward, we debated and discused the message of the Dalai Lama as it related to the prostesters outside. We did this at longtime Hamilton resident Nancy Heck's house; she provided the ice cream! We then followed up with more discussion at the Barge, and at Sherburne-Earlville we've continued the passionate discourse ever since the phoneomenal experience.

My students appreciated his argument for hope, rooted in determination of choosing optimism. Another moment that grabbed their attention was when His Holiness made the contention that one should not teach his or her faith unless asked. My students are all over the map regarding their positions relating to spirituality and faith. But there's a common denominator when it comes to being young — peer pressure. They extrapolated what the Dalai Lama said regarding proselytizing and applied it to their voice and culture: pressuring someone to follow anything is wrong — but pressuring someone to believe in something without being asked is simply sad.

What was the coolest thing one of my students said? One student referred to the "profound silliness" of the Dalai Lama, how he conveys such wisdom with an unwavering lightheartedness.

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