Marking the 86th birthday of His Holiness the Dalai Lama on Tuesday,* the Mind & Life Institute has released a new film titled Evolution of the Heart, which chronicles a series of profound discussions between His Holiness and two contemporary thought leaders: evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson and social scientist Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela.
“Evolution of the Heart explores questions at the heart of the human condition,” the Mind & Life Institute shared. “Can we consciously evolve to be kinder and more compassionate? How do we reconcile the needs of the individual with those of society? And what makes true forgiveness possible?”
The 37-minute documentary is intended as a tribute to the Dalai Lama’s lifelong spirit of compassionate inquiry into nature of the mind and into the human condition. His Holiness has for many years been a vocal advocate for open dialogue and exchange between modern scientific research and traditional understandings of the human mind, emotions, psychology, and consciousness, and how the intersections between these two methodologies can be applied to improve society and the world.
“David points to a sea change that has occurred in evolutionary science toward a focus on altruism and pro-sociality,” the Mind & Life Institute explained. “Pumla describes the African philosophy of ubuntu that laid the groundwork for healing in the aftermath of apartheid in South Africa. All three speakers point to steps each of us can take to advance the Dalai Lama’s call to create an ‘ethics for the whole world.’”
Condensing the essence of more than three hours of conversation and years of in-depth research, Evolution of the Heart is an expression of the underlying role of the Mind & Life Institute in bringing leading thinkers together to discuss critical issues at the intersection of science and contemplative wisdom.
“Evolution of the Heart draws out each presenter’s unique vantage points, which ultimately converge through insights and wisdom shared by the Dalai Lama,” said the Mind & Life Institute. “David notes the important role of prosocial behaviors in the evolution of the human species. While much is made about competition and ‘survival of the fittest’—especially in the Western world—human societies have largely evolved through our sense of cooperation with others. David shares that there’s been a ‘sea change’ in the field of evolution with a focus on ‘compassion and altruism,’ but there are challenges.” (Mind & Life Institute)
While observing that humans are the most cooperative mammals on Earth, Wilson also notes that “all groups are susceptible to the wolves of selfishness.” He goes on to explain that because evolutionary processes favor “destructive selfishness and produce social pathologies” such as violence, greed, and oppression, “the suffering that we inflict on one another is a product of evolution.” (Mind & Life Institute)
Gobodo-Madikizela offers insights into the philosophy of ubuntu, at the foundation of which is the recognition of a fundamental truth familiar to all Buddhists: the interconnectedness of all beings. Through her work, which encompasses addressing violence, oppression, and self-serving behaviors found in every society in history through forgiveness and healing, Gobodo-Madikizela emphasizes the role of the body in relating to our shared humanity and connecting with one another from a place of compassion that transcends intellect. If humans are to evolve as a global society, our notions of “self and other” must also evolve, she underscores: “when we witness the stories of others, the lives of others . . . it is almost as if you are reconstituting the self in relation to the other.” (Mind & Life Institute)
Based in Charlottesville, Virginia, the Mind & Life Institute was formed following a 1987 meeting between the Dalai Lama, lawyer and entrepreneur Adam Engle, and neuroscientist Francisco Varela, with the aim of bridging the divide between the empirical, materialist approach of modern science in investigating the nature of reality and improving the lives of human beings and the planet, and the advantages and insights offered by ancient contemplative and wisdom practices refined over centuries. Its mission, the institute states, is to “bring science and contemplative wisdom together to better understand the mind and create positive change in the world . . . to alleviate suffering and promote human flourishing worldwide as part of the vision of founders His Holiness the Dalai Lama, neuroscientist Francisco Varela, and businessman Adam Engle.” (Mind & Life Institute)
“As we celebrate the Dalai Lama’s birthday, we also honor his clear and simple message to educate ourselves, to embrace each other with compassion, to combine our intellect with warmheartedness, and to share this wonderful planet with each other,” the Mind & Life Institute observed. “Evolution of the Heart supports these aspirations with scientific knowledge, contemplative wisdom, and lived experiences that can inform our daily efforts to find compassion and connection with others, and help us contribute to positive change within our local and global communities.” (Mind & Life Institute)
* Low-Key Celebrations Planned for the Dalai Lama’s 86th Birthday amid Ongoing Pandemic (Buddhistdoor Global)
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