A group of scholars from the University of California San Diego (UCSD) met with His Holiness the Dalai Lama at his home in Dharamsala late last month to discuss the creation of an Institute for Empathy and Compassion. The delegation was led by Dr. David Brenner, vice chancelor for health sciences at UCSD, who wrote briefly of the meeting and shared photos on Facebook.
Attending the meeting with Dr. Brenner were Dr. Sunny Smith, clinical professor in the department of Family Medicine and Public Health at the UCSD School of Health Sciences, Dr. Thubten Jinpa, Tibetan Buddhist scholar and longtime English translator for the Dalai Lama, and Prof. Bill Mobley, associate dean of neuroscience initiatives in the Department of Neurosciences at UCSD.
The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that Dr. Brenner has been working on finding effective ways to cultivate empathy and compassion in healthcare, with a special focus on training doctors. In his work at UCSD, he has also promoted studies exploring how compassion, along with a nurturing environment, could encourage brain development and mental health. These topics overlap with interests that the Dalai Lama has been exploring for years with Western psychologists, scientists, and scholars.
Writing on the topic, the Dalai Lama has stated that: “True compassion is not just an emotional response but a firm commitment founded on reason. Therefore, a truly compassionate attitude towards others does not change even if they behave negatively.” Addressing the role of empathy, he wrote: “When you recognize that all beings are equal in both their desire for happiness and their right to obtain it, you automatically feel empathy and closeness for them. Through accustoming your mind to this sense of universal altruism, you develop a feeling of responsibility for others: the wish to help them actively overcome their problems.” (His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet)
The Dalai Lama has visited UCSD twice in recent years. In 2012 he was there to take part in a “Compassion Without Borders” symposium, where he spoke on topics ranging from combating materialism in modern education systems to taking broader responsibility for climate change. “It was really eye opening just how he interacts with everybody and I feel he’s like a grandpa to us,” one student remarked at the time. (NBC San Diego)
In 2017 he returned as a commencement speaker for UCSD, the first stop on a tour of the United States. At that time he focused on the topic of compassion as well, calling on those present to make the 21st century “a century of dialogue.” (The San Diego Union-Tribune)
The Dalai Lama laughs during a press conference in 2017. From sandiegotribune.com
During both of his previous visits, the Dalai Lama met with UCSD scientists to discuss their work on kindness and compassion. The university currently has a Center for Science and Education of Empathy and Compassion CSEEC). The CSEEC website states that their goal is “to unite the scientific and lay community to investigate the neural basis for empathy and compassion, and use the insights we gain to improve people’s capacity to be empathetic and compassionate.” (University of California San Diego)
The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that “The latest discussions may involve an expansion of UCSD’s existing Center for Science and Education of Empathy and Compassion, or a new institute that operates separately, and on a much broader scale. University officials are expected to provide more detail later this week.” (San Diego Union-Tribune)