Conservation, compassion topics of Dalai Lama lecture

If the planet is to be sustained, environmental education and personal responsibility must increase, said His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama in a lecture Sunday afternoon at Crisler Arena.

“Taking care of our planet environment is like taking care of our own home,” he said. “We have a responsibility to take care of the environment. It is our only home.”

In his 75-minute address, he raised environmental concerns across themes as varied as population control and religious tolerance to consumerism and income disparity. He connected the topics by emphasizing how promotion of human values and religious harmony is needed in order to take care of humanity’s “inner environments.”

“Even if the environment – the external surroundings – are peaceful and beautiful, unless inner environment is not fully taken care of, the external will not bring inner peace,” he said.

His lecture was the last of four consecutive sold-out events this past weekend; the three teachings that preceded the lecture were produced by Jewel Heart Ann Arbor, a Tibetan Buddhist temple. His Earth Day Reflections address was a special Peter M. Wege lecture sponsored in part by the Center for Sustainable Systems at the School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE).

As with the teachings, the Dalai Lama sat in a brown chair at the center of a stage surrounded by Tibetan tapestry and wearing a red visor to protect his eyes from the stage lights above. He also charmed the audience with his trademark humor.

“If you come here with a lot of expectations that I will say a serious thing, it is a mistake,” he said. Then, apologizing for his accent, he said: “I’m getting older and my English is getting older.”

In response to a question from a student about how to maintain hope amid the mounting environmental challenges, His Holiness said the answer partially resides in increased awareness through education, especially of children. “From kindergarten, the concept of a dialogue about taking care of the environment should be part of their life through education,” he said. 

That concept of lifelong learning extends into adulthood and applies to political awareness as well. “If you have a Green Party (in this country), I want to join,” he said to applause.
“This taking care of the environment should be part of our daily life,” he said, adding that it can and should start small. He conserves water by showering, instead of taking a bath, and turning off lights when leaving a room. “Even in small ways, make a contribution,” he said. “If we take care, things can change.”

The demands placed on the earth by its population — 6 billion and growing — raises the issue of population control. “Therefore, limited number of people is a serious matter,” he said.

Unlike other issues confronting humanity, such as contending with “violence and bloodshed,” the environment can be harder to see and define. “It’s invisible. Year by year, it becomes warmer. When you starting feeling, it may be too late,” he said.

He recalled how his own environmental awakening occurred, spurred on by ecological issues in Tibet, concerns about global warming and discussions with experts and scientists. “Then I realize the environment issue is so important,” he said.

After his lecture, he answered four pre-selected questions from SNRE students. He then presided over a two-part ceremony: the awarding of the first Compassion in Action Awards and the presentation of a book of poetry from K-12 students across Washtenaw County.

The Compassion winners were all students and nominated by faculty for work in the areas of poverty, environment or health. The recipients were Danielle Bober from the Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning; Julie Maslowsky from the Department of Psychology at LSA; and Ari Jongejan from the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise, a joint program between the Stephen M. Ross School of Business and SNRE.

The Center for Sustainable Systems evolved from the National Pollution Prevention Center (NPPC) for Higher Education, which was established at SNRE in October 1991.

The lecture series, established in 2001, is named to honor Peter Wege, the retired vice chairman of the board of Steelcase Inc. in Grand Rapids. Wege served as the first chair of the External Advisory Board for the NPPC. He is now chair emeritus of the CSS External Advisory Board.

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