Emory Report

May 18, 1998

 Volume 50, No. 32

Dalai Lama's broken English
doesn't disguise wit and wisdom
in commencement speech

He undoubtedly said his prayers. Blessed with a beautiful sunny day, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama delivered Emory's 153rd commencement address May 11. The only sign of the heavy rains that fell the day before were intermittent streams of water loosed from the podium's canopy by occasional gusty winds.

In his introduction President Chace called the Dalai Lama, exiled spiritual leader of 6 million Tibetan Buddhists, "an inspiration to everyday folks and celebrities alike." Initially speaking through an interpreter, the Dalai Lama praised the approximately 3,200 graduates for the "culmination of many years of hard work and study" commencement represented. And he gave tribute to "all the members of the faculty, your teachers, and also the members of the staff who contributed to your successful education."

He also thanked the University for awarding him an honorary degree. "So that means I should also congratulate myself!" he added impishly, demonstrating a touch of his well-known sense of humor.

Then, forsaking his interpreter, he told the audience, "I'll try to speak directly to you in my broken English. In this solemn ceremony I think my broken English may not suit, but in order to save time and in order to communicate directly, I want to increase my courage to speak my broken English to you." The speech that followed was brief but, befittingly, packed with words of wisdom.

"One of the things unique about humanity is the special human brain," the Dalai Lama said. Our capacity for thought and memory is a "very special sort of quality because education becomes important." But education alone does not make a well-rounded, or even happy, person, said the Dalai Lama. "Education is, I believe, like an instrument. Whether that instrument is utilized properly or constructively, or differently, depends on the user.

"On the other hand, [being] a good person means [having] a good heart, a sense of caring for others and a sense of responsibility," he said. "If you combine these two, your whole life will be constructive and happy, and certainly you can make immense benefits for society," he added.

"Real" life begins when you leave Emory, he told the graduates. This is a life more complicated and certain to contain hindrances, obstacles or complications, the Dalai Lama said. "So it is very, very important to have determination and optimism and patience." He quoted a Tibetan saying: "Even nine times broke or failure [means] nine times effort."

For Emory's 1998 graduates, who'll live the bulk of their lives in the new century, the Dalai Lama offered hope that the lessons learned from this century's "many different experiences" would create a better future. The 20th century has seen many technological advances and inventions, but people also have done great violence to one another and to the Earth's environment, he said. "Through these experiences I believe humanity is becoming more mature." One indication of this maturity is that the concepts of peace, nonviolence and human rights are becoming well entrenched among citizens and politicians alike, the Dalai Lama believes. "There you find compassion and [the] spirit of reconciliation now becoming more mainstream," he said.

"We see and hear unhappy things here and there, but if [we] judge every part of world I think [there are] many signs of hope. In any case, the future of humanity entirely depends on our own children, so we have to make good preparation for a better future-what I call a sense of global responsibility."

He stressed to graduates and their families the importance of spirituality. "When we face some problem, in order to keep our mental peace, religious faith is important," the Dalai Lama said. Religious beliefs should be part of our everyday lives, he said, so we can really feel the value. "Accept religion, and be a sincere practitioner."

The Dalai Lama ended his commencement address as he began, speaking through an interpreter and displaying his playful wit. "This is the first time in the States I am receiving honorary degree in ceremony of convocation when the students are also receiving their degrees," he said. "So I am particularly happy today. Of course, another sense of particular joy is you had to work hard for many years to get it, whereas I didn't have to study at all."

-Stacey Jones

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