I went to hear Tibetan scholar Dr. Thupten Jinpa speak at the University of British Columbia this week, around his recent book — The Fearless Heart: How the Courage to Be Compassionate Can Transform Our Lives.
Fearless was published back in 2015, right when he was about to embark on an important project for His Holiness. Jinpa did a couple of signings back then, one in New York, another in Toronto, but he hasn’t had a chance to do much promotion of this book. This talk was one of those relatively rare occasions. He is probably best known as the translator who has most frequently accompanied His Holiness the Dalai Lama on his global speaking tours.
I was very excited by what he had to say about compassion and how — over time — compassion and altruism could evolve into a new bottom line for the way we do things in the world. For instance, what different outcomes we might have if the considerations around the Site C Dam in British Columbia were based around a bottom line of compassion instead of corporate profit. Compassion we might show to and share with indigenous people, to animals, or to…. a river. New Zealand’s Whanganui River has been declared a “person” and granted the same legal rights. Same in India for the Ganges and its main tributory, the Yamuna.
About Thupten Jinpa
Thupten Jinpa Lngri was born in Tibet in 1958. When he was about a year old, his family fled to India, where he grew up as a refugee, their survival based on the kindness of strangers. Jinpa cites his childhood circumstances as the genesis of his lifelong interest in compassion and altruism.
Since 1985, he’s been the principal English translator to the Dalai Lama. In addition to acting as translator when needed in His Holiness’s talks, Jinpa has translated and edited more than 10 books by the Dalai Lama.
He received his early education and training as a monk at Zongkar Choede Monastery, South India and later joined the Shartse College of Ganden monastic university where he received the Geshe Lharam degree.
He taught Buddhist epistemology, metaphysics, Middle Way philosophy and Buddhist psychology at Ganden for 5 years. Jinpa also holds a B.A. Honors degree in Western Philosophy and a Ph.D degree in Religious Studies, both from Cambridge University.
From 1996 to 1999, he was the Margaret Smith Research Fellow in Eastern Religion at Girton College, Cambridge and he has now established the Institute of Tibetan Classics where he is both president and editor-in-chief of the Institute’s translation series Classics in Tibet.
He is also a member of the advisory board of the Mind and Life Institute, dedicated to fostering creative dialogue between the Buddhist tradition and Western science.
He is a Visiting Research Scholar at the Stanford Institute for Neuro-Innovation and Translational Neurosciences in California. Jinpa lives in Montreal with his wife and daughters.
Geshe Thupten Jinpa has written many books and articles. His latest works are Tibetan Songs of Spiritual Experience (co-edited with Jas Elsner) and Self, Reality and Reason in Tibetan Thought: Tsongkhapa’s Quest for the Middle View” – and most recently, Fearless Heart.
– from Wikipedia
Notes from the talk
Jacob Steele, Banyen events coordinator, who organized the talk, introduced Victor Chan (Director, Dalai Lama Center for Peace, Vancouver), whose known Jinpa for many years. He said: Jinpa is “the most important person working with the Dalai Lama.
“In the last decade, Jinpa has worked on vitally important books with the Dalai Lama. I’ve worked on books with the Dalai Lama, but mine pale by comparison. Examples – The Universe in a Single Atom … Beyond Religion is basically the Dalai Lama’s take. Jinpa probably does 95% of the work and all the Dalai Lama has to do is sit down with him.”
Victor Chan talked about what a marvelous mind Jinpa has and his remrakable academic prowess: “His Holiness will be giving a talk and forget Jinpa is around [and maybe talk for 15 minutes then remember Jinpa’s there and stop for him to translate] and Jinpa will repeat it verbatim. He has an amazing memory!
“One of his [HHDL’s] great gifts has been to bring spiritual and science together — what HHDL would call a ‘Buddhist Science of the Mind.’
“Their 30-year collaboration has launched new sciences – contemplative neuroscience; and a different kind of caring economics.
“Jinpa made sure the Dalai Lama knew what the scientists were talking about (e.g., quantum neuroscience) and then also that the scientists knew what His Holiness was talking about. Jinpa was the one who helped the Dalai Lama marry these disciplines together.”
Thupten Jinpa’s talk:
“I have spent 36 years serving the Dalai Lama,” he began. “I started out as a young monk in India.” He gave us a little of his personal history. (You can watch numerous videos on this if you search ‘thupten jinpa on YouTube). These are brief nuggets on some of the things he discussed.
- “Secular Ethics” – HHDL has developed. It disentangles the discourse on compassion & ethics from religion.”
- “Humans have been thinking about compassion for a very long time. It has had other names – e.g., mercy.”
- “Apart from the specificity of certain religions, the teachings of compassion are all the same. Do not kill… do not steal…. do not lie…. In the end, ethics is a fancy word but fundamentally ethics is How do I treat others? How do I treat the person in front of me? Do unto others… The ethics have to be grounded in something, and that something is compassion.”
- “Now there is a new kid on the block, the block in the discussion and that new kid is science. Scientists may be measuring compassion, but they will be using terminology that’s been around a long time.”
- “Does practicing compassion add to your load? It seems the opposite. Practicing compassion seems to open up a larger space inside you. The suffering seems to align very closely with the Mind Wandering (“thinking about me”).”
- “We are much more emotional creatures that cognitive creatures. The basis of our society was Darwinian conclusions. [dog eat dog, nice guys finish last, etc… turns out that is probably not true – see the study cited at the end, done at UBC in Vancouver with toddlers.)
- “Compassion informing environmentalism – e.g., why should this generation care?”
- “We can choose to make compassion as the primary motivating force.”
- “Compassion – as an emotion: you can’t force an emotion.”
- Compassion – as a standpoint: that we can cultivate, consciously checking and cultivating your compassion.
- “When stayed in empathy > painful.
- When allowed to generate compassion > it was like a freedom.”
- Offers some conscious choice
- Reciprocity – in Buddhism – intention factors in.
- “In Buddhism – Not be attached to the outcome – but does not mean you do not care. Once you set the thing in motion, then you are committed to the process – but not be fixated on the goal. So you don’t know what it might look like.
- Much of the work done at the level of ‘preparation’ (then can sink yourself into the process).
- Being compassionate to yourself
- Is nothing more than switching the object of your compassion.
- If you can do this to someone, you could do this to yourself.
- No judgment – no harshness – tremendous amount of patience
- Self pity – feels different: it’s small and tight. If you can do this to someone, you could do this to yourself.
- Self compassion > room for others; no alienation from yourself. Will feel different.
- Self-compassion is the first step
- Experientially, self-pity and self-compassion will feel differently. Both about feeling sorry but experientially will feel different.
- Altruism <> Compassion – in terms of evolutionary biology
TJ discusses this in a video interview with the cofounder Jim Doty of CCCT here, especially around 1:00” or earlier: (“Jun 2, 2015 – In this dialogue CCARE’s founder and director, Dr. James Doty, asks Thupten Jinpa about his life’s work and what role compassion may have played. This event is an hour-long dialogue followed by questions from the audience.”)
- “Buddhism pairs compassion with wisdom.
- “To be compassionate > exercise it. We do not have to fix it: sometimes the problems are insoluble.
- In Scandinavia – societal compassion is more developed. The U.S. by comparison is the highest in volunteerism. UN annual reports on happiness – Scandinavia always comes out higher.
- “Bringing altruism into economic thinking – as Victor Chan mentioned – a ‘Caring Economics’ is in its infancy.” TJ sees social sciences as advancing this into mainstream economic thinking over time.
- CCCT Certificated instructor in Vancouver: Magdalena Szpala (others listed on the website referenced at the end here).
- 8 week training course
- will offer support to CCCT instructors, going into high-risk places, e.g., prisons.
- About Thupten Jinpa and The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, Stanford U go here.
- The research they’re doing at Stanford on compassion etc. (This is providing the scientific foundation to secular ethics) is listed and described here.
- Magdalena Szpala,CCT Facilitator. Certified by the Centre for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, Stanford University. About the 8 week course, look here.
- Jinpa in action, translating for His Holiness the Dalai Lama at 27:00”
- An experiment done with toddlers & puppets showing seemingly inborn compassion in children (done in Vancouver) that Jinpa referred to at about 40:15”:
Notes (c)2017 Margo Lamont