Yesterday, I spent the morning of Diwali going to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama in person!!!! The event was on at the University and it was about "Educating the Heart in the Early Years". It was a dialogue between himself and 5 panelists from the University who do research on Early Childhood. The researchers presented the Dalai Lama with their findings about preschool children.
I saw the Dalai Lama before when he came to Vancouver ten years ago. I was especially interested to see him this time, after a decade of life experiences, as well as having a young child now. I was thrilled that the topic was about raising preschool children, as that is what I am doing every day.
The Dalai Lama is fascinated by science, and he called himself "a young student". He combines practical thinking with Western scientific thought and Eastern tradition. He spoke of the interdependence of the East and the West, and that one cannot exist without the other. He is very interested in the science behind sustaining happiness and well-being, in mind, body and spirit.
"Educating the Heart in the Early Years" spoke about children's behaviors in their early ages before entering formal education (around age 5). Each speaker noted how important those early years are on the child's character, which in turn impacts their community. The goal of early childhood researchers is to create the best lives for children by educating their heart and mind - encouraging them to be compassionate, kind, alert, engaged, and calm.
One researcher displayed her findings of a survey of children who are entering the school system (at age 5) from various economic backgrounds. Her findings showed that students from poor families showed greater compassion, peaceful problem solving skills and emotional intelligence than those from wealthy families.
The Dalai Lama spoke of how he was from a poor family and that his mother was illiterate and uneducated. He said, "when a family is poor, there is not much else to provide for them but affection". He spoke of the closeness to his mother and that she always carried him around and that her bountiful affection effected him positively. He received more affection from his mother than he saw any rich family give their sons, and it made him feel loved and "spoiled", as he laughed saying. He noted the "the source of happiness is human love". He said biologically, children are born in this world with the tools to survive. But to emotionally thrive, they need affection from people who care for them - whether it is a parent, guardian, teacher, etc. He noted that an unloved child is a fearful child, and that fear is constricting in the sense that it closes you up emotionally. "The survival of the child entirely depends on someone else's affection," he said.
Another researcher displayed his findings from a study of sick and disabled children that showed the importance of early intervention and how it positively effected language skills and social development. He also displayed his findings from another study of 3-year-olds and their parents who were suffering from mental health issues and how it negatively effects the child. In the latter study, he noted the quality programs can help them emotionally thrive. "When somebody works with a young child, that work is a spiritual experience. You have to be mindful, have compassion for the child, and listen - listen loudly," he said.
The fourth researcher from the developmental psychology department was very interesting. She displayed her findings that infants and toddlers can display generosity - and that willing to share with others make them happy. This goes against popular thought and instead it shows that through scientific research like this, toddlers are NOT inherently selfish. Rather, they are happiest when they share with others, and that generosity is beneficial to them as well as others. The research states that no matter what kind of economic background the child is from, they are happy to share with others.
The study showed a video of toddlers and infants in an experiment of sharing with others. Infants as young as 3 months old were involved in this study and it had everyone in the audience gasping. The research showed that even children as young as 3 months old appreciate helpfulness and generosity - that children come into our world already knowing these things. The lesson to take from this is that it is very important to give children opportunities to demonstrate their generosity and helpfulness and that it is a regular part of development. As parents and educators, it is our job to engage these positive qualities in our children and preserve it - because it is already within them.
The last panelist was an economist who shared that science nowadays is changing from focusing on repairing damage, and instead thinking about opening new doors to become better humans. He noted that people involved in care-giving professions, such as nurses, teachers, and social workers (those who give), are more happier than people who receive. He said generosity is built into the human spirit and that people are born wanting to give to others. He said that early childhood is about saving and preserving those pure qualities that children are naturally born with. As an economist, he said that material life is not the source of happiness. He stated that the source of happiness is in the chance to give, connect, and be with others, as humans are naturally social beings.
What struck me the most about the Dalai Lama was how simple a man he is. He is a monk that wears robes, he is aged, he has an aura of being peaceful in his heart. You can tell he is an enlightened being. During the lecture, he said, "a calm mind brings inner peace". He is quite funny, and humble - he jokes a lot. For him, life's greatest answers are simple - to have compassion, be mindful, and be generous.
As he walked away from the stage, I got the sensation that I may never see him again. He is quite old, and frail. At times, his voice was muffled and he was hard to understand. At the end of the lecture, he told the crowd of students that the 20th century brought so much innovation, yet it brought a lot of violence. And he pointed to us - as students and disciples - and he said he wishes for us as 21st century beings to make a better world by showing compassion. "Make an attempt within your lifetime and you WILL see a happier world," he said.
It was a truly enlightening experience and such a great way to spend Diwali...