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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Dalai Lama: Lessons of Buddhism as applied to medicine

April 20, 2008

Minneapolis Star Tribune, MN
April 16, 2008

He admits his mind is scattered by the events of the last month and he's
worried. But despite the Dalai Lama's troubled feelings about turmoil
between his native Tibet and China, he is sleeping well.

Abiding by Buddhism's teachings has helped him maintain peace and
compassion in the face of life's trials, the Dalai Lama told 400 doctors
and nurses Wednesday at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

"If there is no solution, why worry?" he replied when asked how he
maintains his good cheer and optimism in the midst of life's trials. "If
there is a solution, why worry?"

Outside, two small crowds of protesters were the only sign that the eyes
of the world are on the Dalai Lama and Tibet's conflict with China. One
group defended China and its policies in Tibet. The other was Tibetans
protesting China's crackdown on civil unrest.

The Dalai Lama was in Rochester for his annual check-up at the Mayo
Clinic. But in the afternoon, he spoke with the clinic's doctors and
nurses about compassion, and his concern that health care workers can be
emotionally exhausted by dealing with the pain of others day after day.

The crowd stood in respectful silence as he entered a conference room at
the world-renowned clinic and made his way to the stage. He and a group
of monks stood out in their brilliant red and yellow robes, like birds
of paradise amidst a Minnesota crowd wearing dark suits and sensible
pants. In a nearby hotel, 300 Tibetans gathered to watch by video link.

The crowd at the clinic listened intently as he began a philosophical
discussion about compassion and trust, and how to apply the lessons of
Buddhism to modern western medicine.

To many in the room, he represented two worlds. The Dalai Lama is
believed by Tibetans to be a manifestation of the Buddha of Compassion,
who chose to be reincarnated to serve human beings. In that role, he is
a spokesman for the compassionate and peaceful resolution of human conflict.

But he is also a great student of science and has supported western
researchers studying the power of the mind in relation to illness and

"This is part of the future of medicine," said Dr. Doris Taylor, a stem
cell researcher specializing in cardiac medicine at the University of
Minnesota. "We are beginning to have a scientific understanding of this.
I couldn't not be here."

"We see so many patients that we can only get to a certain point in
healing," said Dr. Tim Johnson, director of Mayo's Austin clinic. "That
mind-body spiritual connection is often something that is missing in our
patients and ourselves. But it's important in their health and well-being."

Tough compassion

"What do you see as the role of compassion in medicine?" asked Daniel
Goleman, a psychologist who writes about the brain and emotion, and who
led the discussion.

The Dalai Lama scratched his nose for a minute while pondering the question.

"One time in Japan, a doctor asked me about trust between patients and
doctors," he said. "Trust is very important. Then he asked me how to
develop trust. I don't know. But the key thing is the doctor's sense of
concern. His sense of commitment, his sense of responsibility with
affection. Genuine affection for the patient. That is the basis of
trust." Trust, he noted, needs to be mixed with compassion.

But he also urged what Goleman said might best be described by the
phrase "tough love." Compassion, the Dalai Lama said, doesn't mean pity
or pure empathy. Sometimes, nurses just have to be stern with difficult
patients, he added.

Goleman asked how Buddhist practices could reduce emotional stress for
health care workers.

"Joy," replied the Dalai Lama -- joy in the pursuit of work is very
important, particularly in health care. "You are directly involved in
relieving the suffering of the person in front of you," he said.
"Recognizing the value of that will sustain your joy in your work."

But equally important, he said, is that each of us aspire to our own
happiness, that on a fundamental level we care for ourselves.

"He's such a gentle person, so thoughtful," said Jane Campion, a retired
Mayo employee. "In this age of technology and busy-ness, suddenly there
is a modicum of peace and wisdom. His words are like prayer."

Mindful immunity

The Dalai Lama talked of anxiety over the forces buffeting his country
and about his own mission of moderation and peace, of compassion and

"When someone takes harmful action against you, you forget they are a
person, you concentrate on their actions. You can diminish your own
anger by reminding yourself that they are a person, and that they are
not always their actions," he said.

"The way I see this, it's like an immune system. An immune system for
the mind," he said. So, despite his anxiety, "there is still some
calmness. No disturbances in my sleep."

Josephine Marcotty • 612-673-7394
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