Minority Report | Mathematics of the soul


Minority Report | Mathematics of the soul

Last week, I attended two sessions of Buddhist teachings imparted by the Dalai Lama to a select audience in New Delhi.

Organized by the Tibetan spiritual leader’s Foundation of Universal Responsibility, this has been an annual activity for the last few years.

The discourses are spread over three to four hours for two days, followed by “Manjushri empowerment” on the conclusive day.

Those curious about or devoted to Tibetan Buddhism would know that Manjushri is the deity of wisdom with peaceful and wrathful forms.

The empowerment is through the peaceful form, and those receiving it are urged to accept it “with loving kindness and compassion for self and others” (in other words, the Bodhichitta countenance).

It is difficult to list the benefits of attempting to grasp these discourses, but each year, I come back with elevated thoughts.

Not to mention the observations about the atmospherics: the toned-down ostentation of Delhi society—both temperamentally and physically—the kind of people who turn up, how each utilizes the presence of the Dalai Lama to meditate, listen, wonder or question what he calls a trained and alert mind, and how avidly people take notes.

An exhibition of Tibetan art, craft and books, and consultations with a Tibetan medical doctor, who diagnoses diseases by putting his finger on the pulse (literally), add to the composite experience. This once, the complete root text of Nagarjuna’s Mulamadhyamakakarik (fundamental treatise of the middle path) was distributed.

It is a complex spiritual text with dense and deep meanings. Preparatory reading, including a commentary on the text, was also sent ahead by email. I still wrangled with it considerably. Nevertheless, if the mind is open and absorbent, one learns to draw interpretations leading to yet another web of meaning. So this pursuit never results in a blank.

The question-answer sessions at these discourses pique me most. Very few people, in what appears to be a refined, intelligent and spiritually curious audience, know how to position questions without loading them with assertions, comments and self-experiences. Even so, a range of concerns bubble up.

Violence in parts of the world, why doesn’t the Dalai Lama form his own country (never mind his persistent arguments that he is a monk, and not a politician), what he thinks about climate change, to something as stark as debilitating anger or the fear of death. The way he chose to answer a particular question, this time on the growing disquiet in our society, inspired this column.

“The education system needs to become more broad-based to include the training of the spiritual self,” said the Dalai Lama, responding to a concern on the deterioration of the moral order in the world. Arguing for India as distinctly secular and inclusive of multiple religions, thus a ripe environment for varied versions of spiritual openness, he said, India is the only country that can mindfully teach students inner values, besides external skills.

“It is sad that we don’t,” he added, in his characteristic, matter-of-fact manner minus any fuss but with a gregarious smile and a keenly involved body language. It is a fertile argument coming from a spiritual leader of his stature.

Some Indian schools do teach moral science, the science of being good, doing good, and the whys behind it. Others have thrown it out. Some missionary schools offer options of catechism classes. But no formal mainstream school (since we must exclude monasteries in this argument) teaches spirituality as a compulsory subject without linking it to any religion.

It is difficult to argue that spiritual education, the training of the mind, and a guided cultivation of inner values will lead to fewer gender-based collisions, lesser violence, or a more equal society.

But it is equally easy to argue that such an inclusion will bring a meaningful contemporariness to school syllabi, which, at least in India, stubbornly recycle versions of mathematics, languages, science, history and geography.

These days, social campaigns tell us to teach our sons not to hurt or harm girls. But what about teaching spiritual contemplation to everyone?

There have been debates about including what’s termed as the “Indian value system” to the school syllabi from the next academic year. Propelled by the new government’s nod to teaching yoga as a holistic Indian discipline, the Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan governments declared that yoga and moral science will be a part of government school teaching in the coming year. But the move is largely seen as backed by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), thus giving it pro-Hindu overtones.

What could override the concerns is the launch of the same concept in a secular format. To find and recruit schoolteachers who can set and teach a spiritual syllabus instead of a religious one. A syllabus that is acceptable and relevant to the different religious groups. The Dalai Lama is right—India is the only country which can do it.

But will it choose to?