Final Project: A Big Time for Buddhism

Posted on May 17, 2013 by


A Big Time for Buddhism


The United States is home to some of the greatest universities, scientific discoveries, and technological advancements. Mixing that with the current culture of anti-religion and pro-spiritual fascination, especially amongst young people, we find the perfect grounds for a revolutionary campaign put forth by the fourteenth Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso. In fact, he is the perfect and arguably only candidate credible enough in the eyes of the West to pull off a spreading a universal message to all of this planet’s 7 billion people. This is due to his acceptance and promotion of scientific discoveries, the overall benevolent and non-threatening nature of his goals, and his use of many types of media to promote it on a global scale.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama has three primary commitments as leader of the Tibetan school of Buddhism, which are clearly described on his website. They include: “the promotion of human values such as compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, contentment and self-discipline,” “the promotion of religious harmony and understanding among the world’s major religious traditions,” and aiding the Tibetan people. What makes the current Dalai Lama unique from those prior is that he has the ability to act upon these dedications on a much more globalized scale than ever before. Complete with a freshly revamped website as of 2009, live web streaming of conferences and speeches, as well as a YouTube, Facebook and Twitter account, people all over the world- especially the young people- are now able to access His Holiness’ wisdom from anywhere and in real time. So what is he out there talking about?

Scientific Evidence

One of His Holiness’ primary and most reputable projects to date is his embracement of scientific discoveries and advancements and his use of such information to promote the benefits of Buddhist practices of mindfulness and meditation. This effort that has been positively recognized and even advocated by many groups all around the world since science has oftentimes been emphasizing the “bad news” discoveries. In her article The World Wide Web, Maggie Ginsberg-Schutz says that, “His Holiness was tired of scientific researchers putting all the focus on negative emotions such as anxiety and depression.” Instead, “He wanted…[scientists] to study kindness and compassion using the tools of modern neuroscience.” While the United States has been extremely receptive to the physical health benefits of a traditional Buddhist practice like yoga, His Holiness takes it a step further by wanting to investigate the invisible, yet highly influential, implications on the mind and its emotions.

Working to find harmony between understanding scientific evidence and religious faith is becoming a more and more admirable one. In addition to receiving the 2012 Templeton award (which, according to the website, “honors a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works”), His Holiness has been given an astonishing 63 honorary degrees from universities all around the world (equaling out to 1.15 degrees a year since his induction as Dalai Lama), 44% of which are from a school in the United States. Understandably, there are more universities in the United States than anywhere else in the world.


The infographic shown here (click to view full-size) is not intending to demonstrate a comparison between the number of degrees given in one country versus another, but instead is merely to show the United States’ strong appreciation and recognition of this individual’s efforts. However, it is interesting that the picture provided with the list of the Dalai Lama’s awards and recognitions is one of His Holiness receiving an award from George W. Bush. It is clear that we find his cause noteworthy based on the physical number of times we’ve recognized his life’s work, as well as it is clear that he finds the U.S.’s scientific efforts a key instrument in continuing it.


Despite the fact that his own education revolved around monastic teachings of Buddhist metaphysics and philosophy, the West still finds him a very credible candidate to have present at conferences and panel discussions revolving around neurobiology and psychology. Even though he may be a fascinating addition to a gathering of extremely intelligent persons, during a livestreamed session of a five-day conference titled Mind and Life XXVI: Mind, Brain and Matter – Critical Conversations Between Buddhist Thought and Science (which can be found here) he laughed and shrugged at one of the scientists, saying “I am not expert.” He will admit when his knowledge is limited on a topic, yet he is brought up in numerous media reports as something of a primary source for providing information regarding physical and mental wellbeing and health. (Examples of which can be seen here, here, and here.)

However, His Holiness extends the Buddhist connection with science beyond the realm of emotions and mental stability. Jonathan Patz, professor at University of Wisconsin Madison of environmental studies and population health sciences and director the UW Global Health Institute, aided in this extension when he had the opportunity to show the Dalai Lama a map that showed the world’s countries’ effect on global warming. After seeing that the U.S. is a giant contributor to the problem, he responded with, “Your country’s not showing much compassion.” He attempts to open our minds to the idea of global ethics (which can be read in his recent publication Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World) and have us thinking about our interactions on a scale as expansive as our globalized capabilities.

Ginsberg-Schutz, the author of World Wide Web which tells of this story, notes how “this interdependence fits neatly with the Dalai Lama’s teachings…” I believe that the interdependence is crucial not only to the soundness of his campaign for global ethics, but that it also is a key contributor to the reason why the world finds him to be such a credible source and why his message is as well received as it is.

Spirituality Gone Viral

And there is concrete evidence that his message is being well received. With an impressive 5 million “likes” on Facebook and a 7 million follower fan base on Twitter, the Dalai Lama is the 86th most followed Twitter account and third on Time Magazine’s List of Top Celebrity Twitter Feeds. His Holiness the Dalai Lama (or HHDL if you’re trying to slim down your character count) is able to make his commitments far more impactful and reach far more people than ever before thanks to this unique platform that provides a means to both broadcast and narrowcast a single message at any time. And with Generation X, Y and Millenials hogging a lot of the wifi in the U.S., he is making quite the splash in the forums of online chatter.

In an industry that is literally founded on people’s passion for voicing their thoughts and opinions, one can’t help but wonder how the U.S. feels about the presiding Buddhist monk having a Twitter presence, not to mention what they actually say about it. A particularly interesting example of how the Dalai Lama is being viewed regarding his media efforts in the United States was portrayed on comedian Jimmy Fallon’s late night show earlier this year. Prior to removal of Pope Benedict XVI’s Twitter account, Fallon had some fun with a bit that had the two religious leaders in a fake Twitter fight. Filled with comical zingers, the minute-long bit has the fan favorite, the Dalai Lama, come out on top. Besides the fact that the hashtags are ridiculously funny to anyone fluent in the Twitter lingo, the bit provides more than just entertainment: it provides a fairly clear representation of the Western attitude toward both of these iconic individuals being online and how one appears to be much more welcomed by the media than the other.

Because the U.S. is currently a hostile hotbed when it comes to structured religion, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the Pope received an unspoken auto-bid to fulfill the antagonist role in the media. Wallace Alcorn, in his article Being religious to become spiritual, comments on the developing trend in the United States’ religiosity (or lack thereof):

“Increasingly we are hearing: I am not religious to be sure, but I certainly am spiritual. These never go to church, synagogue or mosque, but they might visit some eastern temple. Or, they might consider any form or religion useless and either turn within themselves to find divinity or outward to find it in the elements of nature.”

This demographic is commonly understood to consist of primarily the younger generations, the group of individuals that is coincidentally most adept in using social media and technology for their interpersonal communications, self-expression, and discovery. (They are also the ones more typical to watch the Jimmy Fallon show.)

I believe this trend also supports the Dalai Lama’s case due to its interdependence of his message on global ethics. In his book where he advocates for a greater understanding and necessity for global ethics regardless of religion, he distinguishes religion from ethics by comparing them to tea and water. He explains how ethics is like water: the necessary life-giving substance on this earth and is a building block to all aspects of life. Religion, or tea, is created from the desire to emulate ethics and therefore requires it in order to exist, but is prone to different preferences of taste and ways it can be served. With this analogy, he believes that ethics are more important than religion and due to their neutrality and universality to all people should be more emphasized around the world in order to truly make it a better, more compassionate place.


Essentially what the Dalai Lama is doing is using technological communications to broadcast his efforts to link science with benefits that come with compassionate (Buddhist) practices, making it believable to an audience that is firmly grounded on the scientific proof to supplement beliefs and understanding between right and wrong. Doing so further progresses his commitment to spread compassion and harmony between the human race. Because he uses social media to narrow- and broadcast his humble, unobtrusive messages, the media is able to have a tangible character to portray to the American population, making a generation morphed by media influences fall in love with a person who is beginning to be portrayed as something of a modern-day Yoda.


Alcorn, Wallace, “Being religious to become spiritual,” Austin Daily Herald, April 29, 2013,

Ginsberg-Schutz, “The World Wide Web,” Madison Magazine, May 2013,

Gyatso, Tenzin, “Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World,” Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, December 6, 2011, Print

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet Official Website,

Liu, Melinda, “Dalai Lama, Twitter Rockstar: The Virtual Influence of His Holiness,” The Daily Beast,

Stats & Rankings for Dalai Lama, Twitaholic,

“Top 10 Celebrity Twitter Feeds,” TIME,,29569,1878865,00.html

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