Buddhism in Action is a monthly live interactive webcast that aims to reach out and address some of the most perplexing issues we face today, such as religious fundamentalism, gun violence, mass consumerism, the refugee crisis, overexposure to media, the corrosion of community and more. Hosted by Vajrapani Institute's resident teacher, Venerable Tenzin Chogkyi, this is a forum where we can examine these questions from the perspective of our shared humanity, whilst drawing on the combined wisdom of Buddhism and social psychology. Through the process of exploring together in this live, interactive format, we aim to move beyond confusion, stress and overwhelm to a place where spaciousness and, when necessary, decisive action, feel possible.
Dacher Keltner, a researcher at the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, has simple advice for increasing our happiness, health, and general well-being. His research has led him to believe that one simple prescription can have transformative effects: look for more daily experiences of awe. This doesn’t require a trek to the mountains. What the science of awe suggests is that opportunities for awe surround us, and their benefits are profound.
Awe is the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your understanding of the world. Awe is elicited especially by nature, art, and impressive individuals or feats, including acts of great skill or virtue.
Why did awe became part of our species’ emotional repertoire during seven million years of hominid evolution?
In many studies, Keltner and his colleagues have found that awe—more so than emotions like pride or amusement—leads people to cooperate, share resources, and sacrifice for others, all of which are requirements for our collective life. And still other studies have explained the awe-altruism link: being in the presence of vast things calls forth a more modest, less narcissistic self, which enables greater kindness toward others. Brief experiences of awe redefine the self in terms of the collective and orient our actions toward the interests of others.
Buddhist practices encourages us to overcome our self-absorption and self-concern, and to “cherish others.” Can we use the emotion of awe to help us in this practice?
Expressions such as “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” and “unalienable Rights” (in the US Declaration of Independence) or “domestic Tranquility” and “general Welfare” (in the Preamble to the US Constitution) give us much to think about. It seems that the founders of this country were trying to establish an enlightened government.
In this talk, we will look at some related ideas in Buddhist Philosophy. Ultimate Liberty for us is liberation from samsara, the cycle of suffering. The pursuit of happiness relates to having a meaningful life. The general welfare is the concern of a bodhisattva, someone who is aiming to become a buddha in order to benefit all sentient beings.
Is there anything we can do to retrain our intuitive judgement when we feel that it is biased and distorted? Can we develop a more open, balanced perception without sacrificing our highly adaptive ability to make quick judgements? We need to realize that even our intuitive judgement is based on prior evidence and experience, and can be retrained. We need to be conscious of the images and information we are exposing ourselves to and seek out information that gives us a more balanced, accurate perspective.
Religious fundamentalism has recently been igniting deeds of horrific violence across the globe. A suicide bombing in Ankara on March 13 killed forty people; two suicide bombings in public places in Brussels several weeks ago killed more than thirty; on Easter Sunday in Lahore, Pakistan, a suicide bombing in a park claimed the lives of more than seventy people, most of them women and children. In the US, in many southern states, new legislation aimed at eliminating the civil rights of LGBT communities have appeared in recent weeks.
These developments are bewildering to many of us, leaving us feeling helpless, even paralyzed. What do we do with the intense feelings that can arise in us when we learn of such atrocities? In a bid for understanding, one useful approach is to investigate what factors might be driving the rise of fundamentalism. This is where Buddhism in Action speaker, Venerable Tenzin Chogkyi has found the work of social psychologist Jonathan Haidt particularly useful. For years, Haidt has been researching the psychology of morality and the “moral emotions.” His theories about the innate moral foundations all humans share shed new light on the dynamics that could be fueling the rise of fundamentalism.