UBC Reports | Vol. 50 | No. 4| Apr.
His visit supports the launch of contemporary Tibetan study
By Erica Smishek
How different would the world look today if compassion and
a consideration for all cultures had informed the immediate
response to 9/11?
That kind of question is at the heart of events planned
for the visit to Vancouver of His Holiness the 14th Dalai
Lama later this month, including the launch of the new Contemporary
Tibetan Studies (CTS) program at UBC.
“We need new paradigms for policy analysis to deal
with the pressing challenges of our time,” says Pitman
Potter, director of the Institute of Asian Research (IAR),
which houses the new CTS program, and a key organizer of the
Dalai Lama’s Vancouver visit.
“We hope that drawing on the principles of compassion
and cross-cultural understanding associated with His Holiness
the Dalai Lama can facilitate building new policy approaches
to some of the problems that plague our troubled world.”
Potter says the Dalai Lama’s message of the universal
need for kindness at every level, from person-to-person relations
to global action, transcends cultural and religious boundaries
and provides an unique perspective on world peace, preservation
of culture, and protection for our increasingly imperiled
planet. His suggestions on how to apply his teachings to daily
life and to more pressing global issues are capturing the
imagination of people around the world and present a relevant
and significant subject for study and dialogue.
“During my audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama
in June 2002, he indicated his willingness to come to Vancouver
to support the launch of the CTS program. This was a wonderful
expression of support,” says Potter, also a professor
and director of Chinese Legal Studies at UBC’s Faculty
of Law, who has worked tirelessly with IAR research associate
Victor Chan to develop the program and guide a diverse organizing
committee established to plan the visit.
“The CTS program and the visit of His Holiness reflect
a commitment by the university and the institute to build
programs that are meaningful for everyone,” Potter explains.
“The themes of ideas, community, spirituality and
music that inform the visit of His Holiness are values held
dear throughout the community. The activities of the CTS program
are aimed to build upon and strengthen these themes, for the
benefit of everyone.”
The CTS program will be unique in North America for its
focus on contemporary Tibet and its application of Buddhist
principles to contemporary policy issues.
“I was impressed by the importance of studying contemporary
Tibet, not as an ancient culture but as a contemporary society,”
“After considerable thought and discussion with experts
in the field, we began working on a program design that would
include research and teaching on socio-economic, political,
cultural and religious aspects of Tibetan societies today,
and also on the ways that principles of compassion and cross-cultural
understanding associated with His Holiness the Dalai Lama
can be applied to contemporary policy issues such as sustainable
development, community building, and peace and security.”
Much of the academic work on Tibet in Canada and elsewhere
has focused on classical dimensions of religion, language
and culture. But current policies on economic development,
internal migration and religious practices are dramatically
altering the way of life for Tibetan people in China and abroad.
While many details of the CTS program will depend on resources
and financial support (IAR through the Faculty of Graduate
Studies is currently seeking $5 million to help fund the program),
Potter anticipates a graduate-level research program structured
around a chair in contemporary Tibetan studies. Teaching will
likely be offered in collaboration with the Master of Asia
Pacific Policy Studies (MAPPS) program and participation in
the individual interdisciplinary doctoral program in the Faculty
of Graduate Studies.
“Research activities will follow along the lines of
the Institute’s research programs on globalization,
cross-cultural dispute resolution, and religion and public
policy,” Potter says. “We look forward to cooperation
with other departments at UBC.”
He predicts the program will prove to be a valuable resource
for policy makers as well as non-government organizations,
researchers, educators, students and the media throughout
As the leading research authority for the study of Asia
in Canada, the IAR builds knowledge for the benefit of Canada
and the world through intensive programs of research and graduate-level
teaching that combine policy relevance with local knowledge.
Potter says the CTS program will complement existing activities
at UBC focused on Asia and will draw new communities of interest
to the university.
The new program will be officially launched during Tibet
in the Contemporary World, a two-day academic conference that
unites distinguished international scholars from North America,
Europe and Asia with junior scholars and graduate students
April 19 and 20 at UBC.
The Dalai Lama will open the conference with a keynote address
April 19 following the conferral of honorary Doctors of Law
degrees by UBC on His Holiness, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former
president of the Czech Republic Vaclav Havel and 2003 Nobel
Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi. The four will also join Rabbi
Schacter-Shalomi, Dr. Jo-ann Archibald and moderator Bishop
Michael Ingham for Balancing the Mind with Educating the Heart,
a roundtable dialogue focused on the Dalai Lama’s teaching
and its application in today’s world, at the Chan Centre
of the Performing Arts at UBC on April 20.
Potter says the impact of this profound exchange between
world leaders at UBC in April will be felt for years to come.
The IAR is planning policy dialogue sessions to further examine
the topics of peace and security, community building, and
sustainable development raised at the roundtable dialogue
and to build on the community linkages that have been established.
Potter also foresees the capacity to develop new programs
based on the awareness that UBC and the community have worked
successfully to put together an historic event for the public
For more information on the Contemporary Tibetan Studies
program, visit www.iar.ubc.ca/Tibet/
or contact Carla Banford in the Faculty of Graduate Studies
For more information on the Visit to Vancouver by His Holiness
the 14th Dalai Lama, visit www.dalailamavancouver.org.
Editors Note: At press time, organizers were advised that
Vaclav Havel is unable to come to Canada because of health