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UBC Reports | Vol. 50 | No. 4| Apr. 1, 2004

Dalai Lama Brings Message of Peace to UBC

His visit supports the launch of contemporary Tibetan study program

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,” says Potter.

“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 the world.

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 good.

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 at 604.822.0631.

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 concerns.

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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