Wisdom and compassion – building blocks of society
I’ve known Victor Chan since Audrey and I moved to Bowen nearly two decades ago when this particle physicist from Hong Kong was improbably running a restaurant in Snug Cove. We soon found that Victor had yet another side to him as he revealed his deep Buddhist beliefs and his respect for the Dalai Lama.
Now he has written his second book in collaboration with the exiled spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his decades-long nonviolent campaign to end China’s domination of his homeland.
In The Wisdom of Compassion: Stories of Remarkable Encounters and Timeless Insights, he tells of his first meeting with the Dalai Lama in India in 1972. While the Buddhist monk kept giggling at Victor’s hippie-like appearance, he assured his visitor that he didn’t hate the Chinese but considered them his brothers and sisters.
They met again in London in 1994 when the Dalai Lama accepted a gift of Victor’s just-published, comprehensive Tibet Handbook: A Pilgrimage Guide. And then in Indianapolis five years later, Victor brought his family-Susanne and their daughters, Lina and Kira-to attend a talk by the Dalai Lama. Three-year-old Kira followed her father in prostrating herself three times on the floor too as her mom’s eyes brimmed with tears. The Dalai Lama soon agreed to co-author his first book with Victor, The Wisdom of Forgiveness: Intimate Conversations and Journeys.
In 2005, Victor founded the Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education in Vancouver. I had put him in touch with Gwyn Morgan, the CEO of the petroleum giant EnCana, who had embraced the tenets of Buddhism and visited the Buddha’s birthplace in Nepal. Morgan agreed to be an advisor for the Centre.
In The Wisdom of Compassion, Victor’s accessible prose propels the reader with scene-setting descriptions and detail of the personalities and backgrounds of the people who dialogue with the man who was chosen as a child to become the 14th Dalai Lama. Among them was Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, whom Victor invited to the Vancouver Peace Summit in 2009. Like Morgan, Abed was also a senior executive at an energy company-Shell Oil, operating in what was then East Pakistan. He later founded BRAC, the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee, which pioneered micro-financing there, lending $5 billion to eight million women while opening 37,000 schools, mostly for girls. His efforts have since expanded to Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, five African nations and Haiti. Both Abed and the Dalai Lama came away from that conference learning from one another. Susan Davis, the founding president of BRAC USA, later told Victor: “Abed and I have been profoundly inspired by the Dalai Lama. We were moved by his call to find better ways to translate compassion into action . . . We believe that educating the heart is critical.”
Victor describes another conference, in New Delhi in 2011, when a group of CEOs, writers, social entrepreneurs and philanthropists from around the globe met with the Dalai Lama. Among them was Zainab Salbi, the Iraqi daughter of Saddam Hussein’s personal pilot. Rebelling at the strictures of her society, she founded Women for Women, which has given about $90 million to about 270,000 poor women in Middle Eastern and African war zones.
The book chronicles both famous and lesser-known characters who meet regularly with the Dalai Lama. He and his friend Desmond Tutu horse around on stage before the revered South African archbishop points out that “religion is of itself neither good nor bad: Christianity has produced the Ku Klux Klan. Christianity has produced those who killed doctors that perform abortions.”
Paul Ekman, the renowned scientist whose reading of facial expressions inspired the TV crime series Lie to Me, accompanied his daughter to India, where she wanted to meet the Dalai Lama-who held her father’s hand while speaking with her. In later encounters, the two men became so close that Ekman says, “I feel that he is the younger brother I never had.”
Richard Moore isn’t a household name in North America, but he is overseas. In 1972, as a 10-year-old in Northern Ireland, he was blinded by a British soldier’s rubber bullet during the terrible civil war called the Troubles. Despite his infirmity, Moore grew up with forgiveness and founded Children in Crossfire, an organization operating in 14 embattled countries to run projects that range from creating safe-water systems to rehabilitating child soldiers. In 2000, he spoke at a conference in Belfast discussing Catholic-Protestant reconciliation. The Dalai Lama was a prominent guest there, and after hearing the story of the Irishman’s compassion, he said, “Richard Moore is my hero.” Seven years later, Moore invited the Dalai Lama back to Belfast as the keynote speaker at a conference on the rights of children. This time, Victor Chan brought his elder daughter, Lina, who was producing a film about the Troubles as a Grade 9 project at IPS. She wanted to interview Richard Moore and his mother. And she was there when Moore told her and her dad that he’d found the soldier who had shot him and would like them to meet him. “In the end,” Victor writes, “it was my daughter, Lina, the enterprising 13-year-old filmmaker, who managed to buttonhole the soldier in the hotel corridor. Against all odds, she was the only person who succeeded in interviewing him, and I was allowed to tag along.”
Summing up the title of his new book, Victor Chan says, “For the Dalai Lama, compassion and wisdom are the fundamental building blocks of society. In our homes and in our schools, he believes, we should systematically nurture a culture of warmheartedness, a culture of kindness. They are essential elements, critical to having a happy life.”
The Wisdom of Compassion: Stories of Remarkable Encounters and Timeless Insights (Riverhead Books), (victorchanbooks.org)
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