After several hours touring the sprawling campus of Google in Mountain View, California, a state-of-the-art driverless car delivered His Holiness the Karmapa to a building where Google staff had assembled for a talk on “Inner Connection and Meditation: Changing the World from the Inside Out.” The talk was structured as a dialogue—or self-styled Fireside Chat—with Chade-Meng Tan, who leads Google’s personal growth and wellness services.
The 17th Karmapa’s talk at Google was prefaced with opening comments by Google’s only Tibetan employee, Sonam, who brought many members of the audience to tears with her personal reflections. After speaking movingly in Tibetan to His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, she translated her comments into English for the audience. “Your presence here is like a dream for me,” she said. “As a young child I remember my parents taking me to your monastery in Rumtek, Sikkim, in India. The event was the famous Kagyu Black Hat dance performed by the monks. For a young child the performance was mesmerizing, with monks wearing all sorts of masks and performing Buddhist ritual dances.
“But what was more memorable for me,” she said, “was when I met your previous incarnation, the 16th Karmapa. I still vividly remember the day. My parents had recently escaped Tibet, as you yourself did when you were fourteen. Amidst all the pain and suffering my parents and their fellow Tibetans had experienced leaving their homeland behind and living as refugees, there was nothing but pure joy and happiness that day. Here I am today, in your presence again.”
The Karmapa himself was then introduced by Lama Surya Das, who spoke passionately about His Holiness the Karmapa as someone who “holds the whole world in his heart.”
When the talk itself commenced, Chade-Meng Tan (more commonly called Meng) set the tone with his own questions, and then opened the floor for questions from audience members, who lined up at a standing microphone in the aisle. The talk was streamed live to Google’s offices around the world, and questions sent in from other offices alternated with questions from the employees attending the talk in person at Googleplex.
Meng opened by asking what it was like to be the Karmapa – what was the best part and the worst part? After describing the experience of being taken from his family at the age of seven as the worst part, he explained what was best as follows: “One really good thing about being Karmapa is the opportunity it has afforded me to recognize the responsibilities I have. I believe everyone has great responsibility toward everyone else and to the planet, but many people do not have the opportunity to be made aware of just how much responsibility they have. We each bear many responsibilities to benefit others as well as the entire environment—the world and all its inhabitants—as best we can. Being in the position of Karmapa has helped me to recognize that responsibility, and that is a very good thing.”
Among the other questions posed was one regarding meditation. His Holiness the Karmapa said, “The 21st century is a time of great material development and improvement on many fronts and we sometimes become overwhelmed by the rapid change taking place all around us. Within this context of such frenetic external change, meditation can help a great deal in finding inner peace within our minds. Meditation can help us stabilize our minds, it can bring peace and it can give us more control over our own minds so that we are not overwhelmed by this continuous change taking place externally.
“Many forms of our happiness these days actually depend on outer things and external objects. One of most important things that meditation does for us is to help us connect with a sense of happiness and satisfaction that is not at all dependent on outer conditions, but is something naturally present within ourselves. For example a lot of meditation techniques focus on phenomena that are immediately present within ourselves. Of course, working with the breath is a very common technique in meditation, and our breath is something that is always with us, for as long as we are alive. Sometimes we do not recognize these precious natural resources that we have with us all the time. Meditation helps us give attention and care to the natural resources that we have, which in turn helps us to relax. From another perspective it helps us engender a natural sense of wonderment, awe or joyfulness about what is precious within us already.
“Meditation is not just about relaxing or helping us de-stress,” he said. “It is something that can help increase our awareness, help us develop more mindfulness and a deeper sense of joy and appreciation.”
Meng followed up by asking whether compassion arises naturally from mindfulness practice or whether it needs additional work.
The 17th Karmapa replied, “Firstly I think that meditation is something that naturally connects us with who we are in an uncontrived way. So much of what we do in life is a contrived attempt to become something else. But meditation brings us back to the natural state of who we are and what we are made of. I think that can become a stepping stone for developing further qualities.
“I mentioned awareness earlier. The awareness we develop through meditation is an awareness of the reality that we all depend upon one another. For example, as we become aware of our breath in meditation, we naturally become aware that it is not an autonomously existing thing. We might develop an appreciation that the air we breathe comes to us from plants and trees and, finally, from our whole green planet. In this way, meditation deepens our appreciation for the interdependent reality of things. We make a much stronger connection with that appreciation, and that becomes the springboard for compassion.”
One employee at the talk described the corporate culture at Google, which values innovation highly and at the same time encourages inner cultivation. He asked whether there was a trade-off between the two.
“Innovation and inner cultivation can be connected,” His Holiness said. “There can be a lot of overlap between innovation and the pure intentions of the path of spirituality. If you look at innovation, you can see that most of the great brilliant ideas occur to people when their minds are relaxed and open. In the same way, the altruistic state of heart occurs when our minds are open and spacious. When we appreciate our interconnectedness, we can further develop our natural altruism, which we might call by the name responsibility.”
Other questions posed to the Karmapa included whether there could ever be an American Milarepa and whether the Karmapa would come back next life as a woman, as well as questions about environmental protection, the practice of inner heat or thum-mo and what we can do to ease the pain of loved ones who face death or are suffering from incurable diseases.
Google will post the talk in its entirety on its youTube page in upcoming weeks. We will add a link here once it has done so.