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During 10th visit to Madison, Dalai Lama will offer teaching, appear on panel

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Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama, escorted off the stage by Daniel Goleman,waves to the audience during Change your Mind Change the World 2013 panel discussion at Overture Center for the Arts in Madison. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, returns to Madison for the 10th time this week to participate Wednesday in a panel discussion on global well-being.

MADISON — During the course of a professional friendship spanning more than two decades, UW-Madison neuroscientist Richard Davidson has had many opportunities, formally and informally, to discuss his research with the Dalai Lama.

The Tibetan spiritual leader, while not a trained scientist, often provides input that is surprising and unusual, Davidson said.

“He is like your star graduate student who is intensely curious, who will ask extraordinarily probing questions, and who will go to the essence of the issue very quickly,” Davidson said.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is expected to fill that role when he returns to Madison for the 10th time this week to participate Wednesday in a panel discussion on global well-being. The event in Capitol Theater at Overture Center is being convened by the Center for Healthy Minds, the UW-Madison entity founded by Davidson.

While the Nobel laureate is coming to Madison at Davidson’s invitation, he will, as has been his practice in the past, engage with the broader community. He is scheduled to offer a Buddhist teaching Tuesday at the Madison Masonic Temple, sponsored by the Wisconsin Tibetan Association.

Both events are sold out. People can sign up to watch a free live-streaming video of the Overture Center event at

The Dalai Lama’s presence over two days will deepen an already long and uncommon connection with the city. The relationship developed along two independent, coincidental tracks.

Starting in 1979, the Dalai Lama began visiting the area to continue his nearly lifelong friendship with Geshé Lhundub Sopa, one of the most revered Tibetan Buddhist scholars in the U.S. and founder of Deer Park Buddhist Center near Madison.

Separately, the Dalai Lama invited Davidson to his residence in India in 1992 to discuss with a small group of other scientists the possibility of conducting research on Tibetan Buddhists to see what effect their intense training in mindfulness may be having on their brains.

Today, both connections remain strong, putting Madison at or near the top of U.S. cities most visited by the Dalai Lama. Although Geshé Lhundub Sopa died in 2014 at age 92, the Dalai Lama retains close ties with the monks at Deer Park and will be staying there on this visit.

“We’re very honored that he has chosen to come back to a place where a very good friend of his lived,” said Penny Paster, a longtime Deer Park volunteer who is helping with the planning for his stay. “It seems he has an affinity for Deer Park and feels extremely comfortable there.”

Davidson credits the Dalai Lama with challenging him to study kindness and compassion with the same scientific tools used to research fear and anxiety. That set Davidson on the professional path that has become his area of expertise and renown: investigating, with scientific rigor, what constitutes a healthy mind and whether well-being can be a learned behavior.

The Dalai Lama has stayed actively interested in the research and has made a commitment to visit the Center for Healthy Minds on a regular basis, Davidson said.

“He’s been coming here every two to three years, and I expect that as long as he remains healthy, he will continue that,” Davidson said.

The Dalai Lama, 80, was last here in 2013 when, also at Davidson’s invitation, he participated in a panel discussion at Overture Center on global issues moderated by Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post. He also addressed the state Legislature and spoke to a sold-out crowd of 3,500 in Exhibition Hall at Alliant Energy Center.

The public events this week will be smaller. The Madison Masonic Temple, 301 Wisconsin Ave., seats a little over 1,000 people, said Tsetan Atruktsang, president of the Wisconsin Tibetan Association. She said people will come from as far away as California, Connecticut and Canada to hear his teaching, which is titled “Geshè Langri Thangpa’s Eight Verses of Training the Mind.”

Tickets first went to people affiliated with the event’s sponsors and the Center for Healthy Minds, as well as scientists, students, members of the media and the Dalai Lama’s entourage, said Marianne Spoon, a spokeswoman for the Center for Healthy Minds.

By Feb. 18, when tickets first became available to the general public through the Overture Center ticket office, only 293 remained, and they sold out in a matter of days, Spoon said.

To expand the audience, the Center for Healthy Minds is enabling its partners and co-sponsors to embed the live-stream video on their websites. Those partners include Wisconsin Public Television, National Geographic, the Mind and Life Institute and ABC News.

Wisconsin Public Television plans to re-broadcast the panel discussion at a later date, Spoon said. National Geographic will host a live watch party for several hundred people at its auditorium in Washington, D.C.

Other watch parties will be held around the country, including a large one at UW-Madison’s Union South that is free and open to the community, Spoon said. The event begins at 1:30 p.m.

ABC News anchor Dan Harris will moderate the panel discussion, titled “The World We Make.” It will focus on how the world might look in roughly 15 years if people today took seriously the notion that well-being can be learned, Davidson said.

“Every human being is born with the capacity, even the propensity, for kindness and compassion,” Davidson said. “But it requires nurturing. One of the values of the dialogue with the Buddhist tradition is that they have developed what we can think of as an extremely elaborate, granular and sophisticated technology for how to cultivate these virtuous qualities.”


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