The University of Virginia’s Contemplative Sciences Center recently assumed responsibility for one of the world’s most unique and innovative leadership initiatives.
Founded in 2010, Dalai Lama Fellows has been dedicated to facilitating the emergence of a new generation of compassionate leaders who are able to bring a commitment to self-reflection and compassion to the work of making a positive difference in communities, and in the world at large.
Dalai Lama Fellows was founded with the authorization and support of the 14th Dalai Lama as an independent, secular and ecumenical organization; it formally became affiliated with UVA’s Contemplative Sciences Center in September. Over the years, the fellowship program has grown to more than 152 individuals across 40 nationalities.
Each year, the program selects 25 to 30 individuals from around the world to participate in a 12-month course of engagement that includes bookended gatherings that will occur at UVA; an innovative and interactive online curriculum; individualized mentoring; group learning; and a project geared toward social innovation, social change, social justice and deep engagement with a community of choice.
The fellows are committed to integrating these external activities with a commitment to internal, contemplative and reflective self-work. Once the fellowship is completed, participants join an international community of fellowship alumni who have the skills, the network and the capacity to work together to bring about change in the world around them, David Germano, executive director of UVA’s Contemplative Sciences Center, said.
Germano – a professor of religious studies who also heads UVA’s Tibet Center and the Sciences, Humanities, and the Arts Network of Technological Initiatives, or SHANTI – will work alongside existing center staff and newly hired, fellowship-dedicated staff to lead the program at UVA. He said he sees the program bridging what many see as the disparate worlds of self-reflection and the pursuit of social justice around the world.
“People sometimes tend to think of contemplative work as inward-facing pursuits in the form of mindfulness, yoga, prayer or other forms,” Germano said. “On the other hand, you have this whole domain of social innovators and social justice entrepreneurs who are getting out into the world and pursuing the change they would like to see in the communities and environments in which they are embedded. I think the real importance of this program is that it gives us the opportunity to bring these two into a more intimate union with each other that reveals the falseness of contrasting change and cultivation happening inside and outside.”
The Contemplative Sciences Center’s commitment to the Dalai Lama Fellows will allow the center to expand its efforts to integrate social innovation and justice with contemplation, and to reach younger generations representing countries and cultures around the world, Germano said.
“Over the course of [the center’s] six years at UVA, we have made significant impacts at UVA in areas that range from student life to health science and beyond, and I think we have done important work in teaching people how to think about and practice diverse types of contemplation, including how it can be adopted in a variety of contexts,” he said. “Today we are at a juncture where it is imperative that we connect that work to external engagement with the larger world, whether in the context of a university, a company, a political effort, a state, a local community or a nation. And I think that this convergence of the internal, of working on ourselves, and working on behalf of others, is one of the most critical challenges we face – not only within higher education, but within our society overall.”
The Dalai Lama – born Tenzin Gyato, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, in 1935 – is the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, a Nobel Peace laureate and author of “My Spiritual Journal” and “Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World.”
UVA has long been a leader in Tibetan and Buddhist studies. Jeffrey Hopkins, professor emeritus of religious studies, was a former translator for the Dalai Lama and led UVA’s Tibetan Buddhist studies program for nearly three decades; in 1998, he organized a Nobel Laureates conference that brought the Dalai Lama and several other Nobel Peace Prize winners to Grounds.
Beginning in the late 1990s, Germano established the Tibetan and Himalayan Library at UVA; in 2009, the University launched the Tibet Center.
Most recently, the Dalai Lama visited Charlottesville and the University in October 2012, and participated in a panel discussion about compassionate health care with five UVA physicians.
Marty Krasney, the founding director of Dalai Lama Fellows, said the University and its Contemplative Sciences Center are well-suited to move the program’s mission forward.
“In UVA and CSC, we have a partner that is really aligned to the core purpose of our program,” he said. “CSC is walking the same kind of walk that we have tried to walk, and the institutional benefits, the extensive reach and the enormous alumni base provide just the type of platform the program needs and deserves.
“When you add to that the leadership and vision of David Germano and the outstanding team he has built at UVA, it is clear that this is the absolute best vehicle to help carry us to the next place.”
The Contemplative Sciences Center was founded in the spring of 2012 with the mission to explore contemplative practices, values, ideas and institutions both historically and in contemporary times – to better understand them, and to apply related principles in modern contexts toward human flourishing. The center’s mandate is to pursue research, learning and engagement related to contemplation and flourishing across all schools and organizational units at the University, and to become a national and international leader in this rapidly growing field of activity.
Applications for 2019 Dalai Lama Fellowships are due Feb. 3. The application is accessible online.