Dalai Lama translator Thupten Jinpa spreads message of compassion to Birmingham

Birmingham compassion
Birmingham compassion
Thupten Jinpa and Cathy Sloss Jones, photo by Pat Byington

In 2014 the Dalai Lama visited Birmingham, Alabama. At that time, Thupten Jinpa, the Dalai Lama’s translator and a renown scholar and author in his own right, did not have an opportunity to experience much of the city during his visit. Last month, nearly four years later, Jinpa returned to the Magic City, this time to network and spread his special message about compassion.

Hosted by Cathy Sloss Jones, Jinpa spoke to the  Rotary Club of Birmingham and UAB’s Edge of Chaos, (a program of the School of Public Health). He met with the leadership at the Lakeshore Foundation and visited the Birmingham Museum of Art, where he was given a special tour of the Asian art collection by director Graham Boettcher. He capped off his visit with a tour of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and a conversation about human rights worldwide with their director Andrea Taylor.

“When he was here before, it was such a whirlwind visit he didn’t get to see much of our city. So he was very happy to experience Birmingham. We took walks in the morning at the Botanical Gardens and had a chance to visit many different neighborhoods around the city. Plus we had beautiful spring weather, so all in all, it was a lovely visit,” stated Jones.

Jinpa is one of the first generation of Tibetans who grew up in exile. The bridge he’s discovered between modern society and his ancient religious tradition is compassion.

Compassion and the benefits of meditation practice are now considered legitimate subjects of neuro-scientific study. To promote compassion, Jinpa established the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) at Stanford University. He has also published a book titled, A Fearless Heart, given countless presentations and even developed an app for the younger generation.

While on his visit, Bham Now was able to sit down with Jinpa before he embarked on his visits and meetings throughout the city. We discussed his presentation to the Rotary Club of Birmingham, the need for compassion in today’s political discourse and ways he is trying to reach younger audiences.

On his presentation to the Rotary Club of Birmingham 
Rotary Birmingham
Photo from Cathy Sloss Jones

I’ve always been inspired by the motto behind Rotary which is “service before self.” I always see this as an expression of the principle of compassion – to put it into action. So I was pleased to see that the Rotary Club invited me to give a talk.

Compassion is one of those things that each of us, if you individually asked, is important to us, we value it.

One thing that is becoming clear is that Western society has been an amazingly successful stable society for a long time, thanks to espousing human rights and individual freedom as the foundation for structuring a society.

We now need to bring in compassion as a third element, as a communal value. In respect to individual freedom and human rights, they are not defined as community values.

Science shows the individuals ourselves stand to gain, if we act out of our compassionate impulse. In the end everyone wants a happy life. a meaningful life. Many studies on happiness show that one of the core factors for happiness is a central purpose. And there is nothing like acting out from your compassionate impulse to give you a sense of purpose and meaning.

Rotarians are particularly inclined in that direction. It is their model.

Political discourse today – we need compassion now more than ever

Particularly in this country the political discourse is going in a direction that is so negative. It is one thing to hold opposing standpoints. That’s always going to happen.

Even in a single home. Sometimes husbands and wives, father or mother have a different opinions, what to do with their children in a particular kind of way. Whether to send them to this camp or that camp. Even as small matters like that, so long as there are two individuals in a home there is going to be a difference in opinions, that’s what makes us individuals.

Each of us have our own set of values and way of thinking and reasoning. So, having a diametrically opposed political standpoints shouldn’t be source of too much concern.

Where things have gone bad in this country, the tone of that debate its become pretty nasty.

Part of that is the total unwillingness on either side to try to understand where the other side is coming from. This is one area where at some point something needs to be done. Something like compassion is quite a strong basis. Because no one disputes the value of compassion.

It’s important that the younger generation be taught to maintain that civility, that respect and relate to opposing viewpoints from the place of non-judgement. And I think that should be taught.

Thupten Jinpa’s book and app


My book grew out of the Stanford program I developed. There are a lot of books on compassion.  On the Buddhist side there are books on meditation techniques. You’ve got books by Ganhdi, Mother Theresa. What I wanted to look at was the systematic and psychology part of compassion and tying it to who we are as human beings.

Compassion is one fundamental value which is the foundation for ethics and moral teachings for all religions. It offers a powerful common language. It bridges the religious and secular divide.

With compassion, it is unanimous  among all the religious traditions, whether it is Islam, Christianity, Buddhism everyone agrees compassion is the foundation of morality.

Now because many young people don’t read, I’ve developed an app. which is not specifically on compassion, but it is trying to combine new way of understanding our mind and learning techniques to regulate your emotions and calm yourself, to invoke your natural compassion.

Order Jinpa’s book – A Fearless Heart and the app at MandalaApp

Gentle, kindhearted and compassionate, Thupten Jinpa touched many lives during his visit in Birmingham. From Rotarians to college students we all the richer.

Author: Pat Byington

Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.