Mission of Compassion
The XIV Dalai Lama shares his philosophy with UCI while recipients of the scholarship established in his name embody his spirit of compassion.
Living Peace Series :: As part of the Center
for Living Peace’s Living Peace Series, His
Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama returns to
UC Irvine on May 4, 2011. Tickets are sold
out but the exploration for living peace
continues at the Living Peace Workshops.
The next workshop will be held Saturday,
May 7, from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
In today’s frenetic world of instant messaging, terabytes of data and endless Google searches, it’s easy to forget that the most important and cherished connections are those between humans – living, breathing, empathizing people, helping each other to navigate the sometimes daunting weight of the human condition. UCI senior and co-winner of 2011’s XIV Dalai Lama Endowed Scholarship Doug Cheung was reminded of this fact in a very poignant way. In 2006, he accompanied his then 20-year-old best friend to a doctor visit, during which his friend was diagnosed with HIV. “When he learned of the news, his doctor held his hand and comforted him while she described the course of treatment. She spent an hour with him because he was very scared and confused,” says Cheung. “That’s the kind of doctor I want to be.”
Cheung hopes to practice a fusion of Western and Eastern medicine, commonly referred to as holistic or integrative medicine, not only to help treat but to ease the suffering and emotional trauma of terminal and chronic diseases, such as cancer or AIDS. “Integrative medicine combines western research and methodology with eastern healing practices,” Cheung says. “Think of a doctor using chemotherapy to treat cancer, but also providing herbs and acupuncture treatment to alleviate digestive problems and fatigue.”
Cheung was not always on such a specific path, however. After coming to America from Hong Kong in 2008, Cheung attended a lecture by the Dalai Lama and was moved by the spiritual leader’s passion and words. “I was inspired by his teaching people to become an embodiment of compassion,” says Cheung. Soon after, Cheung transferred from the community college he was attending to UCI and pursued a double major in neurobiology and psychology and social behavior.
Now, Cheung is exactly the kind of person the Dalai Lama Endowed Scholarship hopes to encourage with its $10,000 award. Inspired by the XIV Dalai Lama, recipient of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, the scholarship is awarded annually to students who demonstrate academic achievement, honesty, integrity, fairness, and service to others. Applicants must outline a project related to peace, ethical leadership or positive national and global relations.
The project is a key to winning the scholarship, says Karina Hamilton, director of the UCI Sage Scholars Program and a member of the Dalai Lama Scholarship selection committee. Because though most people, when or if they think of Tibetan monks at all, picture a humble man atop a mountain far removed from the rest of the world, practicing quiet meditation, that is exactly not what the scholarship hopes to promote. In other words, the goal is to dispel that perception and promote active participation in making the world a more compassionate place. “From the beginning of the scholarship, we decided there had to be some action of trying to improve the world, instead of just contemplating it,” says Hamilton. She adds that this spirit of active involvement does in fact honor the Dalai Lama’s lifelong philosophy. “The Dalai Lama has spent his entire life saying [monks] have to do more and engage in the world to make it a better place.”
A Holistic Approach
Bethel Mesgana, Cheung’s co-winner of the scholarship, also embodies that philosophy. Her passion came from an even more personal place than Cheung’s, however. After moving to San Jose, California from Ethiopia when she was just nine years old, she visited yet another in a long line of cardiologists for a congenital heart condition. But this doctor was very different. He ran medical tests but also asked her about her personal experience, moving from such a far off and different place. “He prescribed medication but also suggested I take swimming lessons as a way to treat my condition and have fun. The experience gave me a really positive view of doctors,” Mesgana says.
From that encounter, her life and outlook changed. A renewed self-confidence soon had her excelling in school and making new friends. Once at UCI, Mesgana got involved with the school’s Students for Integrative Medicine, and her passion for holistic healthcare grew.
A highlight for Mesgana came last September when she, along with a delegation of UCI students and staff, toured India for 18 days, culminating in a trip to Dharamsala to meet the XIV Dalai Lama himself. “The most vital thing I learned from him is the necessity of living in the present, because everything is impermanent. He also stressed the importance of giving back to the community in tangible ways,” says Mesgana.
Behind the Smile
The Dalai Lama need not have worried about either Mesgana or Cheung on that score. The pair met in 2009 through Students for Integrative Medicine, a campus group they co-founded and which taught stress-reducing meditation and breathing exercises to formerly homeless residents of the Costa Mesa Motor Inn. Their success inspired them to design an undergraduate course and public forum that would expose future healthcare professionals to holistic techniques.
Now, thanks to the XIV Dalai Lama Endowed Scholarship, that class is a reality. The course promotes the holistic understanding of illness and healing and features lessons in psychiatry, geriatrics and family medicine, as well as guest appearances by people with chronic diseases or terminal illnesses. A panel of experts, patients and caregivers also participates. “A lot of the people have told me that being a doctor is both an art and a science,” says Cheung. “You go to medical school for the science but the art is not really cultivated. That’s why this class is important. It’s to help develop that art of communication and understanding in doctors.” Apparently, he and Mesgana hit on a need because immediately after the class was announced, 130 students signed up, and within days the class was full. So perhaps the world is on track to be a more compassionate place. No wonder the Dalai Lama is smiling all the time.