Minutes before the Dalai Lama stepped onstage at Santa Clara University, the topic of the day — tech — was already causing problems.
Three tweets were projected on the gymnasium’s enormous screen, which well-meaning organizers had set to display anything hashtagged #DalaiLamaSCU:
So it was appropriate that the Dalai Lama walked onstage already laughing.
As part of his three-day tour of the Bay Area, the 78-year-old Tibetan spiritual leader visited Santa Clara University to talk to tech leaders, including Charles Geschke, co-founder of Adobe, and Jane Shaw, former chairman of the board of Intel. The conversation — which the Jesuit university hopes will be the first of many — centered around how to bring compassion to a capitalistic Silicon Valley.
“Santa Clara tries to keep a sort of soul in all that we do, and bring it to this high-tech environment we’re in,” said David DeCosse, director of the university’s campus ethics programs and adjunct associate professor of religious studies.
After 10 monks robed in orange and red chanted an onstage prayer before a capacity crowd of more than 4,000, the Dalai Lama put on an SCU visor and the conversation began, led by Kirk Hanson, executive director of the SCU’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.
Hanson launched with a few questions for the Dalai Lama: How can people at fast-paced technology companies slow down, be less stressed, and suffer less from the risks they take?
The Dalai Lama laughed. He gestured to the other panelists and suggested that they go first.
“Maybe then I will get ideas,” he said.
Geschke took to the podium to deliver prepared remarks: “I’d like to focus from a senior management perspective.”
He said he has his three principles. First, “hire the best employees.” Second, “support their freedom.”
The Dalai Lama interjected.
“What if you find someone very fast-thinking, smart, but at the same time quite devious?” the Dalai Lama said, laughing.
Geschke: “Those aren’t the employees we’re …”
“But sometimes you find employees whose competence levels are so high!” the Dalai Lama said, and then smiled.
Geschke looked nervous and kept on.
Hanson asked how Silicon Valley companies who are competing in such a ferocious environment could avoid heady temptations to be unethical.
The Dalai Lama looked at him: “Be honest, truthful, transparent, and take care of your workers.”
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