Students hold up Buff horns while posing with a flag outside the Dalai Lama's residence
Group photo of college students and school representatives with the Dalai Lama
Outgoing CU Chancellor DiStefano meets the Dalai Lama
Leeds Dean Vijay Khatri bows while meeting the Dalai Lama
 Gabriel “One Feather” Cervantes greets the Dalai Lama
Nikki Bechtold meets the Dalai Lama
Meghan Fall reads from a notebook on a small stage at a gathering
An ornate architectural feature with snowcapped mountains in the background
Published: April 23, 2024 By

A graduating senior shares insights from a trip to India with the Dalai Lama Fellows program.

Nikki Bechtold’s spring semester is one for the books. Along with a group of students, faculty and staff from CU Boulder, the senior business major traveled to India in March for an unforgettable meeting with the Dalai Lama.

“It was just so humbling,” said Bechtold, who is graduating in May. “I learned so much from both a cultural and personal-insight perspective.”

“Compassion in Action: A Conversation About Leadership with His Holiness the Dalai Lama,” was the result of a connection between CU’s Renée Crown Wellness Institute and the University of Virginia Contemplative Sciences Center. The event, held March 17-23 in India, gave students including Bechtold the opportunity to seek wisdom and guidance from the Dalai Lama and broaden their cultural perspectives.

Representatives from the Crown Institute, Leeds School of Business, Stanford University, and the Contemplative Sciences Center, along with faculty, staff and students affiliated with CU’s Dalai Lama Fellows program, met with the Dalai Lama at his residence in Dharamsala for a series of conversations focusing on compassionate leadership.

Bechtold attended the trip as part of the Dalai Lama Fellows program, a one-year leadership program designed to help emerging social change makers cultivate self-awareness, resilience and compassion; broaden their cultural perspectives; learn how to engage with complex systems; and work with local communities in sustainable ways. 

CU Boulder entered into partnership with the University of Virginia and Stanford University in 2021 to deliver the global Dalai Lama Fellows program, which is headquartered at UVA. The CU Boulder program launched in 2022 and expanded in 2023 to include Leeds students as part of a three-year pilot focusing on nurturing compassionate and contemplative leaders with a focus on excellence in leadership development.

“I don’t really think I knew what compassion meant until these talks,” Bechtold said. “I took away that if I'm dealing with a conflict as a leader, I want to keep that mindset. Compassion is such an important thing that can often be overlooked in leadership. Because as the Dalai Lama mentioned, hierarchies can be really detrimental to compassion.”

Leadership, compassion and connection 

CU Boulder Chancellor Philip DiStefano opened the meeting with the Dalai Lama, remembering when CU hosted him on campus in 2016 and when the Crown Institute hosted a virtual conversation with him in 2021.

“It’s a joy to be with you and Dalai Lama Fellows from the University of Colorado, Stanford University and the University of Virginia,” he said. “This is an opportunity to shape tomorrow’s leaders.”

Questions for the Dalai Lama were crafted by global fellows and four undergraduate CU Boulder DLF fellows around themes including climate, leadership, education, social and cultural change, and compassionate leadership.

The Dalai Lama highlighted the importance of compassion, humility and the shared human experience.

“I want to tell you how happy I am to be meeting with you here,” he said. “Basically we have all been born of a mother and received maximum affection from her. It’s a natural response, we see other animals do this too. It’s an experience we all share in common, and it means we are all essentially the same. We survive because of our mother’s kindness. This is something very important to remember.

“While we’re still young, the sense of our mother’s affection remains vivid within us, but as we grow up and go to school, it begins to decline. How much better it would be if we could keep our appreciation of her kindness fresh and alive until we die? One way to do this is to make an effort to nurture a sense of compassion and warm-heartedness.”

Nikki Bechtold holds up her phone to take a photo of the colorful flags surrounding her

Leeds Senior Nikki Bechtold snaps a photo near the entrance to the Kora Walk in Dharamsala, India, which surrounds the Dalai Lama’s residence.

Bechtold found the Dalai Lama’s remarks on maternal affection to be particularly impactful.

“My mom passed away in high school, and we actually left (Colorado) on the anniversary of her death during this massive snowstorm,” she said. “We thought our flight was going to get canceled, but we actually left with no delay … So I felt like I really was supposed to be there.”

One question the students asked the Dalai Lama was how to employ compassion as a leader when you’re feeling angry and frustrated.

“If we were to keep the basic sense of affection that we received from our mother alive, there’d be no reason to quarrel with anyone,” he said. “However, instead of thinking about what we have in common with other people, we tend to focus on the differences between us.”

Bechtold considered how these insights might influence her leadership style. “If I can become a leader someday and a manager and all these things, I’ll remember how important being compassionate is,” she said. “In the society that we have right now, sometimes it can be hard to be compassionate in all circumstances.”

Vijay Khatri, Tandean Rustandy Endowed Dean of the Leeds School of Business, said meeting with the Dalai Lama was “transformational.”

“I am filled with inspiration and gratitude after witnessing young social innovators who are creatively addressing global challenges in ways that are tailored to their local communities, all the while fostering the well-being of our planet,” Khatri said.