Book Reviews - A Universal Mascot Of Compassion
by Suma Varughese
The Open Road, The Global Journey of the 14th Dalai Lama, Author Name: Pico Iyer, Published By: Penguin/Viking, Pages: 252, Rs 499
The Dalai Lama has unfortunately become such a spiritual cliché, such a ubiquitous presence in spirituality, that frequently one rebels at the sight of one more book, or film, or foreword on him or by him.
However, Pico Iyer is a felicitous writer, reflective, deep and thinking, and it is a pleasure to be introduced to the Dalai Lama's world through him. The thing, of course, is that it is impossible not to love the Dalai Lama. There is such an air of benign joy and acceptance about him, such an infectious cheer, that it is capable of melting the most hardened cynic, and restoring them to childlike receptivity.
Today, he stands out in the world community for his non-violent and spiritual stand in the invasion of his kingdom, Tibet, by the Chinese. Often against the wishes of his own community he has maintained a non aggressive stand towards the Chinese, seeing the situation as a spiritual practice. Is it any wonder that he is close to being the mascot of goodness and greatness for all humanity?
It is this global role of his that Iyer analyses, dwelling on the Dalai Lama's non sectarian advocacy of universal virtues such as compassion and kindness. Iyer says that he is at pains to point out that while Buddhism works for him, it is by
no means to be understood that it may work for the other, and that each should operate from the religion that they find comfortable. Then
there is his fascination for science, which
has brought worldfamous scientists to Dharamsala for annual path-breaking discussions that has done much to bring science and
Iyer examines all these roles with his superb talent for observing nuances, and for the insights he draws from them.
He writes somewhere, "Paul Ekman, the world's leading scientist of the emotions, has said that the Fourteenth Dalai Lama uses his facial muscles more vigorously and with greater
precision than anyone he has studied in 40 years; every feeling – mirth, sharpness, solicitude,
reflectiveness – is fully inhabited for a moment, and then gone.”
Covering a public meeting in Japan, Iyer
notes, "His hands were joined before him, in a gesture of respect, and his bearing, the opposite of remote, was aimed, I thought, to try and dissolve all borders and get formality out of the way. We're all in this together, his body might have been saying, let's see if we can use this session for some good."
This intimate portrayal of the Dalai Lama set in the context of his ambassadorial role in the world, is illuminating and delightful.