He professes and practises love, compassion and the pursuit of happiness through making others happy. For the Dalai Lama, his life is his message, says Jamuna Rangachari
There is the Dalai Lama. And then there are other spiritual masters. Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, is undoubtedly the most popular spiritual guru of our times. His name is synonymous with spiritual values such as love and compassion. Popular culture resounds with references to him whenever anyone wishes to conjure up a saint, such as,"Well, I am no Dalai Lama".
Across the world, regardless of which religion or philosophy is practised, his visits generate a huge wave of euphoria, and he can rank film stars such as Richard Gere, writers like Daniel Goleman, scientists like Richard Dawson and sundry intellectuals among his disciples.
Established in his remote seat in McLeodgang, Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, the Dalai Lama, in many ways, is the spiritual nerve centre of the world. In the wake of his own popularity, Buddhism has become the most popular religion in the world, particularly in the West. How did the obscure head of an obscure country like Tibet come to wield such tremendous power?
Only one who has personally seen and met the man can answer that question. His tremendous authenticity, cordiality and goodness are palpable. They enable him to make an instant connect with anyone, be it a peasant in Himachal Pradesh, a socialite in New York, or a film star in Los Angeles. By being hugely human, he summons up the humanity in all of us. That, however, is not all. When China annexed Tibet and made him as well as the Tibetan people refugees in India, he refused to take an aggressive stand to win back his nation. A follower of Mahatma Gandhi, he abides by non-violence and uses instead the Buddhist principles of compassion, non-reactivity and love to liase with China. He may not have won back his country but he has certainly prevented more bloodshed, trauma and angst into an already traumatised world. This stance earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.
Ultimately, it is his huge spiritual stature that has won him the world's love and respect. While accepting the Nobel Prize, he said, “I believe the prize is a recognition of the true value of altruism, love, compassion and non-violence which I try to practice, in accordance with the teachings of the Buddha and the great sages of India and Tibet.”
Unifying the world
Central to his charisma is his capacity to unify. By affirming over and over again that all religions have the same common values despite superficial differences, he has played a significant role in the interfaith movement. “All the major religious traditions convey the same message of love, whether they teach about a Creator or not,” he often says. “If we are to create a happier humanity and lead more meaningful lives, we have to learn to show each other greater love and affection.”
Likening the various religions to the different ways people have tea _ with milk, sugar, without milk, with lemon and honey, or as the Tibetans do, with butter and salt _ he says that religions may have different practices, but just as water is central to all teas, compassion and love are central to all religions.
To foster religious harmony, he has established close ties with many Hindu and Sikh religious leaders. He has also always worked on fostering good relations with Jewish and Muslim leaders. He has visited both Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan more than once. He has many friends in the Christian community too, such as fellow Nobel peace laureate, the South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and the Cistercian monk, Thomas Merton. His late Holiness Pope John Paul II was also a close friend with whom he discussed many global issues. In fact, a photograph of the two men standing next to one another at the Assisi gathering in 1986 captures an optimistic moment in interfaith relations.
Science and spirituality
He has also played a significant role in bringing together science and spirituality. Fascinated by science ever since he came across a telescope left by his predecessor and used it to observe the moon, he has created a programme called Science for Monks in 2001 to teach science in Buddhist Monastic Centres of higher learning in India. The programme engages Indian and Western scientists to explore connections between Tibetan Buddhist traditions and science, and teach methods of scientific inquiry in physics, quantum mechanics, cosmology, biology, neuroscience, and mathematics.
Since 1987, he has also been organising Mind-Life Conferences in Dharamsala and elsewhere in India that have drawn leading scientists across the world such as Richard Dawson to dialogue on the many commonalities between science and Buddhism, particularly the study of consciousness.
This openness to new ideas and cutting-edge findings has placed him in the pantheon of internationally respected religious leaders, and also has given him a stature among secular audiences. Which is why, while awarding him the Templeton Prize in 2012, the organisers mentioned that he was quite unique among all spiritual leaders for having focussed on the connections between the investigative traditions of science and Buddhism for the past 25 years, and encouraged serious scientific investigative reviews of, for instance, the power of compassion and kindness and its broad potential to address the world’s fundamental problems.
A blueprint of life
The principles of the Dalai Lama seem like a blueprint for the universe. If we need cement to build houses, we need these principles to build our life and to cement humanity. Like a true universal guru, his constituency is the world, and he stops no one from learning the secrets of happiness and a good life from him.
Terms like mindfulness have become part of everyone’s parlance largely because of his role in showing everyone its efficacy. He has often said, “For the last thousand years, people would always pray whenever they found some difficulties. .... When science and technology developed ... certain things that people were hoping to realise through prayer could suddenly be achieved through technology. I think that's why during the late part of the 20th century people became more concerned with material value.” He adds, “People who have a lot of money but are not necessarily happy and feel lonely deep inside will begin to ask what is lacking. Then they will start to show interest in inner value.”
He has written many books and has spoken to leaders, psychologists and celebrities all over the world. Everywhere, he is understood because he understands others and is open to everyone’s views. Films on him such as Awakening and Compassion in Action have won many awards and are seen by many all over the word. “I believe that the very purpose of our life is to seek happiness,” he says often, adding that we can be happy only if we make others happy. He is a sterling example of this philosophy, having trained his mind for happiness, shown us how to be open to other perspectives, and cultivated compassion and altruism at all times.
We create our world. When people like the Dalai Lama are recognised as a voice of sanity in a world obsessed with negativity, his success is the world’s success too. At a time when leaders spew hate against the other, he has shown that it is compassion for all that is true success. As long as we have such true role models, we are indeed on the right path to success and life itself.
Bio: Jamuna Rangachari writes and manages the websites of Life Positive. She has authored three books for children, compiled and interpreted Teaching Stories-I and II for Life Positive. and published a book through Hay House.
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