“This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.” – H. H. the Dalai Lama
Fifteen years ago I read The Art of Happiness, a book written by the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso. I was in a bad place, a very bad place mentally, physically and spiritually. I remember I bought the book at a second-hand book store after having read some of the Dalai Lama’s wisdom in a Parker Palmer book I had just finished.
I knew very little about the Buddhist faith, its wisdom, practice or its traditions. Certainly I knew who the Dalai Lama was from a political, and world stage vantage point but other than his controversies with the Chinese I knew very little about him. Over the next few years I read fifteen or so books he had written along with books by Thich Nhat Hanh, Pema Chödrön, and Shunryū Suzuki among others. I spent three solid years devouring everything I could read about Buddhism and Zen acquiring well over a hundred different books.
I even went so far as to write my own book, a manuscript that melds and blends the wisdom of The Book James with my discoveries of Zen-Buddhism. The book was also rejected by 250 different publishers and literary agents which was a huge ego boost for me and my interest in writing. But never the less, I have continued my study of Buddhism, alone, with no support group, and with no interpersonal discussions. Oh the joys of living in the Bible belt.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama turns 82 years old today. Like so many things in life I wish I had discovered him sooner. I wish I had discovered the thought and practice of Buddhism sooner. I wish more Americans, more Christian Americans in-particular were exposed to his wisdom, his views and his path. But for the Evangelical sect there is something dark and sinister about Buddhism. A faith without a deity, that believes in reincarnation and uses mysterious sounding words like Karma, and Nirvana.
Christians believe that salvation or enlightenment can only be achieved through a belief in Jesus Christ. There is no other path, period. Buddhist state that the seed of enlightenment is contained in each of us and that we are responsible for finding it, shaping it and molding it ourselves. With this in mind it very easy to understand why most conservative Christians have such a dim view of Buddhism and why Buddhist thought and practice is embraced in progressive city’s like San Francisco, not known as a hot bed for Evangelical Christians.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama has had a very interesting 82 years of living. There are several wonderful books about his youth, being chosen as the 14th Dalai Lama, his education, his exile from Tibet and journey to India as well as his interactions with China after their occupation of Tibet. There is also a wonderful movie called Seven Years in Tibet which stars for you ladies a young Brad Pitt which documents the Dalai Lama’s experiences in Tibet between 1944 and 1951, a time period which includes World War II, and the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1950.
At 82 years old Tenzin Gyatso doesn’t have many more years left on this earth. He has mentioned that he may be the last spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, the last Dalai Lama. There is also concern that the Chinese government will control the process of discovering and installing the 15th Dalai Lama.
In discussing this topic in 2004 with Time Magazine the Dalai Lama stated “The institution of the Dalai Lama, and whether it should continue or not, is up to the Tibetan people. If they feel it is not relevant, then it will cease and there will be no 15th Dalai Lama. But if I die today I think they will want another Dalai Lama. The purpose of reincarnation is to fulfill the previous [incarnation’s] life task. My life is outside Tibet, therefore my reincarnation will logically be found outside. But then, the next question: Will the Chinese accept this or not? China will not accept. The Chinese government most probably will appoint another Dalai Lama, like it did with the Panchen Lama. Then there will be two Dalai Lamas: one, the Dalai Lama of the Tibetan heart, and one that is officially appointed.”
In celebration of this great man’s life and work I would encourage everyone to read one of his books, or read one of his articles online. In my mind his wisdom and persona rank alongside that of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. a great man of peace and wisdom in his own right. We have been fortunate to have had the Dalai Lama with us for 82 years and fortunate that he has willingly and unselfishly shared his life and his thoughts with us. There is much we can learn and gain from his experiences and approach to life, unfortunately the shield of Jesus Christ keeps those away who seem to need it the most.
“Whether one believes in a religion or not, and whether one believes in rebirth or not, there isn’t anyone who doesn’t appreciate kindness and compassion.” – H. H. the Dalai Lama