The Dalai Lama Celebrates his 80th Birthday with a Call for Compassion
When he first became a student, Tenzin Gyatso, most commonly known as His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, admits that he was a reluctant one. This admission may be surprising to most of us—to hear that a person with a sincere interest in the depths of not only Buddhist teachings, but also psychology, modern science and neuroscience, the preservation of Tibetan culture, and the proliferation of a system of secular ethics—began as a reluctant student. There is hope for all of us. Of course, to put it in context, the Dalai Lama was merely six years old when his studies began in earnest.
From a child who was mostly interested in play, something shifted for the Dalai Lama as a teenager. He says he developed a genuine interest in study, prayer, and meditation, a genuine interest in studying the texts he was first introduced to as a child, and a genuine interest in developing the analytical mind. His dedication is an inspiration for all of us. It is a dedication that has made a powerful impact on the planet as a whole. His Holiness’ personal persistence offers a luminous example. He is a role model, as he himself offers the humor, laughter, dedication to service and study—and the irrepressible hope that he asks people to share with each other.
This year His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama celebrates his 80th birthday. And he’s been invited to the kind of party that you just might expect for a world leader: A Call for Compassion. This includes a global campaign as well as a Global Compassion Summit that will take place in Orange County in July. In advance of his visit, the spiritual leader of Tibet took some time to speak to a small group of journalists via videoconference during which he spoke about how yoga teachers can cultivate compassion, his meditation and yoga practice, and the three commitments that are the guiding light in his life and actions. During the conversation, he easily and often broke into his famous laughter.
“I usually tell people I have three commitments,” the Dalai Lama said. First and foremost is the promotion of basic human values or secular ethics. It is a topic he speaks on frequently and he is careful to clarify that the use of the term secular is delicate and includes a large dose of respect for all of humanity: believers and nonbelievers, those who identify with religion and those who do not. These ethics include the practices of love, openness, affection, compassion, friendliness, and warm-heartedness. These are values that transcend religious dogma and are integral to the health, well-being, and happiness of everyone on the planet. “In all the major religions,” he said, “the main message is love. In order to seriously practice love, it is also necessary to practice forgiveness and tolerance.” The Dalai Lama is an outspoken advocate for the importance of this simple yet profound practices of compassion, love, friendliness, forgiveness, and tolerance; they benefit humanity collectively and they benefit us as individuals. He warned us that constant anger and fear, the antithesis of these values, may actually diminish the ability of our immune systems to function at peak capacity. With a more compassionate heart and mind, he said, a person’s physical health becomes better and a person’s inner beauty shines forth.
“In all the major religions, the main message is love. In order to seriously practice love, it is also necessary to practice forgiveness with tolerance.”
The second of his life’s commitments is the promotion of religious harmony. In his daily life, he emphasizes the importance of tolerance and open-heartedness in every conversation and every speaking engagement.
His third commitment is the preservation of Tibetan culture (including Tibetan Buddhism); he describes this culture as being a culture of peace, nonviolence, and ultimately, a culture of compassion. Part of this has manifested over the past 30 years through the Dalai Lama’s passion for bringing together scientists, psychologists, and Buddhist leaders in serious discussion to advance thought and provide what His Holiness refers to as mutual enrichment and mutual benefit. He refers to the similarities among the Buddhist concepts of emptiness and the revelations of quantum physics.
The anchor for all of the Dalai Lama’s efforts in the world—as well as his ability to be a role model, an example for all of us—is found within the strength, dedication, and consistency of his meditation practice. Since the 1970s, he said, he rises in the morning at 3am to meditate. He described his practice as one that includes prayer and the study of textbooks. He said that his meditation practice includes some analysis that is both internal and external, and a focus on inner peace as well as some time focusing on emptiness. What has his meditation taught him? One lesson he shared with us is that, “destructive emotions are based on wrong perception.” Our projections, our emotions, our grasping, influence how we perceive our experiences and our viewpoint. A great deal of negativity is mental projection, he said.
Meditation is not the Dalai Lama’s only practice. Amidst laughter, he demonstrated for us his daily practice of alternate nostril breathing and other breathing practices, to which he attributed the health of his lungs at the age of 80. He lamented, though, at 80, that his once active physical yoga practice has become more difficult. But the emphasis on breath, which many practitioners believe to be one of the more important parts of yoga, is an essential part of His Holiness’ daily routine. As he said, he practices to, “breathe for a healthy body, and through that, a healthy mind.”
The Dalai Lama shared his view of yoga, “Yoga practice brings, besides physical health, a calm mind. The calm mind is the basis of all spiritual practice if you sincerely practice.”
When I asked him how yoga teachers can cultivate compassion for themselves and their students, his answer was deceptively simple. It embraced a viewpoint that is related to the very definition of the word yoga as union. He asked us to consider ourselves to be a human being, with the same mind, emotions, problems, and potential as the other seven billion human beings. He asked us to think about how to emphasize inner peace, to utilize human intelligence, and to see in our innate compassionate nature, a perspective that comes from fully seeing and realizing our connectivity.
There is some measure of recognizing this connectivity that drives this great teacher’s passion and purpose. It is the cornerstone for his upcoming visit to California. His commitment to compassion is a shining light for all of us. And with it, he is giving us the charge to accompany our actions and intentions in our life #withcompassion.