This week, on July 6, 2015, His Holiness the Dalai Lama's turned 80. His birthday also marks National Compassion Day. Regardless of our spiritual beliefs or where we live, compassion or "lovingkindness" is what brings us together in unity and harmony. The importance of lovingkindness cannot be underestimated, especially when navigating difficult times.
In reflecting upon the Dalai Lama's important role in the world, I've often thought back on his visit to Santa Barbara in 2009. Prior to the full-day event at UC Santa Barbara's Thunderdome, I skimmed some of his books and journaled about some of his poignant philosophies. In honor of his visit, I bought a brand-new purple moleskin notebook to document his thoughts. I was thrilled to have done so, because to quote my author friend Anna Quindlen, "Seeing the Dalai Lama is like opening fortune cookie after fortune cookie." Her comment was right on.
His Holiness walked out onstage with his ocher-colored robe draped over his bony shoulders. He gently sat on a wood-framed sofa adorned with lush red pillows and folded his legs beneath him. White orchids were strategically placed on either side of the sofa, beautifully framing his being. After the clapping simmered down, he put his hands beneath his chin in a prayer position and bowed to his entourage and his fellow monks, who were seated in the first few rows. He then proceeded to do the same for the rest of us, who were so thrilled to be in his presence. Seated to his left was his translator.
The Dalai Lama (meaning "ocean of wisdom" in Mongolian) was born as Tenzin Gyatso, and when he was four years old it was decided that he would be the 14th Dalai Lama. To me, this is an amazing concept, as it was from this early age that he received vigorous instruction and preparation for his upcoming role. Equally as interesting is that since the age of 24, he has been in exile from his native country of Tibet and has been living in India.
To be in the presence of the Dalai Lama was awe-inspiring and left a long-lasting impression upon me. In his natural and self-effacing manner, he effortlessly spoke his mind, incorporating his wonderful sense of humor, infectious giggle, and penetrating intelligence. At times he spoke in a matter-of-fact tone, and at other times we got the sense that he'd delivered this talk millions of times before. His presence and energy permeated the air, while at the same time resonating into the depths of our souls. His knowledge, coupled with the wisdom and logic of Buddhist beliefs, made the day a very profound and poignant one.
The Dalai Lama's morning lecture, "The Nature of the Mind," conveyed that all religions carry the same message -- to improve the mind. In order to give freedom to the mind, he explained, we must reduce fear and anger and increase joyfulness. He discussed the connection between the body and the mind, saying that verbal action depends upon the motivation of the mind, and that both the things we want and do not want are completely motivated by the mind.
The afternoon lecture, "Ethics for Our Time," was unlike the morning lecture, as it was delivered primarily in English. The Dalai Lama used personal anecdotes to share his observations about the world. He professed that "a healthy society comes not from government, but from families and individuals." He referenced the importance of nurturing young children and told of how his own mother showered him with love, which he equates to his present ability to have compassion for others. Basically, he said that those raised with compassion grow into compassionate adults.
During both lectures, the Dalai Lama repeatedly emphasized the timeless need for compassion, the spirit of forgiveness, maintaining a realistic attitude, giving, and the importance of living in and appreciating the moment.
Following are some additional highlights from his talks:
• It's important to live in the moment.
• Having compassion brings about inner peace.
• We can do without religion, but we can't do without spirituality.
• Everyone appreciates love and inner kindness regardless of their religion.
• Happiness is a state that exists in spite of one's ups and downs.
• The principal characteristic of genuine happiness is inner peace, which involves a high degree of sensitivity and feeling.
• To achieve a happy and cheerful life, we must take care of our minds.
• A peaceful mind is important for preventive reasons.
• Everything depends on motivation.
• Those with good ethics are happier than those without.
• Ethics and compassion are human values we all understand.
• Many of the problems we're facing today are man-made.
• One member in a home can spoil a good atmosphere.
• We need to cultivate and reinforce our positive qualities.
• We must rise above thoughts of pain and anger and focus on the here-and-now.
I strolled away from the event feeling calm and fulfilled. I felt rejuvenated and had a deep yearning for the simple life. So many of the Dalai Lama's snippets of wisdom resonated with me, and I continue to refer to them during trying times.
Because he gave his talks at a university and many students were present for the event, I was left to ponder one major thought: How does a man like the Dalai Lama help the younger generation deal with identity issues? After living for more than 50 years in exile from his native Tibet, is he even certain of his own identity? Also, regardless of our age, we all are in search of inner peace, which provides a container for our identity and gives our lives purpose. Baby boomers, in particular, are self-reflective, and each one of us has had the opportunity to review our accomplishments and the reason we're here on Earth.
In summation, I suppose we cannot overemphasize the importance of having compassion, living in the moment, and enjoying our journey without focusing too much on the destination.