Courageous Compassion

Introduction by His Holiness the Dalai Lama

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DEAR READERS, it’s a privilege for me to share the Buddha’s teachings as well as a few of my ideas and experiences with you. Wherever I go I emphasize that all seven billion human beings on our planet are physically, mentally, and emotionally the same. Everybody wants to live a happy life free of problems. Even insects, birds, and other animals want to be happy and not suffer. What distinguishes us human beings is our intelligence, although there are occasions when we use it improperly—for example, when we design weapons to kill one another. Animals like lions and tigers that stay alive by attacking and eating other animals have sharp teeth and claws, but human beings’ nails and teeth are more like those of deer. We use our intelligence to fulfill our desires, but compared to other animals our desires seem to have no limit. We have one thing and want two; we have something good and we want something better. Satisfaction eludes us.

Right here and now I’m sitting in a peaceful place and imagine that you are too. But at this very moment, in other parts of the world people are killing each other. Devising ever better military strategies and ever more lethal arms is a poor use of human intelligence. Developing new nuclear weapons that are more effective in destroying people is the worst. I’ve been to both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On my first visit to Hiroshima I met a woman who had been there when the nuclear bomb was dropped; somehow she survived. In the museum I saw a watch that had stopped at the exact instant of the explosion; it was half melted by the heat of the blast. Instead of using our human intelligence to create joy, the result has sometimes been fear and misery.

Now in the twenty-first century we must make an effort not to repeat the errors of the last century with its endless series of wars. Historians estimate that 200 million people died by violent means during that century. It’s time 2to say, enough. Let’s make the twenty-first century a time of peace and compassion by recognizing the sameness of all eight billion human beings alive today. Strongly emphasizing differences in nationality, religion, ethnicity, or race culminates in feelings of us and them; we feel divided and we act divided. It is important to remind ourselves that at a deeper level all human beings are the same. We all want to live a happy life. Being happy is our right. To create a peaceful society we must heed the ways to achieve inner peace. This involves creating the circumstances for freedom, being concerned with human rights, and protecting the environment.

There are no natural boundaries between human beings on this earth; we are one family. At a time of increasing natural disasters, climate change and global warming affect all of us. We must learn to live together, to work together, and to share what we have together. Making problems for one another is senseless. We will achieve genuine peace in the world if we pursue demilitarization, but before countries can demilitarize, as individuals we must disarm ourselves internally. To begin, we must reduce our hostility and anger toward one another. That entails each of us looking inside ourselves and releasing our self-centered attitude and painful feelings rather than blaming others for things we don’t like. As long as we don’t accept responsibility for our own actions and thoughts, we will experience the same results as before. But when we realize that our actions affect others and care about their experience, we will stop harming them. When we change our behavior, others will also change theirs. Then real change is possible.

A mother gave birth to each of us and cared for us with love. I am sad that our educational system fails to nurture this sense of loving-kindness and aims instead to fulfill material goals. We need to reintroduce such inner values as warm-heartedness to our educational system. If we could be kinder, we’d be happier as individuals, and this would contribute to happier families and more harmonious communities. Human beings are social animals. What brings us together is love and affection—anger drives us apart. Just as we employ physical hygiene to protect our health, we must use “emotional hygiene” to tackle our destructive emotions and achieve peace of mind.

I belong to the twentieth century, an era that is past. I want to share with those of you who are young: if you start to collect the causes now, you’ll live to see a happier, more peaceful world. Don’t be content with the present circumstances; take a more far-sighted view. When the heart is closed, it leads 3to fear, stress, and anger. Nurturing the idea of the oneness of humanity has the effect of opening the heart. When you think of all other human beings as your brothers and sisters it’s easy to communicate with them all. It makes it easier to smile, to be warm and friendly. This is what I try to do. Beggars or leaders—all human beings are the same. If I think “I am a Buddhist, I am Tibetan, I am the Dalai Lama,” it just increases my sense of isolation. If I think of myself as a human being who is like everyone else, I feel at ease: I belong, I can contribute to others’ well-being, I can communicate and share with others. We have to take the initiative to connect with one another.

All religions convey a message of love, compassion, and self-discipline. Their philosophical differences arose to suit people of different dispositions, at different times, and in different places and conditions. The fundamental message of love remains the same. Buddhism, especially the Nālandā tradition, with its emphasis on reasoned investigation, takes a realistic stance that accords with the scientific method. To become a twenty-first century Buddhist, simply having faith and reciting the sūtras is not enough; far more important is understanding and implementing what the Buddha taught.

Bhikṣu Tenzin Gyatso, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama

Thekchen Chöling

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