His Holiness the Dalai Lama considered the emanation of the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokitesvara is also the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists. This 14th Lama was found by the rituals embedded in the Tibetan culture of Buddhism for finding the next incarnation. The child is confirmed and brought to live within the walls of the great monastery where he will be trained. The present Dalai Lama was given an early Western education which has served him well— a wildly popular guru—sought out by global glitterati for impressive photo ops also as a fount of wisdom and sound advice. Until recently he had political aspirations and indeed those earned him a Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 but recently retired his political garb. His Holiness made a summer lecture stop in Dallas where the Bushes were seated in the front row and the tickets for the event scooped up in minutes.
His Holiness speaks excellent English—this new series was recorded in 1993 during a UK visit. He sits on stage accompanied by a trusted translator. So these two DVDs are in part Tibetan and part English because some concepts are conveyed in Tibetan and translated into English. I received the first two DVDs in the Dalai Lama series: Contentment, Joy & Living Well; A Practical Way of Directing Love & Compassion. These recorded talks are given with the usual grace of this teacher. It is a bit more challenging to review dialogue rather than action on the big screen. I enjoyed the insight and the wisdom shared, most of which will resonate with Westerners who wonder about the role of wealth, sex and relationships when trying to live a normal but moral life.
The householder lifestyle is preferred by Eastern philosophies because it takes the seeker and the practitioner away from extremes. One’s light and life led is supposed to speak volumes on this silent path. The balance is always the standard. In fact these days Eastern philosophy is less religion and more BYOB-like: bring your own beliefs. We know this is not okay among Bible-belt Christians. This is where the clash of the titan religions is played out. The most famous Westerner to cross this divide and broker the conflict even writing many books elucidating Eastern religions—Thomas Merton; spent the last few months of his life in deep pursuit of Tibetan Buddhism and even studied with His Holiness.
The DVD Contentment, Joy & Living Well includes the following topics: “How to Find Happiness and Overcome Suffering”; “Using Our Potential to Balance Intelligence and Compassion”; “How to Utilize Material Wealth as a Cause for Satisfaction”; Distinguishing the Positive and Negative Aspects of Desire; “Responsibility and Commitment in Sexual Relationship and Family Life”; “Using The 6 Perfections to Good Effect in Daily Life”; Questions and Answers. Reviewing these talks is much like reviewing a book. To that end, I chose a few salient words that might appeal to most readers.
From the utilizing wealth for satisfaction talk: His Holiness discusses how man is given many gifts including rebirth, long life, good health factors that create a “good life” but the utilization of them depends in turn on mental faculties. In other words, a smart man lives a smart life. There’s more, leading a good moral life is needed. And when tested how does a person hold up and bear the hardships of life that will come? There are always headlines and media coverage of catastrophic events (or sudden job loss) and one observation often made consists of remarks about the grit and the grace exhibited by those who have lost their formerly happy lives filled with friends, things and sound mental health. How humans bear burdens is a part of spirituality and must be added to the education of this critical mass.
His Holiness continues with rebirth, and freedom from rebirth, which start with attachment because attachment “creates dirty things from clean things.” In any given life: wealth + health + companions = happiness formula. But material wealth is a causal factor and satisfaction the resultant factor of desire. He said its fruition was wealth: you get what you most desire in life but it may not come in the present one but another day (lifetime) due to our attachments. Ironically when perfect health and material wealth are in abundance it does not guarantee happiness but one factor for satisfaction. He concluded by saying that we call things “desired” positive, and things not desired negative.
The Dalai Lama speaks on sex and family and admits he has never been married but it is part of nature he states and its sole purpose is that of reproduction. Sexual relationships must be coupled with a sense of responsibility and commitment. He mentions that marriage is good but “hasty marriage” not so good because people need time to know each other. Marriage is integral to humanity because without it we would resemble animals (dogs) where the male participates in the mating and pleasure but leaves before the responsibility of the offspring settles in. And adds wryly that birth control is a necessity because “compared to violence sex is better.”
The DVD A Practical Way of Directing Love & Compassion includes the following topics: “Like a Mother and her Child;” The Exact Meaning of Love and Compassion;” “Importance of Developing Equanimity & Affection;” “Buddhism Emphasizes the Unity of Wisdom & Compassion;” “Compassion is a Source of Inner Strength.” In both DVDs His Holiness repeats his default advice “attitude it everything.” I found the most impactful statements from the talks on the exact meaning of love and the nature of “pure profits.” I think His Holiness was on to something what’s more showed prescience in his 1993 observation about “the right and wrong demarcation” created by human compassion. For example, he said that Tibetans believe that the warmth of the doctor’s heart is the healer. And when a cure is not affected the doctor is blamed. That thinking wouldn’t wash in the West.
The other challenging issue in compasssion was what he called “economics.” But he could have easily said “capitalism.” His prescience involved something that most investors would not see coming: dual bubble crashes of the housing market and big banks in 2008. Was lack of compassion the root cause here? Was it criminal and irresponsible? The Dalai Lama lands a punch when he speaks of and dares to compare the world of common drug dealers (or drug cartels) to those who find themselves in business and concerned only with “pure profit.”
By aligning the business man with the drug dealer His Holiness makes a bold comparison. His caveat is simple: if a person seeks commercial ventures for pure profit irrespective of the consequences to humanity then that person is equally criminal or as rogue as a thuggish arms dealer. He also waxes on events to come in the world of wealth that would rock the economic foundation of first-world countries. He labels it: “dangerously irresponsible.” His statement arises from an amazing state of clarity. While nothing as widespread as the 2008 market meltdown is simple as the “right and wrong demarcation” he speaks of but many asked where was the compassion when people were thrown out of homes and bilked out of life savings which juxtaposed outright billionaire profit-taking with those just out of work.
I found both DVDs interesting, full of unplanned witty moments, insightful, and another chance for this spiritual leader to demonstrate to the world his full capacity to grasp Western complexity. He has more than enough eloquence to comment on them. However, if you don’t like Buddhism or Eastern wisdom, or advice from men in orange robes that’s okay too, as long as you recognize that “attitude is everything” and I would add so is an open mind.