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DVD Review: The Essence of Mahayana Buddhism with His Holiness the Dalai Lama

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His Holiness begins with an explanation about Mahayana Buddhism: “I cannot express through my English but I will try my best.” With the help of a translator and a patient audience he succeeds in more ways than one in this film about a man on a mission to serve the world.

The chapters in this 50-minute DVD document His Holiness in Britain in 1984: “Basic Mahayana Teaching: The Essence of Buddhism is Compassion”; “Importance of Implementing Buddha’s Teaching in Daily Life”; “Buddhism in Western Culture”; “Questions & Answers.” I will give the gist of a couple of the chapters and an overview of the DVD and in some instances paraphrase for clarity.

His Holiness spoke and said that generally, the essence of Buddhism is compassion. On that basis there must be restraint from hurting others—non-violence. That is the essence of Mahayana teaching. Also it means to go, to help, to serve others, and to do so without selfish feelings. One single person means “one being” but “other” means the rest of sentient beings. He said if you are going to be selfish then be a “wise selfish” because if you help others you will be much happier than before. If you put others first you will be happier in the end, even if you do not expect this benefit. In fact it is better to act without reward or expection of benefit or instant gratification.

About Buddhism in the West, he says that when you start to practice dharma you should not feel great expectation. He mocks, in a gentle manner, the Western way by saying that with your modern facilities you expect everything to come easily and that you create too much expectation at the beginning. Practice and mastery of Mahayana Buddhism takes time. You can lose determination from great expectation and you must understand that progress takes time.

Humanity has religion but the religion does not belong to the country. In the East we think of Hinduism in the East, Christianity as purely a Western religion, and that Buddhism is an eastern religion only. He argues and warns that in the practice of the eastern religions such as Buddhism that one should not isolate oneself from the rest of society. Take the essence and make it adaptable in your environment. It means that if you have a family and a religion that you can practice that faith and remain a faithful member of your family at the same time. That’s a good point because isolationism is often indicative of a cult and that would limit freedom rather than foster it.

He continues, saying that in ancient times, Buddhism flourished in India and then spread to other cultures and countries. It is the same Buddhism today but because of the different cultures we call it Tibetan Buddhism or Indian Buddhism because the religion sits side-by-side with the culture it is found in and adjust to it. Religion can yoke in a Western mode and in the future you can call it Western Buddhism or Scottish Buddhism (laughter). He joked that unless you take some operation to change your appearance then you will be the same whether you are a Buddhist or Christian. Then His Holiness took questions from the audience.

One woman asked if there was any difference in the compassion Mother Theresa practices and exhibits and compassion as Buddhism teaches. His response: the indication of the same result of different teaching; she was from a true Christian teaching, she was such a fine person, a nice lady, but really she was working unselfishly for others. If you compare them then they are the same amount but the cause is not the same, thus the complication. In her case I don’t know unless I had clairvoyance and knew her mind (laughter).

One needs Buddhist compassion but it requires the assistance of wisdom. Buddhists do not accept a creator so there are fundamental differences. Is there a difference in the meaning of your compassion another woman asked. And he answered that without a dictionary he was not sure (laughter). This film concludes with a Q&A session from the audience where His Holiness further clarifies what it means to be a Buddhist who practices true compassion. The world can learn a lot from this holy man who seeks to serve the world with compassion.

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  • Tyler

    This sounds like a great DVD. For me, I think I’d be most interested in the “Buddhism in Western Culture” chapter. I’m reading a great book about the similarities and differences between Buddhism and Christianity- “Jesus and Buddha” by Ed Sherman. It’s gotten me fascinated with the subject, so I just may have to check out this DVD!

  • Justin

    Tyler — I think you got the title wrong! I clicked on the link and the book seems to be called ‘Buddha and Jesus’ by Ed Sherman.