A Servant of Compassion

MY SPIRITUAL AUTOBIOGRAPHY Dalai Lama

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I have been confronted with many difficult circumstances throughout the course of my life, and my country is going through a critical period. But I laugh often, and my laughter is contagious. When people ask me how I find the strength to laugh now, I reply that I am a professional laugher. Laughing is a characteristic of the Tibetans, who are different in this from the Japanese or the Indians. They are very cheerful, like the Italians, rather than a little reserved, like the Germans or the English.

My cheerfulness also comes from my family. I come from a small village, not a big city, and our way of life is more jovial. We are always amusing ourselves, teasing each other, joking. It’s our habit.

To that is added, as I often say, the responsibility of being realistic. Of course problems are there. But thinking only of the negative aspect doesn’t help to find solutions, and it destroys peace of mind. Everything, though, is relative. You can see the positive side of even the worst of tragedies if you adopt a holistic perspective. If you take the negative as absolute and definitive, however, you increase your worries and anxiety, whereas by broadening the way you look at a problem, you understand what is bad about it, but you accept it. This attitude comes to me, I think, from my practice and from Buddhist philosophy, which help me enormously.

Take the loss of our country, for example. We are a stateless people, and we must confront adversity along with many painful circumstances in Tibet itself. Nevertheless, such experiences also bring many benefits.

As for me, I have been without a settled home for half a century. But I have found a large number of new homes throughout the vast world. If I had remained at the Potala, I don’t think I would have had the chance to meet so many personalities, so many heads of state in Asia, Taiwan, the United States, and Europe, popes as well as many famous scientists and economists.

The life of exile is an unfortunate life, but I have always tried to cultivate a happy state of mind, appreciating the opportunities this existence without a settled home, far from all protocol, has offered me. This way I have been able to preserve my inner peace.

Compassion, path of my happiness
A big question underlies our experience, whether or not we are aware of it: What is the meaning of life? I have thought about this, and I would like to share my thoughts on this subject.
I believe that the aim of life is to be happy. From birth, every human being aspires to happiness and does not want to suffer. Social conditions, education, and ideology do not affect these tendencies of our deepest being. That is why it is important to find out what will bring us the most happiness.

First, we divide happiness and suffering into two main categories, mental and physical. But it is the mind that exercises the most influence over us. Unless we are seriously ill or deprived of necessities, our physical condition plays a secondary role in life. When the body is satisfied, we’re almost not aware of it. The mind, on the other hand, registers the slightest event, no matter how minor it is. So we must devote our efforts to developing peace of mind.

According to my own experience, the highest level of inner calm comes from the development of love and compassion. The more concerned we are with the happiness of others, the more we increase our own well-being.

Friendliness and warmth towards others relax mental tensions and help us to dissipate fears or insecurity so that we can overcome obstacles. That is the ultimate source of success in life.

In this world, where we are bound to encounter difficulties, if we lose hope and become discouraged, we reduce our ability to face things. What’s more, if we remember that everyone, not just ourselves, has to experience suffering, this realistic perspective reinforces our determination and our ability to overcome difficulty. In fact, with this attitude, every new obstacle will be regarded as a good opportunity to improve our state of mind!

That is how we can gradually strive for more compassion – by cultivating both real sympathy when faced with the suffering of others and a desire to help them free themselves of it. In this way our own serenity and inner strength will increase.

I love the smile, unique to humans
If we are content just to think that compassion, rationality, and patience are good, that is not actually enough to develop these qualities. Difficulties provide the occasion to put them into practice. Who can make such occasions arise? Certainly not our friends, but rather our enemies, for they are the ones who pose the most problems. So that if we truly want to progress on the path, we must regard our enemies as our best teachers.

For whoever holds love and compassion in high esteem, the practice of tolerance is essential, and it requires an enemy. We must be grateful to our enemies, then, because they help us best engender a serene mind! Anger and hatred are the real enemies that we must confront and defeat, not the ‘enemies’ who appear from time to time in our lives.

Of course it is natural and right that we all want to have friends. I often say jokingly that a truly selfish person must be altruistic! You have to take care of others, of their well-being, by helping them and serving them, to have even more friends and make more smiles blossom. The result? When you yourself need help, you will find all you need! On the other hand, if you neglect others’ happiness, you will be the loser in the long run. Is friendship born of arguments, anger, jealousy, and unbridled competition? I don’t think so. Only affection produces authentic friends.

In contemporary materialistic society, if you have money and power, you have the impression of having a lot of friends. But they aren’t your friends; they are the friends of your money and power. If you lose your wealth and influence, you will have trouble finding those people again.
Unfortunately, so long as things are going well, we think we can get along all by ourselves. However, as our situation and health decline, we soon realise how wrong we were. That is when we understand who really helps us. To prepare ourselves for such a time, by making true friends who are useful when we need them most, we must cultivate altruism.

As for me, I always want more friends. I love smiles, and my wish is to see more smiles, real smiles, for there are many kinds – sarcastic, artificial, or diplomatic. Some smiles don’t arouse satisfaction, and some even engender suspicion or fear. An authentic smile, though, arouses an authentic feeling of freshness, and I think the smile belongs only to human beings. If we want those smiles, we must create the reasons that make them appear.

From My Spiritual Autobiography, ©2010 by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, published by Rider, an imprint of Ebury Publishing. Available from Cygnus Books.