What the Dalai Lama Knows

"The only mistake you can make is to give up hope." I often think of this statement from the Dalai Lama which closed his talk that I attended in 1998. His visit to this country last week heartened many, including President Obama in their meeting at the White House. Take a look here. About to turn 81, His Holiness was 77 when I wrote this blog. Truth ages well. [Ed. Note: This piece originally appeared on Psychology Today, October 21st, 2012, and is republished below in full.]

Photo by Christopher Michel, Licensed under CC BY 2.0
Photo by Christopher Michel, Licensed under CC BY 2.0

What is it about His Holiness the Dalai Lama? I saw him for the first time in 1998 when he spoke at a conference with other Nobel Peace Prize Winners. A little over a week ago he was back in town, once again mesmerizing audiences and inspiring hope. Packed crowds with faces straining for a glimpse of an aging monk, people attentively hanging on his every word, and everyone applauding wildly – how to explain his appeal? His words are so simple that it almost seems that they can go without saying. But he says them. Over and over, he reiterates the beliefs that he insists cross religious, cultural, and time barriers. And I think that the worldwide embrace of his message proves that we know, deep down, some things to be true. Examples from his recent talks:

“Nobody’s against love.”

“Each human being’s happy life depends on community. To get a good crop, you have to take care of the soil. The community is the basis of our happy future, so we have to take care of that.”

“If you face some sort of negative forces, you should practice tolerance. You should practice forgiveness.”

“We all have by nature the sense of love…we can extend our love and compassion infinitely.”

“The very nature of using force or violence is unpredictable.”

“In order to face a new reality, the mind must be calm. Too much negativity, too much suspicion, too much hate, your mind already is one-sided. Your mind cannot see reality objectively.”

“The real beauty is internal beauty.”

Bone simple!!!!!!!!

Eighteenth century Scottish philosopher David Hume wrote of the “force of sympathy” that reverberates throughout human relations. For the most part, Hume maintained, we experience pleasure when others are happy and sorrow when witnessing their pain. Quickly questioned, he admitted the existence of the “bestial lot,” a tiny number of human beings seemingly devoid of any trace of human sympathy. Hume can offer no explanation for this aberrant behavior, acknowledges it and moves on, focusing instead on the great majority for whom some measure of sympathy comes naturally. Even when we devolve into meanness or hatred, we remain aware of our better instincts.

The Dalai Lama salutes those same universal better instincts. He calls us back to our true selves. We’re basically the same, with only “secondary levels of differences.” Recognize sameness – it’s bigger than any difference.

Humor is his ally – his laugh requires no translation. And when asked how he keeps up with his demanding schedule – a 77-year-old lifelong exile, leader of the Tibetan people, globetrotting speaker – anyone can relate to his secret: “good sleep.”

What core beliefs do you know to be true? Do you share any of the Dalai Lama’s convictions? Do you agree with him that, "You should not think that we human beings are something negative and our future is doomed?"