Holy man in the Holy Land

The Dalai Lama teaches compassion isn't just being nice, it's a logical practice.

dalai lama 298 88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
dalai lama 298 88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The arrival of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama in Israel yesterday has generated only mild attention from the general public. After all, what relevance to the lives of ordinary Israelis can this venerable Buddhist monk (and Nobel peace laureate) bring? The answer is: A great deal. We need only appreciate what a rare opportunity we have to learn from one of the most respected religious figures in the world, one whose concern for our own concerns is untainted by history or culture. After all, he is not a Muslim, a Christian or a Jew. We can learn from his kindness. Kindness, he has said, is his religion in a single word. Wouldn't it be grand if more of our religious thinkers and writers could achieve that economy of expression? It's simple to be kind, it's a practice we all need, and it will always make our days better. "To be happy is easy," he said, "Because when you make someone else happy, you always get happy yourself. So, you see, twice the happy but only half the work." Try that on anyone. It always works. We can learn from his scholarship. The Dalai Lama is no devotional guru followed by the faithful. His Holiness is a keen scholar, conversant in many languages, and the author of numerous books. His wisdom lies in the same economy of thought. He believes that making an effort to end violence, anger and anxiety both in our world and in ourselves is essential even if everything - to a pure Buddhist - is temporary. He teaches: "As anger is a phenomenon, like all other phenomena it cannot exist without dependence on other phenomena. Hence it cannot be eternal. It would be useless to work against an eternal state, but since all negative states are phenomena, we have both the opportunity to change them, and with proper effort, to end them." COMPASSION isn't just being nice, it's a logical practice. We can learn from him as a warrior: "All beings want exactly the same things, they want to be happy, and they don't want to suffer." It takes real strength of mind to extend that line of thought to those we consider unalterable enemies and political opponents, but it is true. Tibetans, like all Buddhists, say we have lived countless lives before this one, so every person has been your mother in some previous life. His Holiness uses that image when admonishing young Tibetans not to take the path of violence. Every Chinese soldier was, after all, their mother in some previous life and remember, all they want is to be happy and not suffer. SO WHY can't we all get over the differences and live in peace? Because of the one thing Buddhists really hate. Ignorance. The Dalai Lama never stops his ongoing attack on the ignorance that leads us astray, and tricks us into stupid acts based on our dreams and our fears rather than the basic goodness of every living creature. He's been fighting all his life. Just one year after the creation of the State of Israel, Mao Zedong gained control of China and began his march on Tibet. As the Jews came home to Israel, the Tibetans suffered their Diaspora. In 1954, still in his teens, the Dalai Lama fled his homeland, and has lived in exile since while he works tirelessly for his people. He comes to Israel to talk to us about collective and universal responsibility, our daily responsibility to use our precious human bodies and minds to truly act like humans. He comes to honor the 100th anniversary of the aliya of David Ben-Gurion. Israel's first premier awoke every day to engage in his daily practice of yoga, a discipline near and dear to this wise monk and world leader. How can a man endure the life he has had to endure, and still find the strength to enthusiastically ask us to consider our own worth, and join his fight to be kind and compassionate to all? Through the same meditation and the same yoga and the same belief in a better world that helped preserve the strength and wisdom of Ben-Gurion during his long life. The Dalai Lama is a highly spiritual being, (as was Ben-Gurion in his day). There will be no official government welcome ceremonies for His Holiness. For some the visit will go largely unnoticed. Except, that is, for those who manage to attend one of his appearances. Most of those will, I believe, be changed for life. They will carry his smile, and his kind common sense, with them forever. The writer holds a master of theological studies degree from Harvard Divinity School and is currently an instructor in Intercultural Dialogue at the Institute for Mindfulness in Cambridge, Massachusetts.