'My Spiritual Journey,' by The Dalai Lama
The following is an excerpt from the Dalai Lama's latest book, "My Spiritual Journey," a collection of personal memories, anecdotes and reflections on his boyhood in Tibet, his early life as a monk and his experiences as a world leader living in exile:
I am a professional laugher
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 homeless 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.
As a child, I learned from my teachers to take care of the environment
As a little boy, when I was studying Buddhism, I was taught to take care of nature, since the practice of nonviolence applies not just to human beings but to all sentient beings. Everything that is animate possesses consciousness. Wherever there is consciousness, there are feelings like pain, pleasure, and joy. No sentient being wants to suffer. On the contrary, all beings search for happiness. In Buddhist practice, we are so used to this idea of nonviolence and to the wish to put an end to all suffering that we are careful not to attack or destroy life unwittingly. Obviously, we do not believe that the trees or flowers have a mind, but we treat them with respect. So we assume a sense of universal responsibility toward humanity and nature.
Our belief in reincarnation explains our concern for the future. If you think you are going to be reborn, you make it your duty to protect certain things so that, in the future, your incarnation will profit from it. Even though you could be reborn on another planet, the idea
of reincarnation motivates you to take care of the Earth and of future generations.
In the West, when we speak of "humanity," we are usually referring merely to the present generation. The humanity of the past no longer exists. The humanity of the future, like death, does not yet exist. From a Western standpoint, we are concerned with the practical aspect of things, solely for the present generation.
Tibetan feelings toward nature stem from our customs in general and not just from Buddhism. If you take the example of Buddhism in Japan or Thailand, in environments different from our own, the culture and behavior are not the same. Tibet's natural environment, which is like no other, has had a strong influence on us. Tibetans do not live on a small overpopulated island. Throughout history we did not worry about our vast, sparsely populated territory, or about our distant neighbors. We did not have the feeling of being oppressed, unlike many other communities.
It is perfectly possible to practice the essence of a faith or a culture without associating it with a religion. Our Tibetan culture, although largely inspired by Buddhism, does not draw all its philosophy from it. Once I suggested to an organization aiding Tibetan refugees that it would be interesting to study how much our people have been shaped by their traditional mode of life. What are the factors that make Tibetans calm and good-natured? People always look for the answer in our religion, which is unique, forgetting that our environment is also unique.
The protection of nature is not necessarily a sacred activity, and it does not always require compassion. As Buddhists, we are compassionate toward all sentient beings, but not necessarily toward each stone, tree, or habitation. Most of us take care of our own house,
without feeling any compassion for it. Similarly, our planet is our house, and we should maintain it with care, to ensure our happiness and the happiness of our children, of our friends, and of all the sentient beings who share this great dwelling place. If we think of our
planet as our house or our "mother," our Mother Earth, we will necessarily take care of it.
Today we understand that the future of humanity depends on our planet, whose future depends on humanity. But that has not always been so clear. Until now, our Mother Earth has been able to tolerate our neglect. Today, however, human behavior, the population, and
technology have reached such a degree that our Mother Earth can no longer accept it in silence. "My children are behaving badly," she warns to make us realize that there are boundaries that should not be passed.
As Tibetan Buddhists, we advocate temperance, which is not unconnected to the environment, since we do not consume anything immoderately. We set limits on our habits of consumption, and we appreciate a simple, responsible way of life. Our relationship to the environment has always been special. Our ancient scriptures speak of the vessel and its contents. The world is the vessel, our house, and we, the living, are its contents.
The result of this is a special relationship to nature, since, without the container, the contents cannot be contained. It is not at all reprehensible for humans to use natural resources to serve their needs, but we should not exploit nature beyond what is strictly necessary. It is essential to reexamine from an ethical standpoint the share we have received, the share for which we are all responsible, and the share we are going to hand down to future generations. Obviously, our generation is going through a critical stage. We have access to forms of global communication, and yet conflicts occur more often than dialogues to build peace. The wonders of science and technology coexist along with many tragedies like world hunger and the extinction of certain forms of life. We devote ourselves to space exploration when the oceans, seas, and freshwater resources are becoming more and more polluted. It is possible that the peoples of the Earth, the animals, plants, insects, and even microorganisms will be unknown to future generations. We must act before it is too late.