Chill Out: Compassion The Dalai Lama Way

10/16/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Shortly after Deb and I were married we went to India and spent our honeymoon in ashrams and monasteries. We were at McCleod Ganj where the Dalai Lama lives in exile, along with thousands of Tibetan refugees who have escaped Chinese rule. We wanted to meet with the Dalai Lama and were told he had just returned from a conference with the Pope and the heads of all major religions in Assisi, Italy.

The following day we were scheduled for an interview. While we were waiting I was standing on the veranda of the Dalai Lama's palace, overwhelmed by the beauty of the vast Himalayan mountain range stretching in front of me, when I saw a monk at the further end of the veranda trying to get my attention and beckoning me to come.

I called for Deb, thinking we were being taken in to see the Dalai Lama, but as we approached the monk we realized that he was the Dalai Lama! In traditional Buddhist custom, we immediately began to prostrate but he took our hands and lifted us up, saying, "We are all equal here."

Within minutes I felt I was with the most compassionate being I had ever met. He was instantly warm and friendly, like an old friend, but he also made me feel as if I was the most important person in the world to him, as if nothing mattered more than the three if us being together. He radiated kindness and true presence.

In him I saw the meaning of real compassion, someone who was so ordinary, so simple, and his feelings for others so genuine. Deb and I spent about 45 minutes with him. Looking into his eyes, I saw both all of the suffering of the world and oceans of compassion. In Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama is known as Chenrezig, which means the Embodiment of Compassion, but as he says himself, "My religion is kindness."

Compassion is probably the most important quality any of us could live by as it allows us to live with sanity and love. It is the wish that all beings are free from suffering. And that includes yourself!

Every time you see suffering, every time you feel suffering, whether in yourself or in another, every time you make a mistake or say something stupid and are just about to do yourself in, every time you think of someone you are having a hard time with, every time you encounter the confusion and difficulty of being human, every time you see someone else struggling, upset or irritated, you can transform it into acceptance, loving kindness and compassion, for that is also who you are. Just a few breaths of this will bring armfuls of compassion into any situation. It's like a band-aid made in the heart.

We can be compassionate because it is the foundation of who we are. Any of us are capable of losing our cool, losing connectedness to our hearts, losing perspective, getting caught up in hot emotions and causing harm. That is why compassion for yourself is as important as compassion for others. Compassion for yourself enables you to transform fear, anger or resentment into forgiveness, acceptance and friendliness. By knowing your own pain and sadness, so you can more easily offer compassion to others.

Compassion is the willingness to witness and be with everything we see around us, not to turn away from it or pretend it is not there: the hungry, the victims of abuse, the injustice, the senseless fighting, the homeless, the fear of the enemy. It is easy to feel hopeless, to want to walk away from it all, but compassion means we cannot be indifferent and uncaring. In recognizing our essential interconnectedness we cannot separate ourselves from anyone else.

I wake each day and repeat, "May all beings be happy and free from suffering."