The Dalai Lama on Finding Contentment in a Troubled World

On the Today show, Ann Curry asks the Dalai Lama:  How can we find contentment when we are faced with so many difficulties in the world today like war, a bad economy, oil spills, and other disasters?  Listen to the Dalai Lama’s advice and optimistic response in this 7-minute video.

Please share this with others.  We all need hope and encouragement in these troubled times.

A Magical Recipe for the Supreme Emotion

Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama

Imagine the most sublime emotion possible.  What would that be?

Here’s the magical recipe.  Take one part each:

*love
*affection
*kindness
*compassion
*gentleness
*generosity of spirit
*warm-heartedness
*sympathy
*endearment

Blend, shake, mix, rock n’roll.

What do you get? 

Nying je.

Nying je?  What’s that?

It’s a Tibetan word usually translated as ‘compassion.’  But, it contains far more meaning, as the Dalai Lama explains:

” [Nying je] has a wealth of meaning that is difficult to convey succinctly, though the ideas it conveys are universally understood.  It connotes love, affection, kindness, gentleness, generosity of spirit, and warm-heartedness.  It is also used as a term of both sympathy and of endearment.  On the other hand, it does not imply “pity” as the word compassion may.  On the contrary nying je denotes a feeling of connection with others, reflecting its origin in empathy.

“…It is both the source and the result of patience, tolerance, forgiveness, and all good qualities.”

My heart lit up when I discovered this amazing word.  It gathers together so many wondrous qualities that we all wish for at our very core.  It also expresses the inescapable sense of interconnection that exists among all that is alive.

Empathy + Reason = Compassion

Nying je – we’ll say compassion for short, arises from empathy.

The Dalai Lama believes that empathy is a universal quality within all of us.  He describes it as  “the inability to bear the sight of another’s suffering.”   It is one of our most important characteristics because it allows us to connect with and enter into another’s pain.

This sense of empathy may be deeply submerged in some individuals, but the basic predisposition is never fully erased.  Our basic nature is to be empathetic and, from this empathy, compassion arises. We all share a capacity for loving-kindness and we all need loving-kindness to thrive.

Although it’s not our fundamental nature, we also have the capacity for negative emotions and actions.  This is why we need to actively cultivate positive qualities – to override our negative emotions and resulting negative actions.  Those pesky difficult emotions which have come habitual.

This is the good news. Compassion belongs to the category of emotions that have a more developed cognitive component as opposed to those that are instinctual. Compassion is a combination of empathy and reason.  Thus it is far different than emotions like anger and lust, which only bring us trouble.

We can use our natural empathy as a starting point and employ reason to grow our love and compassion.  We can win out over negativity through regular practice of all the marvelous qualities that make up compassion.

In fact, the more we give birth to kindness and compassion, the more ethical our behavior becomes.  Not only that, we ourselves experience more happiness and inner peace and less suffering too.

Actively practicing compassion breaks down our habitual preoccupation with self, which typically brings us suffering.  Compassion also brings a sense of inner peace within our own hearts that radiates peace to everyone around us.  Sounds good, doesn’t it?

The Dalai Lama ask us,

“Could anything be more sublime than that which brings happiness and peace to all?”

Compassion – with its full spectrum of life-enhancing qualities – is the supreme emotion.  It is the most powerful means to bring about inner and outer harmony throughout the world.

An Appeal from the Dalai Lama to You

This is Part 5 of my series A Simple Guide to Inner and Outer Harmony based on Ethics for a New Millennium by the Dalai Lama.  The Dalai Lama concludes with this appeal:

“Therefore, with my two hands jointed, I appeal to you the reader to ensure that you make the rest of your life as meaningful as possible. Do this by engaging in spiritual practice if you can.  As I hope I have made clear, there is nothing mysterious about this.  It consists in nothing more than acting our of concern for others.  And provided you undertake this practice sincerely and with persistence, little by little, step by step you will gradually be able to reorder your habits and attitudes so that you  think less about your own narrow concerns and more of others’.  In doing so you will find that your enjoy peace and happiness yourself.

Compassion is the magic that will bring about your own happiness and the happiness of the world!  Please share the secret.  Please be the secret.

What are your thoughts on the empathy, reason, and compassion?  Do you think compassion is the supreme emotion?

A Simple Guide to Inner and Outer Harmony

In this 5-Part Series, we’ve taken a journey through the first five chapters of Ethics for a New Millennium.  Here are the key points that we’ve covered:

  • The vast majority of the problems in the world today are man-made.
  • Only a spiritual revolution can fully change the world. We need to take practical action too, but without a spiritual revolution, there is no hope.
  • By “spiritual revolution” the Dalai Lama means the rekindling of basic human values like kindness, compassion, tolerance, and forgiveness among others. These qualities of the human spirit need not be linked to religion. They can be cultivated by one and all.
  • We all wish to be happy and we all wish to avoid suffering.
  • It’s simply the nature of reality that we are all inextricably interconnected. Due to this interconnectedness, helping others ultimately helps you whereas harming others, harms you.
  • True abiding happiness does not come about from possessions or sensory experiences.  In fact, the transitory happiness that comes from possessions or sensory experiences only leads to more suffering.
  • True happiness arises from inner peace.  It is a stable sense of serenity, calm, and contentment that does not depend on external factors or circumstances.
  • We can alter our attitude and our actions to cultivate a greater sense of inner peace.
  • Altruism is an essential component to those actions which lead to genuine happiness.
  • Actions inspired by the wish to help others are the most effective way to bring about lasting happiness.
  • Love and compassion – which also encompasses affection, kindness, compassion, gentleness, generosity of spirit, warm-heartedness, sympathy, and endearment – arises from empathy.
  • Empathy – the inability to bear the sight of another’s suffering – is a universal emotion.
  • Compassion belongs to the category of emotions with a developed cognitive component.  Therefore, we can use reason to grown our compassion.
  • Compassion brings about happiness for all.  For this reason, it is the supreme emotion.

Please consider reading this remarkable book yourself.  These are the topics covered in the remaining two sections of the book.

  • The Ethic of Restraint
  • The Ethic of Virtue
  • The Ethic of Compassion
  • Ethics and Suffering
  • The Need for Discernment
  • Universal Responsibility
  • Levels of Commitment
  • Ethics in Society
  • Peace and Disarmament
  • The Role of Religion in Modern Society
  • An Appeal

Thank you for reading and being a part of this wonderful journey into the heart of compassion.  If you haven’t done so already, I hope you will enjoy the other articles in this series – A Simple Guide to Inner and Outer Harmony – based on Ethics for a New Millennium by the Dalai Lama.

Image of the Dalai Lama from his Facebook Page.

Please let your friends know about this article by using the share buttons below.  Every share helps me reach out to others.  Thanks so much for your support!  Sandra

Share

Happiness Is An Inside Job

Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama

Are you happy?

What makes you happy?  Does your happiness depend on external factors?

What would happen to your happiness if circumstances changed?

Truth be told, most of us spend our lives chasing after transitory moments of happiness, without ever recognizing the possibility for genuine, lasting happiness.  Did you know there’s a difference between transitory happiness and genuine happiness?

This is Part 4 of my series on Inner and Outer Harmony is based on advice from the Dalai Lama.

In Part 1 the Dalai Lama reviewed the man-made challenges we face today and concluded that only a spiritual revolution can fully change the world. We need to take practical action too, but without a spiritual revolution, there is no hope.

In Part 2, he clarified precisely what he means by a “spiritual revolution” – the rekindling of basic human values like kindness, compassion, tolerance, and forgiveness among others. These qualities of the human spirit need not be linked to religion. They can be cultivated by one and all.

In Part 3, we explored the Dalai Lama’s view of the nature of reality, which illustrates how we are all inextricably connected for better or for worse, the choice is ours.  Due to this interconnectedness, helping others ultimately helps you whereas harming others, harms you.

Happiness:  The Fundamental Facts

There are some fundamental truths about happiness, which you can easily confirm by taking a solid look at your own experience of life.  Here they are:

1. We all wish to be happy and we all wish to avoid suffering.

2. While material possessions and enjoyable sensory experiences can bring about happiness it is only a fleeting, temporary state of mind.  The new car breaks down, the bathwater gets cold, our stomach aches after a rich meal.  Whatever causes our happiness in the first place eventually changes and thus our happiness also dissolves. Possessions and experiences actually contain the “seed of suffering.”

3. The transitory nature of this type of happiness – the kind that depends on external factors – only leads us to crave more and more.  This put us into an endless cycle of seeking the next object or experience that will bring gratification.  As one astute Indian writer once said, “Indulging our senses and drinking salt water are alike: the more we partake, the more our desire and thirst grow.”

4. If we take this perspective on the transitory nature of happiness to heart, we realize it’s a mistake to place too much emphasis on material development and material possessions.  True and lasting happiness can never come from gratifying the senses alone.

5. Human beings have the capacity to experience a deeper happiness than that which is evoked by a material or sensory pleasure.  A deeper level of happiness can even override unhappiness or pain. For example, a person who donates a kidney so that another can live will surely go through suffering, but this sense of suffering will be secondary to the sense of fulfillment derived from saving a person’s life.

In short, transitory happiness almost always results in suffering.  It is fundamentally flawed because you can never get enough.

Now please don’t take the Dalai Lama’s word for it. He always encourages you to think through the logic for yourself and arrive at a deeper experience of the conclusion.  Take a good look at your own life experience.  Are these facts about regular happiness true for you?

What is genuine, lasting happiness?

The Dalai Lama clearly distinguishes between transitory happiness and what he calls lasting or genuine happiness.

So what is genuine or lasting happiness, you might ask?  The Dalai Lama explains his own experience of genuine happiness like this,

“…so far as basic serenity is concerned, on most days I am calm and contented.  Even when difficulties arise, as they must, I am usually not much bothered by them.  I have no hesitation in saying that I am happy.”

The Dalai Lama says that in his own experience, the principal characteristic of genuine happiness is inner peace.  This is how we can explain the fact that some people who are abundantly endowed on the material plane feel constantly plagued by a sense of discontentment.  On the other hand, we find individuals in the most dire of circumstances who are able to remain happy nevertheless.

“If we can develop this quality of inner peace, no matter what difficulties we meet with in life, our basic sense of well-being will not be undermined.”

You might argue that good health, friends, freedom, and prosperity all contribute to our fundamental sense of well-being.  This is true and shouldn’t be discounted.  But they aren’t unchanging or reliable.  We can see for ourselves, these factors are all transitory and often become the cause of suffering in themselves.  These factors cannot bring about lasting happiness on their own, which is independent of external circumstances.

True happiness then arises from inner peace.  It is a stable sense of serenity, calm, and contentment that does not depend on external factors or circumstances.

How Do We Achieve Genuine Happiness?

If genuine happiness arises from a sense of inner peace, as the Dalai Lama proposes, then – like any other task in life – we need to identify its causes and conditions and set about cultivating them.  He defines two conditions which contribute to inner peace:  our attitude and our actions.

To achieve happiness, we need to cultivate the attitudes and actions that are conducive to inner peace and to avoid attitudes and actions that might obstruct it.  Attitudes and actions are two elements of life that are fully within the realm of your control.  Granted, it may take time, dedication, and practice to change the habits of your mind but it’s eminently doable.

As unbelievable as it may seem, even the Dalai Lama was, in his earlier years, somewhat hot-tempered, impatient, and even prone to anger.  Now he’s calm and serene. What changed?  His attitude.  He diligently trained in cultivating love and kindness, while simultaneously practiced dissolving anger whenever it arose.

You too can find inner peace and happiness because it is possible to change the habits of your mind and adopt new attitudes.

The Dalai Lama has observed that the actions that bring about lasting peace are generally those that involve doing something worthwhile and beneficial for others – ones that bring about happiness for both ourselves and others.  He believes that “altruism is an essential component to those actions which lead to genuine happiness.”

The Dalai Lama differentiates an ethical act and a spiritual act. He says,

“An ethical act is one where we refrain from causing harm to other’s experience or expectation of happiness. Spiritual acts we can describe in terms of those qualities mentioned earlier of love, compassion, patience, forgiveness humility, tolerance, and so on which presume some level of concern for other’s well-being.  We find that the spiritual actions we undertake which are motivated not by narrow self-interest but out of our concern for others actually benefit ourselves.  And not only that, they make our lives meaningful.”

Actions inspired by the wish to help others are the most effective way to bring about lasting happiness. These positive actions also lessen our own experience of suffering.  Why is that?  When we are in the midst of helping someone else,  we are less focused on our own worries and problems and thus suffer less.

The Dalai Lama concludes,

“…because our every action has a universal dimension, a potential impact on other’s happiness, ethics are necessary as a means to ensure that we do not harm others. …genuine happiness consists in those spiritual qualities of love and compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, humility, and so on.  It is these which provide happiness for both ourselves and others.”

This doesn’t mean being a martyr or perpetual giver. It simply means having a good heart and consistently extending yourself on the behalf of others.  It means dedicating yourself to cultivating positive qualities like being more loving, tolerant, forgiving and to decreasing negative emotions like anger and ill will.  As explained in Part 3, it makes sense to help others even from a selfish perspective because – in the end – helping helps you whereas harming harms you.

The Dalai Lama is asking us to take quite a leap here. Frankly, most of our lives revolve around the notion of acquiring moments of transitory happiness via possessions and experiences.  There’s even a whole slew of personal development bloggers that will tell you that you can live whatever life you want and be rich too.  On the other hand, pioneers in the minimalist movement will tell you that less is more.  They say that overindulgence in material possessions brings more headaches and heartaches than happiness.

What do you think?  What is genuine happiness in your view?  Do you think altruism is an essential component for lasting happiness?

This series – A Simple Guide to Inner and Outer Harmony is based on Ethics for a New Millennium by the Dalai Lama.

Image of the Dalai Lama from his Facebook Page.

Please let your friends know about this article by using the share buttons below.  Every share helps me reach out to others.  Thanks so much for your support!  Sandra