I picked up a new book the other day by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, entitled: How To Be Compassionate: A Handbook For Creating Inner Peace and a Happier World. My purpose in buying the book was to find the common ground between Buddhism and Christianity, and was inspired by my knowledge that Thomas Merton (a Trappist Monk and writer) had meetings with the Dalai Lama. In general terms, according to the Dalai Lama, compassion, even with a little self-interest thrown in, can change us, and in doing so, can change the world.
Well, I picked up the book because I was seeking something, anything that would bring me to a more “enlightened” place. With so much negativity in the country and suffering throughout the world, I thought this book might give me a little bit of hope. In fact I was hoping for a big “aha” moment. What I find as I read it (I’m not finished reading it) is that everything the Dalai Lama says about compassion and its opposite – hatred – is pretty much what my mother taught me all those years ago.
Mom lives her life as a very strong disciple of Christ. And all the things she taught us over the years are based on her strong Christian faith and upbringing. I love this (among other things) about her. She has never wavered from that faith. And even when pressed to take sides, she tempers all decisions with that famous saying: “What would Jesus do (or think, or say)?”
Mom said, “Love your enemy.” Seemed simple enough, until you actually meet someone who wants to be your enemy! It’s hard to love someone who shows you how little they think of you, by ridiculing or teasing, or attempting to discredit you.
The Dalai Lama says: “Without adversaries, you could not fully engage in the practice of patience – tolerance and forbearance.” In fact the enemy, or adversary can be in a sense your guru in helping you to learn altruism.
Mom said, “Be happy with what you’ve got.” I grew up in a family of seven children. Hand-me-downs and cast-offs were the norm. We might get a new piece of clothing now and then, but much of what we wore to school were someone else’s new clothes long before we wore them. I never really felt that we were short-changed.
The Dalai Lama says: “It is better right from the beginning to be content with our material situation…” His basic teaching is that, the world would be a better place if we were more content with having less for ourselves, and less content with what we’ve achieved in the realm of compassionate outreach. Spiritually, we’d be stronger if we didn’t worry so much about having more, while seeking to be of service to others.
And, some of the things that Mom taught us weren’t verbal, but just in her way of living. She still is very content with loving others no matter their political or religious background. If she has prejudices about different lifestyles, she doesn’t wave them around. And Mom’s life wasn’t easy. Uprooting a large family every couple of years to move wherever the military sent Dad could have been nerve-wracking. And yet, she always had an amazing peacefulness about her. Still does. The Dalai Lama calls this a tamed mind, which makes you peaceful, relaxed and happy.
There is more to the book, but I’m a slow reader, and haven’t had a chance to finish reading it yet. I had thought of starting over, making notes about more specifics as I go through it. But, now in thinking about my read so far, maybe I should just take notes from Mom. She and the Dalai Lama have a lot in common.
Mary Boscaino is a free-lance writer, specializing in prayerful spirituality. She has written for Prayables.com and Everyday Christian.