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An Open Heart - Practising Compassion in Everyday Life

by the Dalai Lama

listed in meditation

[Image: An Open Heart - Practising Compassion in Everyday Life]

I believe that every human being has an innate desire for happiness and does not want to suffer. I also believe that the very purpose of life is to experience this happiness. I believe that each of us has the same potential to develop inner peace and thereby achieve happiness and joy. Whether we are rich or poor, educated or uneducated, black or white, from the East or the West, our potential is equal. We are all the same, mentally and emotionally. Though some of us have larger noses and the color of our skin may differ slightly, physically we are basically the same. The differences are minor. Our mental and emotional similarity is what is important.

We share troublesome emotions as well as the positive ones that bring us inner strength and tranquillity. I think that it is important for us to be aware of our potential and let this inspire our self-confidence. Sometimes we look at the negative side of things and then feel hopeless. This, I think, is a wrong view.

I have no miracle to offer you. If someone has miraculous powers, then I shall seek this person's help. Frankly, I am skeptical of those who claim extraordinary powers. However, through training our minds, with constant effort, we can change our mental perceptions or mental attitudes. This can make a real difference in our lives.

If we have a positive mental attitude, then even when surrounded by hostility, we shall not lack inner peace. On the other hand, if our mental attitude is more negative, influenced by fear, suspicion, helplessness, or self-loathing, then even when surrounded by our best friends, in a nice atmosphere and comfortable surroundings, we shall not be happy. So, mental attitude is very important: it makes a real difference to our state of happiness.

I think that it is wrong to expect that our problems can be solved by money or material benefit. It is unrealistic to believe that something positive can come about merely from something external. Of course, our material situation is important and helpful to us. However, our inner, mental attitudes are equally important – if not more so. We must learn to steer away from pursuing a life of luxury, as it is an obstacle to our practice.

It sometimes seems to me that it is the fashion for people to put too much emphasis on material development and neglect their inner values. We must therefore develop a better balance between material preoccupations and inner spiritual growth. I think it natural for us to act as social animals. Our good qualities are what I would call true human values. We should work at increasing and sustaining qualities like sharing with one another and caring for one another. We must also respect the rights of others. We thereby recognize that our own future happiness and welfare is dependent on the many other members of our society.

In my case, at the age of sixteen I lost my freedom, and at twenty-four I lost my country. I have been a refugee for the past forty years, with heavy responsibilities. As I look back, my life has not been easy. However, throughout all these years, I learned about compassion, about caring for others. This mental attitude has brought me inner strength. One of my favorite prayers is

So long as space remains,

So long as sentient beings remain,I will remain,In order to help, in order to serve,In order to make my own contribution.

That sort of thinking brings one inner strength and confidence. It has brought purpose to my life. No matter how difficult or complicated things may be, if we have this type of mental attitude, we can have inner peace.

Again, I must emphasize that we are the same! Some of you may have the impression that the Dalai Lama is somehow different. That is absolutely wrong. I am a human being like all of you. We have the same potential.

Spiritual growth need not be based on religious faith. Let us speak of secular ethics.

I believe that the methods by which we increase our altruism, our sense of caring for others and developing the attitude that our own individual concerns are less important than those of others, are common to all major religious traditions. Though we may find differences in philosophical views and rites, the essential message of all religions is very much the same. They all advocate love, compassion, and forgiveness. And even those who do not believe in religion can appreciate the virtues of basic human values.

Since our very existence and well-being are a result of the cooperation and contributions of countless others, we must develop a proper attitude about the way we relate to them. We often tend to forget this basic fact. Today, in our modem global economy, national boundaries are irrelevant. Not only do countries depend upon one another, but so do continents. We are heavily interdependent.

When we look closely at the many problems facing humanity today, we can see that they have been created by us. I am not talking of natural disasters. However, conflicts, bloodshed, problems arising out of nationalism and national boundaries, are all man-made.

If we looked down at the world from space, we would not see any demarcations of national boundaries. We would simply see one small planet, just one. Once we draw a line in the sand, we develop the feeling of "us" and "them." As this feeling grows, it becomes harder to see the reality of the situation. In many countries in Africa, and recently in some eastern European countries such as the former Yugoslavia, there is great narrow-minded nationalism.

In a sense the concept of "us" and "them" is almost no longer relevant, as our neighbors' interests are ours as well. Caring for our neighbors' interests is essentially caring for our own future. Today the reality is simple. In harming our enemy, we are harmed.

I find that because of modern technological evolution and our global economy, and as a result of the great increase in population, our world has greatly changed: it has become much smaller. However, our perceptions have not evolved at the same pace; we continue to cling to old national demarcations and the old feelings of "us" and "them."

War seems to be part of the history of humanity. As we look at the situation of our planet in the past, countries, regions, and even villages were economically independent of one another. Under those circumstances, the destruction of our enemy might have been a victory for us. There was a relevance to violence and war. However, today we are so interdependent that the concept of war has become outdated. When we face problems or disagreements today, we have to arrive at solutions through dialogue. Dialogue is the only appropriate method. One-sided victory is no longer relevant. We must work to resolve conflicts in a spirit of reconciliation and always keep in mind the interests of others. We cannot destroy our neighbors! We cannot ignore their interests! Doing so would ultimately cause us to suffer. I therefore think that the concept of violence is now unsuitable. Nonviolence is the appropriate method.

Nonviolence does not mean that we remain indifferent to a problem. On the contrary, it is important to be fully engaged. However, we must behave in a way that does not benefit us alone. We must not harm the interests of others. Nonviolence therefore is not merely the absence of violence. It involves a sense of compassion and caring. It is almost a manifestation of compassion. I strongly believe that we must promote such a concept of nonviolence at the level of the family as well as at the national and international levels. Each individual has the ability to contribute to such compassionate nonviolence.

Sandra Goodman PhD
Hodder & Stoughton

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