The Dalai Lama and Buddhism: A Perspective
In my personal opinion, religion as contrasted to spirituality is interwoven but may stand out as two separate entities on their own merits. While religion is handed down to mankind through the ages, and may be, to some considered man-made, spirituality falls in the realms of cultivating the inner self to the goodness of humanity and the development of a collective sense of harmony both with the external environment and individuals around us and the internal universe within us. Thus, I see Buddhism as a doctrinaire to follow in the art of living, more spiritual in nature than religious, excluding as it does the existence of a God which is central to most religions.
Thus, that the Dalai Lama is considered a ‘ spiritual head’ instead of a religious one comes as little or no surprise for me. The present Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, now exiled in India, however does raise queries in mind- is he the end of a spiritual era, claiming as he does that he may or may not be re-incarnated in the next life- perhaps following the traditions of many bodhisattvas who refrain from reincarnation and maha nirvana-or finding the ultimate peace as is theorized by Buddhists- in order to relinquish the world from suffering, and stating as he had in a press release to the Polish press in the mid-70’s that the office of Dalai Lama, which was created for the purport of social benefit, was fast coming to the end of its benefit to mankind.
In my opinion, the Dalai Lama’s role as spiritual leader smacks on the theories of engaged spirituality which encompasses the gamut of spiritual and religious individuals who endeavor to transform the world collectively and individually through societal betterment. With progressive political ideology tempered with compassion and peace, engaged spiritualists such as the Dalai Lama temper the polity with the philosophy of goodness and well-being towards the world. Indeed, the Dalai Lama’s extensive travels to troubled regions of the world, political et al, as peace-maker delving into the values and mores of the Buddhist 8-Fold Path as a means of synchronizing the world into a harmonious unit is an outstanding example of engaged spirituality. To quote the Dalai Lama himself:”There can be no peace as long as there is grinding poverty, social injustice, inequality, oppression, environmental degradation and as long as the weak shall continue to be downtrodden by the mighty and powerful.” His message grows in intensity through another of his quotes:” who provides the opportunity to cultivate patience? Not our friends! Our enemies give us the most crucial chance to grow.”
I feel this last quote to be one of the best examples that links the world of Tibetan spirituality to that of engaged spirituality, both of which cultivate the growth of the inner self and consciousness with collective efforts towards the betterment of society. Indeed, in verses taken from Tibetan Buddhism which hone at developing the mind, persona, inner consciousness in an attempt to bring about a uniformity to the polarities of the external world, the realms of engaged spirituality are once again enhanced- and advocated by His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, Tibet’s 14th spiritual head. These verses enshrine teachings similar to the teachings of Christ and support the co- dependence of all ‘ human beings on one another for sustenance, comfort, joy, economic and social interdependence. Social change is brought about only when inner spiritual awakening harnesses with the collective towards betterment. Again, in teachings reminiscent of Christianity- the proverb to turn the other cheek- the Dalai Lama advocates that to all those who provoke us into anger, jealousy and emotional defilements we should exercise our inner desires for goodness- thereby hinging on the Buddha in every individual- and consider them our teachers and tempters.
As mentioned earlier, the best teachers of patience are our enemies- and I would like to stress that these may be connoted as out internal foes- our vices, our emotional woes. our excesses- all of which have to be conquered to attain the mahanirvana, or final state of peace and enlightenment- as well as our external foes which come in the form of threatening individuals who implode on the tempo of our emotional, psychological, physical well-being with patience and compassion, so as to create a world which is in synchronicity with the inner persona of the individual as well as with the extraneous factors which govern mankind..
This essay is but a small drop in the teachings of the Dalai Lama, a term which literally translates as “Great Ocean” of learning( RN Rahul Sheel, The Tibet Journal, Autumn Issue, 1999) and is my small endeavor to further the cause of Buddhism as still waters, similar to my faith, do indeed run deep!