Identified as the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism at the age of 2, when he was still Lhamo Dondhup, the young boy would face an epic journey across Tibet to take the official role as the reincarnated Dalai Lama, along with a new name – Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso (Holy Lord, Gentle Glory, Compassionate, Defender of the Faith, Ocean of Wisdom) – two years later. He would be formally enthroned at age 15.
Just 23 when the Tibetan Uprising occurred, the Dalai Lama fled to India, where he established a residence in exile and settlements for the refugees who had followed him. Over the course of his life, he has become an advocate for human rights, peace, and an independent Tibet.
It is a life hard to imagine – and yet, beyond the robes, the reverence, the history, is that grin, accented by eyes that project a warmth and joy for everything around him. In his book, The Art of Happiness, he declares his belief on Page 1:
“I believe that the very purpose of our life is to seek happiness. That is clear. Whether one believes in relgion or not, whether one believes in this religion or that religion, we all are seeking something better in life. So, I think, the very motion of our life is toward happiness.”
He discusses training the mind for happiness, learning about the behaviors and emotions that lead to positivity, how we can seek the causes that give rise to it. Training, he says, is key to cultivating practices and reducing negative feelings and actions. What struck me most, reading his words, is how practical they are. The Dalai Lama acknowledges the pain and often unfairness of the world, but offers the idea that one can learn to shift perspective. He notes that a life without obstacles might sound nice, but that:
“It is the very struggle of life that makes us who we are. And it is our enemies that provide us with the resistance necessary for growth.”
The idea of happiness as something within our control. Not an accident, or a gift bestowed randomly on the fortunate few, but a way of being that can be cultivated over one’s lifetime. Happiness as a response not just to a good thing happening but to the good things that simply are and the possibilities of things to come.The breaths we take, the people who love us, and we them.
What if, as this master smiler and teacher suggests, we also remind ourselves of the joy that comes from compassion and service to others? How might our worlds change if our perspective did?
I’m not generally a glass half-full kind of girl. Too often I leap down rabbit holes of potential problems before checking to see if thrtr’s an alternative. And there’s a part of me that wants to argue with the Dalai Lama’s approach, label it naive or undoable.
But that smile…. it’s almost got me convinced.