Splendy's Reviews > An Introduction to the Teachings and Philosophy of the Dalai Lama in His Own Words

An Introduction to the Teachings and Philosophy of the Dalai ... by Dalai Lama XIV
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Dec 07, 2010

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Read in December, 2010

How dare a common human like me give only 3 stars to a book written by “His Holiness,” an internationally renowned spiritual leader!? Damn! Let’s just jump right into the parts that I’m struggling with, rather than dwell on the fact that I’m stepping to a teacher who is spiritually as great as the ocean.

The Dalai Lama explains again and again that, “achieving the perfection of ethics means that you attain a state of mind that refrains from harming sentient beings in any way at all.” Non-violence is a core belief of the philosophy and teaching of Buddhism. Yet, vegetarianism is not a critical part of the practice. Why?

“Sentient beings” are living things with consciousness or awareness of life itself. That is, living things that understand or experience the physiological state of existence or some sort of capacity for thinking and feeling. Envision a mama gorilla, resting on a tree branch, cradling her baby. Think of a fluffy cat, curled up with a pile of her kitten offspring, basking in the sunshine. These animals live and love. They rejoice and suffer, just like humans. Is human life more valuable than the life of a pig or a puppy or a parrot? Is killing animals for food somehow not the same as other killing?

There is a short chapter about how to meditate. Meditation is taken very seriously. He says, “In order to develop the awakened mind, we must meditate; it cannot be cultivated merely by wishful thinking and prayers.” I’m not doubting there are probably benefits of meditation, but isn’t this a very fine line to draw? Between the three: has anyone actually proven that meditation is more effective or powerful than prayer or wishful thinking? To me, the three are equal methods of finding balance of mind and until someone can prove otherwise, then I can’t buy into the hierarchy.

Next on my list of concerns is the idea that we should live our current life with the understanding that our situation is temporary and it may have been entirely different in a previous life. He explains that the way to cultivate balance of mind and peacefulness is to think about your relationships with your enemies in terms of your past life relationship to them. In your past life, your enemies may have been your parents! This line of thinking relies on the belief of past lives and reincarnation, which is purely pseudoscience. This is just another form of relying on the supernatural to dictate your morals and actions.

Reincarnation is not supported by any scientific evidence, putting it on the same plane as the idea that God that can actually hear our prayers or punish us when we take his name in vain. So to believe reincarnation would be an equal “leap of faith” as believing in the power of sin. And that’s where I lose interest. Or rather, that is where I realize that I am not included in the vast majority of people who use religion to endure life’s difficulties, and religion has little or nothing to do with reason. Perhaps I am just barking up the wrong enlightened tree.

I read this book because I had an interesting conversation recently with Susanna about “Touching Peace” by Thich Nhat Hanh. Well, the public library was fresh out of “Teaching Peace,” so I reached for this book and I’m left feeling just as skeptical and intrigued as I was before I read the book. However, I don’t want to come off as a total Buddha basher! There was a lot about this book that was meaningful and worthwhile.

The Dalai Lama provides a simple answer to the question that has haunted mankind for all time: What is the meaning of life? To the Dalai Lama it’s simple-- the purpose of life is happiness and the need for love forms the very foundation of human existence. Now, there’s a simple concept I can get behind. If all the world’s powerful leaders could change from using anger and hatred to dominate and would switch to The Dalai Lama’s position that we should lead with compassion, then the world would be a better place.


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