RESEARCH/OPINION: Happy birthday to this ‘simple’ monk

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The Dalai Lama, the ever-smiling sage, garbed simply in red and yellow and recognized across the globe, turns 83 this week. I wrote before about speaking with him once in a quiet garden, experiencing an unexpected jolt of physical electricity when he shook my hand. Weird, yes. And rather awesome for a natural skeptic and non-Buddhist.

When asked how he managed to always seem so peaceful, happy, and very energetic despite all he’d been through, he paused a beat, smiled and said simply, “I meditate, every day.”

This Dalai Lama is a huge fan of science, has met with scores of neurologists, physicists, psychologists, and cosmologists, and has written about the biological and chemical effects of meditation, its effects on body and mind.

It seems what we feel permeates the body and exudes from the pores, affecting others.

As head of Tibetan Buddhism since childhood and exiled former political leader of Tibet (China took Tibet by force, outlawing Buddhism and torturing adherents), his attitude differs from most religious leaders. Buddhism may work best for him, but he says just about any spiritual approach will do. As long as the basic elements include compassion and love for fellow man, any religion or philosophy can be a path to enlightenment and lasting happiness.

Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize (1989), Congressional Gold Medal (2011), and 150 other official accolades, the reach of this active, affable man has been described as unparalleled, transcending religious and geographic borders to spread his simple, urgently felt message. His innumerable public appearances and books (“The Art of Happiness” spent years on bestseller lists) remain immensely popular worldwide.

Why is this self-described “simple Buddhist monk” so popular? Perhaps because he doesn’t advocate or judge any one doctrine over another, instead blending basics in a simple philosophy which can coexist with just about any belief system, culture, philosophy and personality.

In Buddhism, lamas are spiritual masters or gurus. “Dalai” means ocean (or big), a term signifying leadership, so “dalai lama” is translated as ocean of wisdom. The original Siddharta Buddha, a prince-turned-religious founder and ascetic (moved by the poverty he witnessed around him), was said to be so enlightened he was reincarnated in more than one spiritual form — each a “buddha.” The current (and possibly last, preventing Chinese control of the succession) Dalai Lama is believed to be the reincarnation of the buddha of compassion. Thus, his message is always a variation of the same theme: Practice compassion toward all.

If we practice compassion, he says, each human will gain its natural side effects of inner confidence and inner peace. Only thus can there be peace among nations: One person at a time.


Perhaps, but as individuals feel transformed when they are at peace with themselves, they begin to project that outward in the form of compassion, so it’s easy to see how the ripple effect works. When one practices compassion, it is more than sympathy; it is to feel — not from one’s own perspective or judgment, but the perspective, feelings, experiences, and fears of another — what it is to be another person. If leaders do this, then in effect the needs of all are considered and balanced to mutual benefit, rather than the “me first” that seems to prevail today.


Sholeh Patrick is a columnist with the Hagadone News Network. Contact her at

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