Celebrating the Dalai Lama

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Happy Birthday to His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama!

By Naveen Radha Dasi

Happy Birthday to His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama!

Among Tibetan Buddhists, the Dalai Lama is known as an incarnation of Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion. He is the highest-ranking lama (spiritual master) in the Gelugpa school, one of the four major branches of Tibetan Buddhism, and the head of the Tibetan Government in Exile.

Yet despite these prestigious titles, the Dalai Lama famously describes himself as a “simple monk”—or occasionally a “professional laugher.” His depth of wisdom is matched only by his naturalness, humility, and sparkling sense of humor.

Surrounded by the finery of his position, a master of the most esoteric practices of Tantric Buddhism, His Holiness never seems to be without a smile, always ready with a joke even in the heaviest discussion.

And this is not a being who has lived an easy life. Born in 1935 to a farming family in northeast Tibet, two-year-old Lhamo Dhondup was recognized as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama and given the spiritual name of Tenzin Gyatso. The boy was brought to Lhasa and began his monastic education at six.

The Tibet he was meant to lead was on the brink of catastrophic change. The Chinese invasion in 1950 spelled the end of the traditional Tibetan social structure and a profound disruption of their way of life, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 1.2 million Tibetans and the emigration of about 150,000.

Following the violent suppression of an uprising in Lhasa, the Dalai Lama was also forced to flee, being smuggled across the Himalayas to safety in India.

At that point, His Holiness became the spiritual and political leader of a people in exile. Since then, he has dedicated his life to supporting the Tibetan people in the diaspora and those who remain in Tibet, always through peaceful means and collaboration with other world leaders.

And through it all, as a leader whose work is fully rooted in the dharma, he has never stopped speaking and writing books to share the Buddhist teachings with as many people as possible.

How much can we learn from a being like this? To laugh in the face of seriousness and self-importance, to smile amid hardship, and to offer kindness and compassion freely to all, even our enemies.

His Holiness said, “Kindness is my religion. This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”

So often, we make things very complicated. We then struggle to find ourselves within a web of disparate factors and contradictory motives created by the mind with only a tenuous connection to the reality of the present moment.

The mind loves complications. It sees only in terms of difference, a multiplicity of separate forms, categories that exist only in relation to each other.

The Heart lives in simplicity. Things are just as they are, the world and life and the whole play of appearances.

No label or meaning is inherently attached to anything, and within that meaninglessness, freedom and joy bubble up like the spontaneous laughter of that simple old monk.

Naveen Radha Dasi is a Hridaya Yoga teacher and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all of her posts here.

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