The Good Heart :
A Buddhist Perspective on
the Teachings of Jesus
HH the Dalai Lama
Robert Kiely, Dom Laurence Freeman (Introduction)
Introduction (32 pages)
3 The Sermon on the Mount: The Beatitudes
5 The Kingdom of God
6 The Transfiguration
7 The Mission
9 The Resurrection
The Christian Context of the Gospel Readings
Glossary of Christian Terms
The Buddhist Context
Glossary of Buddhist Terms
Tibet Since the Chinese Occupation in 1950
One of the reassuring things about Tenzin Gyatso,
His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, is that, except when he is meditating,
he does not seem capable of sitting still. As he spoke before an audience
of three hundred and fifty Christians and a sprinkling of Buddhists in
the auditorium of Middlesex University, London, in mid-September of 1994,
his face and body were a testament to the Buddhist doctrine of perpetual
flux. He not only punctuated his remarks with strong-handed gestures, coy
smiles, dancing eyebrows, and guffaws, he seemed constantly to be folding
or flinging about the loose ends of his maroon habit, seizing the limbs
of panelists sitting on stage with him, waving to friends in the audience,
and flipping through the program while his translator dispatched a lengthy
The occasionit would not be an exaggeration to
say, the historic occasionof the Dalai Lama’s appearance in London in
the autumn of 1994 was the John Main Seminar. This yearly Seminar is sponsored
by the World Community for Christian Meditation in memory of John Main,
the Irish Benedictine monk who taught meditation in the tradition of John
Cassian and the Desert Fathers and founded centers of Christian meditation
throughout the world. Each year hundreds of Christian meditators, from
virtually every continent and many denominations, gather to hear a series
of talks on ethics, spirituality, scripture, interfaith dialogue, and prayer.
In the recent past, speakers have included Charles Taylor, a Canadian philosopher;
Bede Griffiths, an English Benedictine author and founder of an ashram
in India; and Jean Vanier, the originator of L’Arche, Christian lay communities
that are dedicated to living with the disabled.
The invitation to the Dalai Lama to comment for
the first time publicly on the Gospels came from Dom Laurence Freeman,
OSB, an Oxford graduate in literature and a monk of the Olivetan Benedictine
priory in Cockfosters, London. Laurence Freeman has been the most active
and influential teacher in the Community since Main’s death in 1982.
The Dalai Lama was given in advance eight passages
from the Christian Scripturesincluding the Sermon on the Mount and the
Beatitudes (Matthew 5), the parable of the mustard seed and the Kingdom
of God (Mark 4), the Transfiguration (Luke 9), and the Resurrection (John
20). He was invited to comment on these texts in any way he saw fit. And
he was told that his audience was Christian (Roman Catholic, Anglican,
and Protestant), mostly English-speaking though from all continents, and
that virtually all of them practiced silent meditation daily in their own
Because the Dalai Lama is a head of state as well
as a religious leader, many present, while looking forward to his remarks,
wondered whether His Holiness would be able to break through the inevitable
barriers of press, cameras, and attendants, and truly communicate what
was on his mind and in his heart.
The answer came swiftly and with breathtaking ease.
Early each morning before breakfast, before anything else on the packed
schedule of the conference, he entered the darkened hall with his monks
and, with the assembled Christians, he sat perfectly still and meditated
for half an hour. In the silence, broken only by a rustle or a cough, anxiety
fell away and a bond of trust and openness for what was to come took its
place. Then, at last, he bowed his shaved head over the text and, tracing
the script with his finger like a rabbi, read, “How blest are those of
a gentle spirit…. How blest are those whose hearts are pure. How blest
are those who have suffered persecution for the cause of right.” And as
he read, it was impossible not to be moved, almost stunned, by the power
of these familiar words re-cadenced and re-keyed by a Tibetan voice and
a Buddhist sensibility.
Conscious of the devastation of the Tibetan culture
and people by China and of the Dalai Lama’s own suffering as a refugee
and exile, the audience could not help hearing a poignant resonance in
the reading. But striking as the political moment was, something else carried
the significance of the three-day meeting deeper even than history. There
was little doubt in the minds of those present that they had come to hear
a spiritual teacher and that what they were experiencing was a profoundly
religious event that encompassed history but was not circumscribed by it.
The actual framework of the Seminar was flexible
and simple enough to provide an informal atmosphere to the proceedings.
It began with meditation, then proceeded to a reading of the Scripture
passages in English by His Holiness, commentary, panel discussions, closing
chants and prayers, breaks for meals, and back again for meditation and
more of the same. But such a description does not really convey an accurate
or full sense of the mood or atmosphere at these proceedings. During the
readings and commentaries, the Dalai Lama was seated behind a low table,
with a person seated on either side of him. On the left sat Laurence Freeman
in his Olivetan Benedictine white habit taking notes, nodding agreement,
smiling, and looking quizzicalin short, unconsciously acting as a mirror
of the audience at large. On the right sat Geshe Thupten Jinpa, the young,
slightly built Tibetan Buddhist monk in crimson robes who was acting as
interpreter. Serene, collected, focused, and incredibly proficient, he
translated His Holiness’s Tibetan almost simultaneously into fluent English.
His own modesty and grace, attentive to the master but never servile, was
a constant reminder and example to the audience of near-perfect concentration
and selfless dignity.
Because of this arrangement, and perhaps also because
of the Dalai Lama’s way of being and expressing himself, an apparent monologue
was really a dialogue and, more often, a three-way conversation. Neither
Dom Laurence nor Jinpa interrupted the discourse, but they were incorporated
into it spontaneously as His Holiness excitedly moved in one direction
or another, seeking a reaction, correcting a phrase, raising a questioning
eyebrow, and releasing tension with a laugh. During the panel discussions,
when two members of the audience were invited to sit on the platform and
raise questions, the neat format tended to melt down into interconnecting
streams of thought, language, accent, age, gender, temperament, and religious
persuasion. Yet there was never confusion. The Dalai Lama, as a Buddhist
teacher and exile, is at home with change, and he has the ability to calm
Western nerves afloat in unfamiliar and shifting currents. Like all great
teachers, he also has a talent for seizing and salvaging a good idea that
is drifting unobserved beneath the surface.
It has been said that the Dalai Lama is a simple
man. Though this may be meant as a compliment, it is difficult to dissociate
such a label from a Western tendency to condescend to the religions and
cultures of the East, treating them as exotic but philosophically primitive
traditions. Insofar as he is earthy, direct, warm, and simpatico, the Dalai
Lama may be called “simple”; but in every other sense, he is a subtle,
quick, complex, and extraordinarily intelligent and learned man. He brings
three qualities to a spiritual discoursetraits so rare in some contemporary
Christian circles as to have elicited gasps of relieved gratitude from
the audience. These qualities are gentleness, clarity, and laughter. If
there is something Benedictine about him, there is a Franciscan side as
well, and a touch of the Jesuit.
From the outset, he gently and quietly reassured
his listeners that the last thing he had come to do was “sow seeds of doubt”
among Christians about their own faith. Again and again, he counseled people
to deepen their understanding and appreciation of their own traditions,
pointing out that human sensibilities and cultures are too varied to justify
a single “way” to the Truth. He gently, but firmly and repeatedly, resisted
suggestions that Buddhism and Christianity are different languages for
the same essential beliefs. With regard to ethics and the emphasis on compassion,
brotherhood, and forgiveness, he acknowledged similarities. But inasmuch
as Buddhism does not recognize a Creator God or a personal Savior, he cautioned
against people calling themselves “Buddhist-Christians,” just as one should
not try “to put a yak’s head on a sheep’s body.”
In the course of long sessions, reading and commenting
on theologically complex texts and responding to challenging questions
from panelists, the Dalai Lama never lost his astonishing mental clarity.
At one point, he described Mahayana Buddhist meditative practices as disciplines
to keep our consciousness alert and focused rather than “scattered” or
“sunken” in torpor. One of the forms of respect he paid to his audience
was to give it his attention. It is rare for a public figure, even a religious
one, not to have “prepackaged” remarks at hand. There are, most likely,
occasions when the Dalai Lama is no exception. But it became evident that
his moment-by-moment engagement with the Gospels and the people in his
presence had a constancy and intensity of mind and heart of which few people
are capable. When asked what adherents of different faiths could do together
without mixing up yaks and sheep, he recommended scholarship, meditation,
and pilgrimages. And then he told of going to Lourdes and finding there
such an aura of the sacred that he bowed down and prayed to “all holy beings”
for the sustenance of its healing powers. At moments like this, one could
hear the audience catch a collective breath, perhaps of pleasure and surprise
at an expression of reverence at once so pure and yet so uncompromising
of the Buddhist tradition from which it came.
In his reflections on the Transfiguration, he offered
a learned discourse on Buddhist views of miracles and supernatural emanations.
Without a hint of dogmatism or sentimental piety, he evoked an ancient
tradition that has long accommodated a highly rational system of self-discipline
and psychology with accounts of experiences beyond the usual limits of
reason and nature. He modestly disclaimed having had such experiences himself,
but did not see that as a cause to doubt their authenticity. Somehow, listening
to him made all the centuries of Christian quarreling over miracles and
the possible explanations for them seem foolish.
His reading of the meeting between Mary Magdalene
and Jesus in Saint John’s account of the Resurrection brought many to tears.
It would be hard to say exactly why. Some said later that it was as if
they were hearing the words for the first time, as though their tenderness
and mystery and beauty had been taken for granted and were brought to life
again, like a gift from an unexpected courier.
When faced with a philosophical or religious paradox
or the inexpressible, Westerners tend to grow solemn. Buddhists undoubtedly
have a rich array of reactions, and one that enlivened the spirit of the
conference was laughter. The Dalai Lama likes to crack jokes about monks,
yaks, reincarnation, and visions, but often a gesture, expression, or pause
in the flow of discussiona moment of potential awkwardnesssets him
off into infectious gales of laughter. Toward the end of the Seminar, when
nearly everyone was beginning to feel the fatigue of so much concentrated
emotion, his superb interpreter, Jinpa, the young monk who had maintained
superhuman composure day after day, burst into uncontrollable body-shaking
laughter while trying to translate an anecdote told by His Holiness. In
answer to the observation that some people say they do not meditate because
they are too busy, His Holiness told the story of a monk who keeps promising
his pupil that he will take him on a picnic but is always too busy to do
so. One day they see a procession carrying a corpse. “Where is he going?”
the monk asks his pupil. The punch line, delayed for at least five minutes
until the translator, the audience, and the Fourteenth Dalai Lama could
control themselves, was, “On a picnic.”
For many Christians, attending ecumenical conferences,
like going to church, is “no picnic.” But, of course, feasting and celebration
are as much a part of the symbolism and reality of Christianity as they
are of all religions. Hearing the Dalai Lama comment on the Gospels was
definitely a feast. What impressed and surprised everyone was how much
the “outsider” touched them. The exile, the person with no authority over
Christians except that which was given by the Spirit, was able to show
people of every faith the riches of their own banquet.
[In his introduction to the book, Dom Freeman explains
how the Good Heart seminar came to be and outlines what he sees as some
of the important points to emerge from it. Here is an excerpt:]
Model of Dialogue
The success of dialogue is especially dependent
upon the spirit of friendship as we converse with one another in so many
particular dialects. Even within our mother tongue, we may find that dialects
and accents seem strange at first but learn to understand and respect them.
These widely spoken dialects of the common language of truth are today
learning to communicate. The Good Heart Seminar was a model of dialogue
as mutual listening.
Shortly after the Seminar, the dialogue taking place
between Christianity and Buddhism suffered a setback. This arose from the
controversy sparked by the general remarks on Buddhism of His Holiness
Pope John Paul II in his best-selling book Crossing the Threshold of
Hope. These remarks expressed a view of Buddhism that was vehemently
contested by many Buddhist monks and teachers. Feelings ran high. Sri Lankan
Buddhist leaders boycotted the Pope’s visit to their country. Thich Nhat
Hanh expressed his own feelings in his book Living Buddha, Living Christ.
Friendship seemed to stumble everywhere. The Vatican issued statements
saying that the Pope did not mean to dismiss Buddhism as a life-denying
It looked as if the Pope, representing a long tradition
of Christianity, was caricaturing and dismissing Buddhism without attempting
to understand it. Buddhists tried to be compassionate, but many could not
avoid the opportunity to lump all (or most) Christians together and caricature
them as intolerant, arrogant, and exclusivist. The feelings of some Western
Buddhists toward their own Christian upbringing were plainly aroused as
well. This is what happens to dialogue when friendship breaks down. Until
goodwill, trust, and friendship have been restored there is little point
in trying to discuss the meanings of the terms in questionsuch as nirvana,
void, and enlightenment. Maybe The Good Heart can contribute a little to
Caricature is always based on the exclusion of qualifying
detail in favor of one easily identifiable feature. Religions do this to
each other just as cartoonists do. For many Christians, Buddhism is caricatured
as a religion that believes in rational moral behavior motivated not by
love of a personal God or fear of punishment but by the desire to achieve
a better rebirth in an apparently endless series of reincarnations. This
is achieved, so the summary goes, by denying the world and one’s own feelings.
The immensely subtle and highly intricate philosophical arguments on these
and all other elements of Buddhism are ignored by such a caricature. And
this view certainly glosses over the central place of compassion in Buddhism.
Behind the caricatures, Buddhism is, philosophically,
one of the greatest achievements of the human mind. Yet despite a general
body of agreed principles, such as the Four Noble Truths, Buddhist philosophy,
particularly Tibetan Buddhism, falls into many schools and complex dialogues
between the schools; thus, it represents one of the highest achievements
of the diversity of human opinion. The Dalai Lama is one of the most accomplished
of modern philosophers in many of these Buddhist schools. And, as his book
The World of Tibetan Buddhism illustrates,
he has the gift not only of understanding but of lucid exposition. On several
occasions during the Seminar he stated that his comments represent a particular
Buddhist view, but he also pointed out that there are other Buddhist perspectives
to take into accountsome of them quite complex and opposed to his own
position. Among other ways in which The Good Heart will help dialogue,
it draws attentionwith simplicityto the many different traditions within
every religious tradition.
Christianity certainly has no fewer internal dialects
of belief. Any religion that can contain a movement like Opus Dei and a
minister like the Reverend Ian Paisley will never risk uniformity. Even
more, however, The Good Heart should remind Buddhists of something many
Christians have now discoveredthat “the Church” is a very general term.
It can mean many things: a cold building on a wet Sunday morning; a global
religion; a mystical tradition; a spiritual body extended backward and
forward in history from the birth of Jesus; or the cultural group I was
born into, brought up in, and now have mixed feelings about. Perhaps one
cannot entirely separate institutional and spiritual Christianity, any
more than one can separate form and content, or body and mind; but it is
important to preserve the distinction. There are many examples in history
of Christians who have remained outside the institutional church but who
knew with the full force of their being that they belonged to the Church.
Who, therefore, really “speaks for” Christianity? Who
“speaks for” Buddhism?
And given this diversity, how does The Good Heart
suggest a model for the resumption and redirectioning of the Buddhist-Christian
dialogue? And indeed, this model is applicable for dialogue in general:
between Catholics and Protestants, Mahayanists and Theravadans, Republicans
and Democrats, men and women, and people of every ethnicity and culture
in the world.
Above all, we must have modest ambitions as we set
forth in this dialogue. In The Good Heart, the Dalai Lama does not try
or pretend to give a complete or exhaustive commentary on the Gospels,
Jesus’ teaching and life, or the deeper truths of Christian faith such
as the Resurrection and the Holy Spirit. The Dalai Lama’s approach is exploratory
rather than definitive, and he expands this method to his dialogue with
the Christian panelists. It is in seeking truth that we find enlightenment,
not in declaring it. Just as Saint Benedict says that the monk is one who
“truly seeks God.” And in the process of seeking, something is always found.
“Seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened.” Reading the
Scriptures with a good heart takes us beyond the bleakness of today’s deconstructionist
pessimism about meaning. There is something to be found, but it is only
found in the seeking. Saint Gregory of Nyssa put it this way: “To seek
God is to find him; to find God is to seek him.”
One of the earliest Christian thinkers, Saint Irenaeus,
said that God can never be known as an object, or as a reality outside
ourselves. We can know God only through our participation in God’s own
self-knowledge. These early theologians were writing their thoughts about
God and the mystery of Christ from the mystical experience of the inclusivity-or
non-duality-of God. The first theologians were, and today the best ones
still are, expressing their experience of prayer, not just of thought.
Dialogue in such a context and among such people becomes fluent, fluid,
and dynamic. Truth is sensed as something that emerges as we enter a clearing
where the obscuring clouds of ignorance, prejudice, and fear have, at least
momentarily, been lifted. The Greek word for truth, aletheia, means
precisely that, a “clearing.” This is something that can only be done step
by step, moment by moment. It means staying in touch with the delicate
balance that friendship requires, above all the balance between speaking
and listening. Great schemes to translate Buddhism into the Christian dialect
and vice versa lack the modest ambitions with which the Good Heart Seminar
began and ended. Dialogue has little to do with translation. But a good
translator, such as we had in Geshe Thupten Jinpa, helps to remind the
partners in dialogue that they are not trying to write a dictionary.
Another aspect of modesty in regard to the Dalai Lama’s
approach was his saying that he knew little about Christian Scriptures
or theology, but that he was eager to learn. He hoped he would give no
offense, and he certainly did not want to shake the faith of the Christians
taking part in the Seminar. It is not easy to admit a lack of knowledge
because it makes us seem vulnerable, less interesting or less powerful.
If knowledge is power, ignorance is weakness. But when we do admit the
limitations of our knowledge at the beginning of a dialogue, several things
are set free. One of them is trust. People are not afraid of being manipulated
or persuaded; they can begin to let down their defenses. An admission of
inexperience must, therefore, be one of the first steps in nonviolence.
Another quality liberated by this humility in dialogue is spontaneity.
If you are free from the need to show how clever or learned you arethe
temptation of scholars in dialoguethen you are free to respond immediately
and freshly to what is before you. This is precisely what happened at The
Good Heart. The Dalai Lama did not know much “about” the Gospels. But he
did know a great deal through his Buddhist learning, his monastic training,
and his own spiritual evolution. And this knowledge allowed him to respond
to Christian symbols and ideas as if he actually knew them very well indeed.
As a result of this, the Christians at the Seminar were
surprised to discover that a Buddhist was helping them understand and discover
in new ways the stories and texts that had been familiar to them perhaps
since childhood. The Dalai Lama has often made it clear that he does not
advise anyone to change their religionalthough he does respect an individual’s
right to make this choice. Better, he says, to rediscover the deeper meaning
and power of your own religious tradition. It was surprising to find that
a Buddhist could help Christians deepen their faith, and clarify it in
the very process of contrasting it with Buddhist beliefeven when there
were clear conflicts or untranslatable ideas between the two. This was
only possible because the dialogue was exploratory, not declamatory. The
Dalai Lama was sincerely curious and stimulated by the intense dialogue.
He listened deeply to the questions that were raised in the panel discussions.
Above all, people saw that he was listening, that he was curious, that
he was sincerely interested. Dialogue is more like a piece of experimental
theater than a highly polished Broadway musical. Sometimes it works, other
times it is less successful. It requires commitment. It demands maximum
participation by all concerned. It is not mechanical. It is not dogmatic.
The ideas must be bartered and wasted if they are to illuminate.
The Dalai Lama asked many questions. Before each
session, I spent some time with him in a quiet room preparing the Gospel
texts on which he would then comment for an hour or so. He listened to
the background I gave on the texts and my explanation of some of the key
terms and ideas. If, as he said, he was “unfamiliar” with the Gospels,
his phenomenal receptivity and the alacrity of his mind in constellating
new ideas more than made up for this lack of knowledge. I was reminded
of a phrase Saint Gregory the Great uses in his Life to describe Saint
Benedict. Benedict, he said, had dropped out of school in Rome and betaken
himself to a hermitage in a state of wise ignorance.
The Dalai Lama’s intellectual training and brilliance
are unobtrusive. He does not flaunt them. But he employs them skillfully
in the pursuit of truth. Christians were particularly aware of these gifts
as he uncovered meanings and subtleties in the often overfamiliar Scriptures.
Through him, they enriched and renewed their faith in ways that filled
them with wonder and gratitude. If knowledge is power, the Dalai Lama’s
knowledge trained onto the Gospels created a power of insightan insight
that he never used in any manipulative way. He was not arguing with Christians
about the meaning of the Gospels. He was, with great detachment, giving
them the benefit of his reading, discussing this view with them, and then
leaving the use of it entirely up to them.
Chapter 1: A Wish for Harmony (complete)
The lecture room in Middlesex University in North
London was not grand: it was a rather narrow, cramped space with a steeply
rising bank of creaky wooden seats that banged and scraped whenever anyone
moved. Large posters of calligraphed sayings of John Main were patched
between windows opening out to the gray English sky. A few chairs, a little
carpet, and a bunch of flowers looked forlorn on a wobbly temporary platform.
The whole place looked makeshift, as though it had been thrown together
the night before and nothing of importance could possibly happen there.
The audience fidgeted in anticipation. Mixed in
among English, Canadian, and American laypeople were Buddhist monks and
nuns in saffron or crimson robes, their shaven heads still in the bobbing
throng. In the front rows were Benedictine monks and sisters, some in black,
Olivetans in white. Cameras and microphones were adjusted. Throats were
cleared. No organ played, no horns sounded. A little group of people climbed
onto the platform from a side entrance. In their midst was His Holiness
the Dalai Lama, wearing sensible shoes and wrapped in his crimson and yellow
habit, grinning, nodding, and waving a little shyly but with obvious pleasure.
He had made an entrance without an entrance. There
had been no procession. Indeed, his arrival was a Buddhist non-procession.
One moment, he wasn’t there; the next he was. Very much there.
Several welcoming speeches were made, including
one by the Lady Mayor of Enfield, who described her borough as “multiracial,
multicultural, multireligious.” This northern suburb of London, with a
strong commitment to harmony in pluralism, was an appropriate meeting place
for a Seminar gathering two great religious traditions. Following the Mayor’s
remarks, Dom Laurence Freeman, OSB, rose to welcome His Holiness. As the
spiritual director and teacher of the World Community for Christian Meditation,
Father Laurence had extended the invitation to the Dalai Lama and was serving
as host for the Seminar’s proceedings. Gentle and mild of manner, Father
Laurence nonetheless conveyed an intellectual and spiritual energy that
the guest of honor clearly found congenial and intriguing. As the conference
went along, the rapport and affection between the two monks increased visibly.
When Father Laurence spoke, His Holiness, as he did with everyone who addressed
him, fixed his gaze and attention on him.
Father Laurence, in his very first remarks, sounded
what was to become a theme of the Seminarthe reciprocal nature of the
– – –
It is a great honor, Your Holiness, to welcome you.
You told me you would like to learn from us and we are here to learn from
you as well. It is a great privilege for us that you are going to lead
this John Main Seminar on the theme you chose, The Good Heart, and that
you have accepted with openness and generosity our invitation to comment
on the Gospels, the Christian Scriptures.
In the Christian tradition, we call the scriptures
the Holy Scriptures because we believe that the presence of Christ can
be found in them, even in the reading of the words. They are human words,
and they are subject to understanding and, of course, also to misunderstanding.
These words need to be interpreted through the mind so that the heart can
see their meaning. We know that you represent a rich and wonderful Buddhist
tradition which has refined the instruments of the mind for the perception
of truth. And so we feel eager to read our Holy Scriptures through your
mind, and, with you, to see them in a fresh way.
Just as we are sure that we Christians will be enriched,
we hope that all the Buddhists here with you, and people here of all faiths,
will also be enriched. We know that the search for understanding is not
just intellectual but that it is about true insight, vipasyana, the experience
of the meaning of sacred words. One of the great teachers of Christian
theology, Thomas Aquinas, said that we put our faith not in propositions
but in the realities that the words point to. What matters is the experience,
not merely the ideas by themselves. We understand that the way of meditation
we will share during this Seminar in silence with Your Holiness will be
a universal, unifying way into that experience beyond words.
John Main understood the unifying power of silence
to lead us beyond words. That is why, in this Seminar, perhaps the most
important time that we will spend together will be the time of silence.
After His Holiness speaks to us, he will lead us in a period of meditation.
For each of these periods, we will be able to go beyond words into that
truth that lies at the heart of reality. Meditation enriches us in so many
ways. One of these ways is in the power of meditation to enable us to read
the holy scriptures of the world more wisely and perceptively than we otherwise
We appreciate the gift of your presence, Your Holiness.
If we can be open to the reality of presenceto the presence that we will
experience in the Scriptures, the presence that we will experience as you
open your mind and heart to uslet us also grow in a spirit of peace and
On behalf of our entire Community worldwide, I would
like to assure you that we hold in our minds and hearts the Tibetan people.
We feel them here with you today. The Cross and the Resurrection of Christ
lie at the heart of Christian faith. Perhaps in the history of Tibet and
in your own personal history, we can see that the Cross and Resurrection
are human realities that belong to all people, and not to one religion
alone. We have seen Tibet crucified, but we have also seen the resurrection
of Tibetan wisdom and teaching, particularly through Your Holiness, as
a gift to the whole world.
We are open to the mystery of reality. We hope and
pray that in the silence of meditation, as well as in the words through
which you will guide us, we will be able to enter into the fullness of
consciousness and light.
– – –
When Father Laurence had finished, the audience
applauded enthusiastically while the Dalai Lama beamed, acknowledging the
clarity of the welcoming remarks and the obvious warmth of his reception.
He began speaking in English, speaking in Tibetan intermittently when it
became necessary to clarify a point.
– – –
Spiritual brothers and sisters, it is a great joy
and privilege for me to have the opportunity to participate in this dialogue
and to open the John Main Seminar entitled “The Good Heart.” I would like
to express my deep appreciation to all those who have helped to organize
this event. I am grateful for the warm words of welcome from the Lady Mayor,
and I am very encouraged by her reference to the harmony and understanding
that exists among the various communities and religious traditions in this
borough, which she described as multicultural, multi-ethnic, and multireligious.
I would like to express my thanks for that.
I met the late Father John Main many years ago in
Canada and was impressed to meet a person in the Christian tradition who
emphasized meditation as a part of spiritual practice. Today, at the beginning
of this Seminar, I think it is very important for us to remember him.
I am also happy to see so many familiar faces and
to have the opportunity to meet new and old friends here.
Despite many material advances on our planet, humanity
faces many, many problems, some of which are actually of our own creation.
And to a large extent it is our mental attitudeour outlook on life and
the worldthat is the key factor for the futurethe future of humanity,
the future of the world, and the future of the environment. Many things
depend on our mental attitude, both in the personal and public spheres.
Whether we are happy in our individual or family life is, in a large part,
up to us. Of course, material conditions are an important factor for happiness
and a good life, but one’s mental attitude is of equal or greater importance.
As we approach the twenty-first century, religious
traditions are as relevant as ever. Yet, as in the past, conflicts and
crises arise in the name of different religious traditions. This is very,
very unfortunate. We must make every effort to overcome this situation.
In my own experience, I have found that the most effective method to overcome
these conflicts is close contact and an exchange among those of various
beliefs, not only on an intellectual level, but in deeper spiritual experiences.
This is a powerful method to develop mutual understanding and respect.
Through this interchange, a strong foundation of genuine harmony can be
So I am always extremely happy to participate in
religious dialogue. And I am particularly happy to spend these few days
talking with you and practicing my broken English! When I spend a few weeks
on retreat in Dharamsala, my residence in India, I find that my broken
English becomes even poorer, so these days of exchange will give me a much-needed
opportunity to practice.
Since it is my belief that harmony among different
religious traditions is extremely important, extremely necessary, I would
like to suggest a few ideas on ways it can be promoted. First, I suggest
we encourage meetings among scholars from different religious backgrounds
to discuss differences and similarities in their traditions, in order to
promote empathy and to improve our knowledge about one another. Secondly,
I suggest that we encourage meetings between people from different religious
traditions who have had some deeper spiritual experiences. They need not
be scholars, but instead genuine practitioners who come together and share
insights as a result of religious practice. According to my own experience,
this is a powerful and effective means of enlightening each other in a
more profound and direct way.
Some of you may have already heard me mention that
on a visit to the great monastery at Montserrat in Spain, I met a Benedictine
monk there. He came especially to see meand his English was much poorer
than mine, so I felt more courage to speak to him. After lunch, we spent
some time alone, face to face, and I was informed that this monk had spent
a few years in the mountains just behind the monastery. I asked him what
kind of contemplation he had practiced during those years of solitude.
His answer was simple: “Love, love, love.” How wonderful! I suppose that
sometimes he also slept. But during all those years he meditated simply
on love. And he was not meditating on just the word. When I looked into
his eyes, I saw evidence of profound spirituality and loveas I had during
my meetings with Thomas Merton.
These two encounters have helped me develop a genuine
reverence for the Christian tradition and its capacity to create people
of such goodness. I believe the purpose of all the major religious traditions
is not to construct big temples on the outside, but to create temples of
goodness and compassion inside, in our hearts. Every major religion has
the potential to create this. The greater our awareness is regarding the
value and effectiveness of other religious traditions, then the deeper
will be our respect and reverence toward other religions. This is the proper
way for us to promote genuine compassion and a spirit of harmony among
the religions of the world.
In addition to encounters among scholars and experienced
practitioners, it is also important, particularly in the eyes of the public,
that leaders of the various religious traditions occasionally come together
to meet and pray, as in the important meeting at Assisi in 1986. This is
a third simple yet effective way to promote tolerance and understanding.
A fourth means of working toward harmony among the
world’s religions is for people of different religious traditions to go
on pilgrimages together to visit one another’s holy places. A few years
ago, I started doing this practice myself in India. Since then, I have
had the opportunity to travel as a pilgrim to Lourdes, the holy place in
France, and to Jerusalem. In these places, I prayed with the followers
of the various religions, sometimes in silent meditation. And in this prayer
and meditation, I felt a genuine spiritual experience. I hope this will
set an example, serve as a sort of precedent, so that in the future it
will be regarded as quite normal for people to join together in pilgrimages
to holy sites and share the experience of their different religious backgrounds.
Finally, I would like to come back to the subject
of meditation and to my Christian brothers and sisters who practice meditation
in their daily lives. I believe this practice is extremely important. Traditionally
in India, there is samadhi meditation, “stilling the mind,” which is common
to all the Indian religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.
And in many of these traditions, certain types of vipasyana, “analytical
meditation,” are common as well. We might ask why samadhi, “stilling the
mind,” is so important. Because samadhi, or focusing meditation, is the
means to mobilize your mind, to channel your mental energy. Samadhi is
considered to be an essential part of spiritual practice in all the major
religious traditions of India because it provides the possibility to channel
all one’s mental energy and the ability to direct the mind to a particular
object in a single-pointed way.
It is my belief that if prayer, meditation, and
contemplationwhich is more discursive and analyticare combined in daily
practice, the effect on the practitioner’s mind and heart will be all the
greater. One of the major aims and purposes of religious practice for the
individual is an inner transformation from an undisciplined, untamed, unfocused
state of mind toward one that is disciplined, tamed, and balanced. A person
who has perfected the faculty of single-pointedness will definitely have
a greater ability to attain this objective. When meditation becomes an
important part of your spiritual life, you are able to bring about this
inner transformation in a more effective way.
Once this transformation has been achieved, then
in following your own spiritual tradition, you will discover that a kind
of natural humility will arise in you, allowing you to communicate better
with people from other religious traditions and cultural backgrounds. You
are in a better position to appreciate the value and preciousness of other
traditions because you have seen this value from within your own tradition.
People often experience feelings of exclusivity in their religious beliefsa
feeling that one’s own path is the only true pathwhich can create a sense
of apprehension about connecting with others of different faiths. I believe
the best way to counter that force is to experience the value of one’s
own path through a meditative life, which will enable one to see the value
and preciousness of other traditions.
In order to develop a genuine spirit of harmony
from a sound foundation of knowledge, I believe it is very important to
know the fundamental differences between religious traditions. And it is
possible to understand the fundamental differences, but at the same time
recognize the value and potential of each religious tradition. In this
way, a person may develop a balanced and harmonious perception. Some people
believe that the most reasonable way to attain harmony and solve problems
relating to religious intolerance is to establish one universal religion
for everyone. However, I have always felt that we should have different
religious traditions because human beings possess so many different mental
dispositions: one religion simply cannot satisfy the needs of such a variety
of people. If we try to unify the faiths of the world into one religion,
we will also lose many of the qualities and richnesses of each particular
tradition. Therefore, I feel it is better, in spite of the many quarrels
in the name of religion, to maintain a variety of religious traditions.
Unfortunately, while a diversity of religious traditions is more suited
to serve the needs of the diverse mental dispositions among humanity, this
diversity naturally possesses the potential for conflict and disagreement
as well. Consequently, people of every religious tradition must make an
extra effort to try to transcend intolerance and misunderstanding and seek
These are a few points that I thought would be useful
at the beginning of the Seminar. Now I am looking forward to the challenge
of exploring texts and ideas that are not familiar to me. You’ve given
me a heavy responsibility, and I will try my best to fulfill your wishes.
I really feel it a great honor and privilege to be asked to comment on
selected passages of the Holy Scripturea scripture I must admit I am
not very familiar with. I must also admit that this is the first time I
have tried to do such a thing. Whether it will be a success or failure,
I don’t know! But in any case, I will try my best. Now I’ll chant a few
verses of auspiciousness and then we will meditate.
– – –
The modesty, like his smile, was genuine. When the
audience laughed, the laughter seemed partly out of surprise at the lack
of self-importance in the man and also a gesture of friendly encouragement.
It was the beginning of a rapport that, in the next few days, would lead
to a climax of shared feeling and thought in an atmosphere of respect and
The lights in the hall were turned out, and in the
soft light coming only through the windows, the audience collected itself
as His Holiness closed his eyes and intoned an ancient Tibetan prayer:
Replete with excellence like a mountain of gold,
The triple worlds’ saviors, freed from the three taints,
Are the buddhas, their eyes like lotuses in bloom;
They are the world’s first auspicious blessing.
The teachings they imparted are sublime and steadfast,
Famed in the triple worlds, honored by gods and humans
That holy teaching grants peace to all sentient beings;
This is the world’s second auspicious blessing.
The sacred community, rich with learning, is honored
By humans, gods, and demi-gods.
That supreme community is modest, yet the site of glory;
This is the world’s third auspicious blessing.
The Teacher has come into our world;
The teaching shines like the sun’s rays;
The teaching masters, like siblings, are in concord;
Let there thus be auspicious blessings for the teachings
to remain for long.
Song: “All shall be well. All shall be well. And all
manner of things shall be well.”
After thirty minutes of silent meditation, Father Laurence
rose to speak:
To conclude our first session, we are going to ask His
Holiness to light one of the candles in this symbol of unity and then different
members of the guests representing other traditions will light other candles
from his. These candles will burn during the Seminar as a symbol of the
unity and friendship of our different beliefs.
Chapter 2: Love Your Enemy
Matthew 5:38-48 (complete)
In the morning, His Holiness arrived promptly and
took up his task of commenting on a passage from the Gospel according to
Matthew with a few brief prefatory remarks. Throughout the Seminar he stressed
that his aim was not to make Buddhists of the Christians in the audience,
but to offer a Buddhist monk’s perspective on the Gospel passages.
– – –
Since this dialogue has been organized by the World
Community for Christian Meditation and the main audience attending here
is practicing Christians who have a serious commitment to their own practice
and faith, my presentation will be aimed primarily toward that audience.
Consequently, I shall try to explain those Buddhist techniques or methods
that can be adopted by a Christian practitioner without attaching the deeper
Buddhist philosophy. Some of these deeper, metaphysical differences between
the two traditions may come up in the panel discussion.
My main concern is this: how can I help or serve
the Christian practitioner? The last thing I wish to do is to plant seeds
of doubt and skepticism in their minds. As mentioned earlier, it is my
full conviction that the variety of religious traditions today is valuable
and relevant. According to my own experience, all of the world’s major
religious traditions provide a common language and message upon which we
can build a genuine understanding.
In general, I am in favor of people continuing to
follow the religion of their own culture and inheritance. Of course, individuals
have every right to change if they find that a new religion is more effective
or suitable for their spiritual needs. But, generally speaking, it is better
to experience the value of one’s own religious tradition. Here is an example
of the sort of difficulties that may arise in changing one’s religion.
In one Tibetan family in the 1960s, the father of the family passed away,
and the mother later came to see me. She told me that as far as this life
is concerned she was Christian, but for the next life there was no alternative
for her but Buddhism. How complicated! If you are Christian, it is better
to develop spiritually within your religion and be a genuine, good Christian.
If you are a Buddhist, be a genuine Buddhist. Not something half-and-half!
This may cause only confusion in your mind.
Before commenting on the text, I would like to discuss
meditation. The Tibetan term for meditation is gom, which connotes the
development of a constant familiarity with a particular practice or object.
The process of “familiarization” is key because the enhancement or development
of mind follows with the growth of familiarity with the chosen object.
Consequently, it is only through constant application of the meditative
techniques and training of the mind that one can expect to attain inner
transformation or discipline within the mind. In the Tibetan tradition
there are, generally speaking, two principal types of meditation. One employs
a certain degree of analysis and reasoning, and is known as contemplative
or analytical meditation. The other is more absorptive and focusing, and
is called single-pointed or placement meditation.
Let us take the example of meditating on love and
compassion in the Christian context. In an analytical aspect of that meditation,
we would be thinking along specific lines, such as the following: to truly
love God one must demonstrate that love through the action of loving fellow
human beings in a genuine way, loving one’s neighbor. One might also reflect
upon the life and example of Jesus Christ himself, how he conducted his
life, how he worked for the benefit of other sentient beings, and how his
actions illustrated a compassionate way of life. This type of thought process
is the analytical aspect of meditation on compassion. One might meditate
in a similar manner on patience and tolerance.
These reflections will enable you to develop a deep
conviction in the importance and value of compassion and tolerance. Once
you arrive at that certain point where you feel totally convinced of the
preciousness of and need for compassion and tolerance, you will experience
a sense of being touched, a sense of being transformed from within. At
this point, you should place your mind single-pointedly in that conviction,
without applying any further analysis. Your mind should rather remain single-pointedly
in equipoise; this is the absorptive or placement aspect of meditation
on compassion. Thus, both types of meditation are applied in one meditation
Why are we able, through the application of such
meditative techniques, not only to develop but to enhance compassion? This
is because compassion is a type of emotion that possesses the potential
for development. Generally speaking, we can point to two types of emotion.
One is more instinctual and is not based on reason. The other type of emotionsuch
as compassion or toleranceis not so instinctual but instead has a sound
base or grounding in reason and experience. When you clearly see the various
logical grounds for their development and you develop conviction in these
benefits, then these emotions will be enhanced. What we see here is a joining
of intellect and heart. Compassion represents the emotion, or heart, and
the application of analytic meditation applies the intellect. So, when
you have arrived at that meditative state where compassion is enhanced,
you see a special merging of intellect and heart.
If you examine the nature of these meditative states,
you will also see that there are different elements within these states.
For example, you might be engaged in the analytic process of thinking that
we are all creations of the same Creator, and therefore, that we are all
truly brothers and sisters. In this case, you are focusing your mind on
a particular object. That is, your analytic subjectivity is focusing on
the idea or concept that you are analyzing. However, once you have arrived
at a state of single-pointednesswhen you experience that inner transformation,
that compassion within youthere is no longer a meditating mind and a
meditated object. Instead, your mind is generated in the form of compassion.
These are a few preliminary comments on meditation.
Now I will read from the Gospel.
You have heard that they were told, “An eye for
an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” But what I tell you is this: Do not resist
those who wrong you. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn and offer
him the other also. If anyone wants to sue you and takes your shirt, let
him have your cloak as well. If someone in authority presses you into service
for one mile, go with him two. Give to anyone who asks, and do not turn
your back on anyone who wants to borrow.[Matthew 5:38-42]
The practice of tolerance and patience which is being advocated
in these passages is extremely similar to the practice of tolerance and
patience which is advocated in Buddhism in general. And this is particularly
true in Mahayana Buddhism in the context of the bodhisattva ideals in which
the individual who faces certain harms is encouraged to respond in a nonviolent
and compassionate way. In fact, one could almost say that these passages
could be introduced into a Buddhist text, and they would not even be recognized
as traditional Christian scriptures.
You have heard that they were told, “Love your
neighbor and hate your enemy.” But what I tell you is this: Love your enemies
and pray for your persecutors; only so can you be children of your heavenly
Father, who causes the sun to rise on good and bad alike, and sends rain
on the innocent and the wicked. If you love only those who love you, what
reward can you expect? Even the tax-collectors do as much as that. If you
greet only your brothers, what is there extraordinary about that? Even
the heathens do as much. There must be no limit to your goodness, as your
heavenly Father’s goodness knows no bounds. [Matthew 5:43-48]
This reminds me of a passage in a Mahayana Buddhist text
known as the Compendium of Practices in which Shantideva asks, “If
you do not practice compassion toward your enemy then toward whom can you
practice it?” The implication is that even animals show love, compassion,
and a feeling of empathy toward their own loved ones. As we claim to be
practitioners of spirituality and a spiritual path, we should be able to
do better than the animals.
These Gospel passages also remind me of reflections
in another Mahayana text called A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of
Life, in which Shantideva states that it is very important to develop
the right attitude toward your enemy. If you can cultivate the right attitude,
your enemies are your best spiritual teachers because their presence provides
you with the opportunity to enhance and develop tolerance, patience, and
understanding. By developing greater tolerance and patience, it will be
easier for you to develop your capacity for compassion and, through that,
altruism. So even for the practice of your own spiritual path, the presence
of an enemy is crucial. The analogy drawn in the Gospel as to how “the
sun makes no discrimination where it shines” is very significant. The sun
shines for all and makes no discrimination. This is a wonderful metaphor
for compassion. It gives you the sense of its impartiality and all-embracing
As I read these passages, I feel that the Gospel
especially emphasizes the practice of tolerance and feelings of impartiality
toward all creatures. In my opinion, in order to develop one’s capacity
for tolerance toward all beings, and particularly toward an enemy, it is
important as a precondition to have a feeling of equanimity toward all.
If someone tells you that you should not be hostile toward your enemy or
that you should love your enemy, that statement alone is not going to move
you to change. It is quite natural for all of us to feel hostility toward
those who harm us, and to feel attachment toward our loved ones. It is
a natural human feeling, so we must have effective techniques to help us
make that transition from these inherently biased feelings toward a state
of greater equanimity.
There are specific techniques for developing this
sense of equanimity toward all sentient creatures. For instance, in the
Buddhist context, one can refer to the concept of rebirth to assist in
the practice of generating equanimity. As we are discussing the cultivation
of equanimity in the context of Christian practice, however, perhaps it
is possible to invoke the idea of Creation and that all creatures are equal
in that they are all creations of the same God. On the basis of this belief,
one can develop a sense of equanimity. Just before our morning’s session,
I had a brief discussion with Father Laurence. He made the point that in
Christian theology there is the belief that all human beings are created
in the image of Godwe all share a common divine nature. I find this quite
similar to the idea of buddha-nature in Buddhism. On the basis of this
belief that all human beings share the same divine nature, we have a very
strong ground, a very powerful reason, to believe that it is possible for
each of us to develop a genuine sense of equanimity toward all beings.
However, we should not see equanimity as an end in itself.
Nor should we feel that we are striving for a total state of apathy in
which we have no feelings or fluctuating emotions toward either our enemies
or our loved ones and friends. That is not what we are seeking to achieve.
What we aspire to achieve is, first of all, to set the foundation, to have
a kind of clear field where we can then plant other thoughts. Equanimity
is this even ground that we are first laying out. On the basis of this,
we should then reflect on the merits of tolerance, patience, love, and
compassion toward all. We should also contemplate the disadvantages and
the negativities of self-centered thinking, fluctuating emotions toward
friends and enemies, and the negativities of having biased feelings toward
The crucial point is how you utilize this basic
equanimity. It is important to concentrate on the negativities of anger
and hatred, which are the principal obstacles to enhancing one’s capacity
for compassion and tolerance. You should also reflect upon the merits and
virtues of enhancing tolerance and patience. This can be done in the Christian
context without having to resort to any belief in rebirth. For example,
when reflecting upon the merits and virtues of tolerance and patience,
you can think along the following lines: God created you as an individual
and gave you the freedom to act in a way that is compatible and in accordance
with the Creator’s wishesto act in an ethical way, in a moral way, and
to live a life of an ethically disciplined, responsible individual. By
feeling and practicing tolerance and patience toward fellow creatures,
you are fulfilling that wish: you are pleasing your Creator. That is, in
a way, the best gift, the best offering that you can make to the divine
There is an idea in Buddhism of something called
offering of practice (drupai chopa): of all the offerings you can make
to someone that you reveresuch as material offerings, singing songs of
praise, or other giftsthe best offering you can make is to live a life
according to the principles of that being. In the Christian context, by
living life in an ethically disciplined way, based on tolerance and patience,
you are, in a way, making a wonderful gift to your Creator. This is in
some sense much more effective than having only prayer as your main practice.
If you pray but then do not live according to that prayer, it is not of
One of the great yogis of Tibetan Buddhism, Milarepa,
states in one of his songs of spiritual experience, “As far as offerings
of material gifts are concerned, I am destitute; I have nothing to offer.
What I have to offer in abundance is the gift of my spiritual practice.”
We can see that, generally, the person who has a tremendous reserve of
patience and tolerance has a certain degree of tranquillity and calmness
in his or her life. Such a person is not only happy and more emotionally
grounded, but also seems to be physically healthier and to experience less
illness. The person possesses a strong will, has a good appetite, and can
sleep with a clear conscience. These are all benefits of tolerance and
patience that we can see in our own daily lives.
One of my fundamental convictions is that basic
human nature is more disposed toward compassion and affection. Basic human
nature is gentle, not aggressive or violent. This goes hand in hand with
Father Laurence’s statement that all human beings share the same divine
nature. I would also argue that when we examine the relationship between
mind, or consciousness, and body, we see that wholesome attitudes, emotions,
and states of mind, like compassion, tolerance, and forgiveness, are strongly
connected with physical health and well-being. They enhance physical well-being,
whereas negative or unwholesome attitudes and emotionsanger, hatred,
disturbed states of mindundermine physical health. I would argue that
this correspondence shows that our basic human nature is closer to the
wholesome attitudes and emotions.
and patience and feel convinced of the need to develop and enhance them
within you, you should then look at different types and levels of patience
and tolerance. For example, in the Buddhist texts three types of tolerance
and patience are described. The first is the state of resolute indifferenceone
is able to bear pain or suffering and not be overwhelmed by them. That
is the first level. In the second state, one is not only able to bear such
sufferings, but is also, if necessary, prepared and even willing to take
upon oneself the hardships, pain, and suffering that are involved in the
spiritual path. This involves a voluntary acceptance of hardships for a
higher purpose. The third is a type of patience and tolerance arising from
a sound conviction about the nature of reality. In the context of Christian
practice this kind of patience would be based on a firm faith and belief
in the mysteries of the Creation. Although the distinctions between these
three levels of tolerance are found in Buddhist texts, they are also applicable
in the Christian context. This is especially true of the second type of
tolerance and patiencedeliberately taking upon yourself the hardships
and pains that are involved in your spiritual pathwhich seems to come
up in the next passage: the Beatitudes from the Gospel of Matthew.