40 thoughts of the Dalai Lama that changed my life

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Ours is a free country, unless and until you want to voice your support for Tibet, that is. Then you will be beaten up by Chinese agents in the street, and your very own police will run checks on you.

“Don’t ask me where the order came from,” said a friend of mine who works for the criminal police and who was involved in the crackdown on Tibetan flags at schools. “You’d be disabused of all your illusions that we have freedom of speech or an independent police force.”

I’d probably have been confused to the point of frustration by his words, had I not been following for years the work of none other than the Dalai Lama. The exiled leader of Tibet strives to avoid all negative thinking. He continues to look at the world with a smile – a world which, weary of great power, prefers to raise a glass to 66 years of occupation of Tibet by the Chinese army and to embrace politicians who don’t bear the gift of freedom, but capital to invest.

I’ve never taken any interest in politics. It’s human beings who interest me. I am fascinated by the Dalai Lama’s assertion that the light emanating from the smallest candle will always conquer the darkness. He lost his home and his country (just imagine!), yet kept his inner world – which is in fact the stronger for it – and went on to teach others to think without negativity.

Of all his thoughts, these three are the most precious to me:

1. The man who thought he could never be a match for others

For years, the Dalai Lama felt compassion for a black teacher in South Africa who complained about racial discrimination. When apartheid fell, the Dalai Lama congratulated him. “Now that black people have equal rights in South Africa, you surely have new opportunities!” rejoiced the Dalai Lama.

“Hardly so,” retorted the teacher. The Dalai Lama recounts what the teacher told him. “Discrimination had a natural background; he believed the black African brain to be inferior. He said: ‘I will never match the white people.’ I was shocked by his words, and I told him: ‘We are equal. We have the same potential. We are all human beings. Because of past discrimination, you didn’t have opportunities; otherwise, you always had the same potential as the white people.'”

The man wept, realizing that the problem was inside his head.

“And then he began to work on himself. I felt great relief and realized how important self-confidence was. As long as we remain pessimists, convinced of the impossibility of our own success, we will never have a chance.”

But the Dalai Lama’s lesson cuts both ways, and prevents people from walking the Earth with their heads held high. “Our mind is malleable. We can change the way we think. Say I meet someone and I get the idea that I am superior to them. I will immediately try to free myself from this feeling of inflated self-importance by looking for something positive in the other person. I may find that they have beautiful hair, for instance, while I am bald. Trying to see the virtues of others is useful for suppressing one’s own pride and arrogance,” counsels the Dalai Lama, who also applies this method under reversed circumstances. “Whenever you feel lost, sad, and unable to cope, remember that we all have the same potential, the same opportunity, but we also have something that sets us apart and makes us unique – something that gives us a sense of self-worth.”

2. The way in which humans are like plants

The Dalai Lama is well aware that life is full of changes (indeed, “Life is change“), but at the same time believes that change never comes to us at random. In our physical world, things come into being by the combined force of causes and conditions. A sprout is able to arise because of a seed, water, sunshine, and rich garden soil. Without these elements, the sprout would not have the conditions it needs to germinate and poke through the earth. In the same way, humans, if they want to succeed, need the proper combination of elements to propel their spirituality, of which the main element is faith.”

3. Polar opposites

On the brink of adulthood, I contemplated what I should do first to maximize my success. That was when I took the Dalai Lama’s theory of polar opposites to heart: “There is no such thing as a vacuum. Where good energy is in decline, bad energy will step in to fill the void, and vice versa. And so it is with our personal traits. We only need to properly identify polar opposites in order to understand what we should do more and what we should do less. For instance, the opposite of humility is pride and vanity. The opposite of avarice is generosity. The opposite of idleness is ambition. Once you have identified these polar opposites, strive to attenuate the negative ones and to enhance the positive ones. Only thus will you make progress.”

That was when I began to work on myself.

And boy did I make mistakes.

I was brought down by the ridicule of others who noted that I was failing, and that it was therefore quite possible I would be a failure forever.

Whenever I was at my lowest point, at my wit’s end, ready to throw in the towel, the Dalai Lama’s words were there to make me carry on.

Let me call some of them to mind for you. Maybe you’ll find the one among them that will lift you up today…

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