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'My Spiritual Journey,' by The Dalai Lama

October 17, 2010

By His Holiness the Dalai Lama
The Huffington Post
October 11, 2010

The following is an excerpt from the Dalai Lama's
latest book, "My Spiritual Journey," a collection
of personal memories, anecdotes and reflections
on his boyhood in Tibet, his early life as a monk
and his experiences as a world leader living in exile:

I am a professional laugher

I have been confronted with many difficult
circumstances throughout the course of my life,
and my country is going through a critical
period. But I laugh often, and my laughter is
contagious. When people ask me how I find the
strength to laugh now, I reply that I am a
professional laugher. Laughing is a
characteristic of the Tibetans, who are different
in this from the Japanese or the Indians. They
are very cheerful, like the Italians, rather than
a little reserved, like the Germans or the English.

My cheerfulness also comes from my family. I come
from a small village, not a big city, and our way
of life is more jovial. We are always amusing
ourselves, teasing each other, joking. It's our habit.

To that is added, as I often say, the
responsibility of being realistic. Of course
problems are there. But thinking only of the
negative aspect doesn't help to find solutions,
and it destroys peace of mind. Everything,
though, is relative. You can see the positive
side of even the worst of tragedies if you adopt
a holistic perspective. If you take the negative
as absolute and definitive, however, you increase
your worries and anxiety, whereas by broadening
the way you look at a problem, you understand
what is bad about it, but you accept it. This
attitude comes to me, I think, from my practice
and from Buddhist philosophy, which help me enormously.

Take the loss of our country, for example. We are
a stateless people, and we must confront
adversity along with many painful circumstances
in Tibet itself. Nevertheless, such experiences also bring many benefits.

As for me, I have been homeless for half a
century. But I have found a large number of new
homes throughout the vast world. If I had
remained at the Potala, I don't think I would
have had the chance to meet so many
personalities, so many heads of state in Asia,
Taiwan, the United States, and Europe, popes as
well as many famous scientists and economists.

The life of exile is an unfortunate life, but I
have always tried to cultivate a happy state of
mind, appreciating the opportunities this
existence without a settled home, far from all
protocol, has offered me. This way I have been able to preserve my inner peace.

As a child, I learned from my teachers to take care of the environment

As a little boy, when I was studying Buddhism, I
was taught to take care of nature, since the
practice of nonviolence applies not just to human
beings but to all sentient beings. Everything
that is animate possesses consciousness. Wherever
there is consciousness, there are feelings like
pain, pleasure, and joy. No sentient being wants
to suffer. On the contrary, all beings search for
happiness. In Buddhist practice, we are so used
to this idea of nonviolence and to the wish to
put an end to all suffering that we are careful
not to attack or destroy life unwittingly.
Obviously, we do not believe that the trees or
flowers have a mind, but we treat them with
respect. So we assume a sense of universal
responsibility toward humanity and nature.

Our belief in reincarnation explains our concern
for the future. If you think you are going to be
reborn, you make it your duty to protect certain
things so that, in the future, your incarnation
will profit from it. Even though you could be
reborn on another planet, the idea of
reincarnation motivates you to take care of the
Earth and of future generations.

In the West, when we speak of "humanity," we are
usually referring merely to the present
generation. The humanity of the past no longer
exists. The humanity of the future, like death,
does not yet exist. From a Western standpoint, we
are concerned with the practical aspect of
things, solely for the present generation.

Tibetan feelings toward nature stem from our
customs in general and not just from Buddhism. If
you take the example of Buddhism in Japan or
Thailand, in environments different from our own,
the culture and behavior are not the same.
Tibet's natural environment, which is like no
other, has had a strong influence on us. Tibetans
do not live on a small overpopulated island.
Throughout history we did not worry about our
vast, sparsely populated territory, or about our
distant neighbors. We did not have the feeling of
being oppressed, unlike many other communities.

It is perfectly possible to practice the essence
of a faith or a culture without associating it
with a religion. Our Tibetan culture, although
largely inspired by Buddhism, does not draw all
its philosophy from it. Once I suggested to an
organization aiding Tibetan refugees that it
would be interesting to study how much our people
have been shaped by their traditional mode of
life. What are the factors that make Tibetans
calm and good-natured? People always look for the
answer in our religion, which is unique,
forgetting that our environment is also unique.

The protection of nature is not necessarily a
sacred activity, and it does not always require
compassion. As Buddhists, we are compassionate
toward all sentient beings, but not necessarily
toward each stone, tree, or habitation. Most of
us take care of our own house, without feeling
any compassion for it. Similarly, our planet is
our house, and we should maintain it with care,
to ensure our happiness and the happiness of our
children, of our friends, and of all the sentient
beings who share this great dwelling place. If we
think of our planet as our house or our "mother,"
our Mother Earth, we will necessarily take care of it.

Today we understand that the future of humanity
depends on our planet, whose future depends on
humanity. But that has not always been so clear.
Until now, our Mother Earth has been able to
tolerate our neglect. Today, however, human
behavior, the population, and technology have
reached such a degree that our Mother Earth can
no longer accept it in silence. "My children are
behaving badly," she warns to make us realize
that there are boundaries that should not be passed.

As Tibetan Buddhists, we advocate temperance,
which is not unconnected to the environment,
since we do not consume anything immoderately. We
set limits on our habits of consumption, and we
appreciate a simple, responsible way of life. Our
relationship to the environment has always been
special. Our ancient scriptures speak of the
vessel and its contents. The world is the vessel,
our house, and we, the living, are its contents.

The result of this is a special relationship to
nature, since, without the container, the
contents cannot be contained. It is not at all
reprehensible for humans to use natural resources
to serve their needs, but we should not exploit
nature beyond what is strictly necessary. It is
essential to reexamine from an ethical standpoint
the share we have received, the share for which
we are all responsible, and the share we are
going to hand down to future generations.
Obviously, our generation is going through a
critical stage. We have access to forms of global
communication, and yet conflicts occur more often
than dialogues to build peace. The wonders of
science and technology coexist along with many
tragedies like world hunger and the extinction of
certain forms of life. We devote ourselves to
space exploration when the oceans, seas, and
freshwater resources are becoming more and more
polluted. It is possible that the peoples of the
Earth, the animals, plants, insects, and even
microorganisms will be unknown to future
generations. We must act before it is too late.
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