The Dalai Lama was presented with the Templeton Prize for exceptional contributions to spiritual life and I was privileged to be part of today’s award ceremony. It was an extraordinary event for any number of reasons, from the beauty of St Paul’s Cathedral and the majestic choral contributions to the informal, inclusive nature of the Dalia Lama’s speech and the numbers of exiled Tibetans visibly moved by his presence. They weren’t the only ones to be moved. The Dalai Lama is the manifestation of compassion, what we in the West might call a demi-god yet here he was, two feet from us, waving and saying hello like your uncle Bob.
His unprepared speech was filled with playfulness, ease and the insistence that he really is like your uncle Bob or rather, your brother. “I am just one of 7 billion people. We are all brothers and sisters.” He spoke about the central importance of connection with others; the undeniability of interdependence between people, all sentient beings and the environment; non-violent relationships with enemies (great that we’re allowed to have enemies) and the link between personal happiness and the development of love and compassion for others.
Neuroscience confirms this 12th Century philosophy: the prefrontal cortex of meditators light up when they focus on compassion, the same area of the brain concerned with feelings of wellbeing, joy, contentment. If you want to be happy concentrate on the happiness of others.
For me, the message that stood out was that of Self Confidence. For the British having self-confidence is equated with being an arrogant oaf but for the Dalai Lama self-confidence is simply a matter of avoiding excess. Don’t be excessive in your pride or in underestimating your abilities and good qualities. It’s a very clear-eyed, logical approach to mental health.
Here’s the Buddhist prayer from the Templeton Prize programme. Read it and, just for those moments, mean it. See how you feel afterwards: that’s your prefrontal cortex drenching you in feelings of wellbeing when you wish wellbeing for others.
May all beings everywhere
Plagued by sufferings of body and mind
Obtain an ocean of happiness and joy
By virtue of my merits.
May no living creatures suffer,
Commit evil, or ever fall ill.
May no one be afraid or belittled,
With a mind weighed down by depression.
May the blind see forms
And the deaf hear sounds,
May those whose bodies are worn with toil
Be restored on finding repose.
May the naked find clothing,
The hungry find food;
May the thirsty find water
And delicious drinks.
May the poor find wealth,
Those weak with sorrow find joy;
May the forlorn find hope,
Constant happiness, and prosperity.
May there be timely rains
And bountiful harvests;
May all medicines be effective
And wholesome prayers bear fruit.
May all who are sick and ill
Quickly be freed from their ailments.
Whatever diseases there are in the world,
May they never occur again.
May the frightened cease to be afraid
And those bound be freed;
May the powerless find power,
And may people think of benefiting each other.
For as long as space remains,
For as long as sentient beings remain,
Until then may I too remain
To dispel the miseries of the world.
From A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life by Shantideva.
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