Monday, August 16, 2010

The Wisdom of Forgivness: Intimate Conversations and Journeys

After reading Eat Pray Love, I was interested in knowing more about meditation and the Buddhist religion. I began talking with my Dad about these two subjects, knowing that he had read a lot of material on both, and asked him for some suggestions on basic reading material to get me started. Shortly after, I received a package for my birthday from him with a few different titles, bringing me to this weeks book, The Wisdom of Forgiveness: Intimate Conversations and Journey, By Victor Chan. This is a surprisingly easy and wholly engaging read, a rich story rather than dense teachings weighted down by abstruse Buddhist terminology. Through the eyes of Chan, friend and confidant of His Holiness, we are invited to become intimately acquainted with the Dalai Lama. We follow the leader of the Tibetan people as he travels extensively, and we join Chan as the proverbial fly on the wall, gaining privileged access into the public and private world of one of the most well known men of our time.

Chan begins by setting up the contrasts between his controlled, unemotional Chinese upbringing in Hong Kong and the "childlike, carefree spontaneity of Tibetans." In a beautiful turn of phrase that he illuminates throughout the book, Chan says the Dalai Lama "wears his soul on his face." And he shares, as he has rarely done, his own spiritual experiences. Chan met the Dalai Lama more than 30 years ago on a serendipitous trip to India, where the holy man was in exile, becoming a frequent visitor and confidante, as well as the first person from China to enter Dalai Lama's inner circle since the Chinese government seized Tibet in 1959. The Wisdom of Forgiveness is the recounting of their long and evolving friendship, as Chan chronicles nearly three decades traveling the world with the Dalai Lama. From war-torn Ireland to Eastern Europe, through India's holy sites and the Dalai Lama's grave illness, Chan had unprecedented access to the holy man's daily routine and private quarters, as well as his visits with bombing victims and dignitaries like Czech president Vaclav Havel and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Chan has a gift for observation and description, making this book both an intimate look at his own personal journey, and a thorough portrait of the Dalai Lama.

The book shows admirably, the Dalai Lama's sometimes unpredictable sense of humor, his ability to put people at ease, the unpretentious manner in which he wears his learning and his practice, his serenity, and his devotion. For decades he has been the spiritual and temporal leader of the exiled Tibetan people, as well as the most recognizable symbol of Buddhism in the world. An enigmatic figure, he is a Nobel Peace Laureate with a playful streak and an irresistible laugh. But that's not why he has gained superstar status in the West, or why his public appearances around the globe sell out in minutes. Why is he so revered? Because people are thirsty for his message of compassion and non-violence, a powerful message that crosses barriers of race, religion, and creed. People embrace the Dalai Lama's universal, secular values—qualities like forgiveness and acceptance, or what he calls "the warm heart." As his longtime friend, Chan, describes it: "He and his countrymen practice a very simple religion—they practice being kind to each other."

The Wisdom of Forgiveness is a good starting point to learn about Buddhism, and be introduced to the Dali Lama in a new, and more personal way. Although I'm not fully convinced I received all the information I was hoping to obtain, there were a few key points that I think are very valuable to maintaining happiness in everyday life, including:

"...he exists only because others exist: a person is a person through other persons. When we say you have ubuuntu, we mean you are gentle, you are compassionate, you are hospitable, you want to share, and you care about the welfare of others. This is because my humanity is caught up in your humanity. So when I dehumanize others, whether I like it or not, I dehumanize myself. For we can only be human, we can only be free together. To forgive is actually the best form of self-interest."

"Despite his lack of control over what the Chinese could do to him physically, Tenzin finally understood that the Chinese could not damage his mental health unilaterally. The only way his psychological well-being could suffer was through his own attitude, his own reaction to his dire straits. He knew that if he could develop a neutral-or better yet, a positive-feeling toward his captors, he would be able to sleep at night, and no matter how badly the Chinese tortured him, his mind would always be a safe haven for him to retreat to."

"Compassion is something like a sense of caring, a sense of concern for others difficulties and pain. Not only family and friends, but all other people. Enemies also. Now, if we really analyze our feelings, one thing becomes clear. If we think only of ourselves, forget about other people, then our minds occupy very small area. Inside that small area, even tiny problem appears very big. But the moment you develop a sense of concern for others, you realize that, just like ourselves, they also want happiness; they also want satisfaction. When you have this sense of concern, your mind automatically widens. At this point, your own problems, even big problems, will not be so significant. the result? Big increase in peace of mind. So, if you think only of yourself, only your own happiness, the result is actually less happiness. You get more anxiety, more fear."

This is a great book, if you are looking for a brief overview of the Buddhist religion, however, if you are looking for greater detail and understanding I would suggest some further reading on the subject.

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