Top 5 Life Lessons Learned From the Dalai Lama

Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.  ~ Dalai Lama

Perhaps the most well-known living Buddhist (leader) on the earth is his holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.  Although I don’t practice Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama has always inspired me with his universal Buddhist teachings, love of others, interfaith efforts, and promotion of world peace.  Most humbling is that he always refers to himself as “a simple Buddhist monk”.  No ego at work there!

I’ve picked five quotes by the Dalai Lama (yes, these are real ones), along with some commentary by me, that I believe can help everyone be happy in their daily lives, Buddhist or not.

  1. “No answer”
    How about that for a quote?  Sometimes the Dali Lama does not even respond, and that kind of response is firmly rooted in Buddhism.  Throughout the Buddha’s life he sometimes gave no answer to some questions that had no bearing on the Dharma (teachings), or in order to resolve quarreling between two groups.  This was later known as his “Noble silence”.  His silence had power, and you can use that silence also in certain situations.  When we experience silence in our daily lives during a conversation, we have this uncontrolled want to fill that ‘void’ with talk even when it does nothing to help.  By using silence when there is no best answer, you allow them (and you) to have the mind ‘slow down’ and either discover the question has no real answer, or it can help them find the correct and peaceful solution.

  2. “Human happiness and human satisfaction must ultimately come from within oneself. It is wrong to expect some final satisfaction to come from money or from a computer.”
    We have seen numerous times where a big lottery winner receives millions and is wealthy overnight.  Yet, they are often broke in a year and miserable.  What happened?  With the influx of money they discovered new problems they thought it would solve such as people wanting money and losing their ‘grounding’ in daily life.   Most importantly, the material possessions they are now able to buy doesn’t fill that void like they thought it would.  The same can be said for anything else you crave after (a friend, lover, home, promotion, phone, etc.) as the constant craving for something when finally caught leads to other troubles.  When you get what you want, you also fear losing it (especially if it is expensive or beautiful).  Wanting (craving) can deprive us happiness and the content life we can live.  So, be happy you don’t always get what you want!

  3. “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.”
    It’s easy to be tolerant with a friend or loved one, but what about someone you despise or have very strong negative feelings for?  They are your best teacher at tolerance.  “How dare they!” you may be thinking as your feelings swell.  But can you be tolerant and compassionate with them?  The more your learn to use your “enemy” as a teacher, you will be able to rid yourself of the mindset of “enemy” and begin to plant the seeds of loving kindness in your mind.  When people are not able to control your emotions, they won’t be able to control your mind.  You can then build upon love and kindness that may actually turn that enemy into a friend and learn why they acted that way in the first place as there is usually a reason you didn’t know at the time.

  4. “A truly compassionate attitude towards others does not change even if they behave negatively [or hurt you].”
    We sometimes think as compassion as an emotional response, but it’s not.  For example when you see a commercial with injured animals you may feel that emotionally you are reacting and compassion results.  While this may be true at some level, true compassion is “a firm commitment founded on reason”.  So what if in that commercial you saw a dog that looked “ugly”?  Would your ‘compassion’ decrease?  True compassion results in your belief that all beings want happiness and don’t want suffering.  If you are able to apply that mindfully always, the visual and perceived notions of “beauty”, “social”, etc., lose their meaning and you can truly practice compassion.  This helps you because this true compassion becomes your love for all beings, which in turn is one of the many steps in achieving enlightenment.

  5. “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.”
    Have you ever thought that you are “just one person” and that you have no impact?  The issues of the world are just too big?  You can have an impact with something as simple as writing your elected officials (who actually do take the number they receive into consideration), to practicing compassion with someone who is upset.  While it may be easy to distance ourselves and just worry about ourselves, we do a disservice to others and yourself.  Be engaged and practice helping others, but not if helping will actually hurt them.  So if they don’t want to talk to you, it is OK to walk away as that can be compassion for that person at that particular time.

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This article was originally published on 21 Jan 2013, and last updated on 08 Jul 2017.

Copyright © 2013 by Alan Peto, all rights reserved.