While I’ve heard the Dalai Lama speak a number of times, and have made several short films about his views, including the ‘Dalai Lama’s guide to happiness’, what sticks in my mind most relates to a story his friend Dr Allen Wallace revealed to us, and the Dalai’s explanation.
Discussing emotions amongst a panel of scientists, the Dalai was asked how he maintained such a happy outlook and if in fact he ever got angry or sad.
“I am (a) normal human being, I think we (all) feel anger, otherwise I would appear in space, like an angel,” laughed His Holiness in response.
Dr Wallace, a leading Buddhist Scholar who has traveled extensively with the Dalai, said he had often comforted His Holiness and even held him weeping in his arms.
The Dalai said that all emotions, even anger, sadness and fear, can all be a positive and lead to greater happiness if we approach them in the right way – with compassion.
“I think sadness, with valid reasons, that’s good. That may bring enthusiasm to overcome that thing which is causing sadness,” he said.
“If sadness can bring that kind of enthusiasm and determination then that sadness is good.”
There are a growing number of reality TV shows that support this idea. When it comes to ‘positive’ anger, the former Tibetan leader said this can be a powerful driving force in helping us to show compassion to those we care for enough to confront about their problems.
“When you have sincere concern for other’s wellbeing and that being (is) going in the wrong direction, and out of a genuine sense of concern for that person and the circumstances (don’t allow for) any other alternative,sometimes you may need a little sort of harsh word or sometimes you may even need some sort of little harsh physical action in order to care.”
“In that short moment you need some sort of anger or ferocity necessary in order to carry the harsh word or harsh physical action, so that kind of anger is positive, because (it is) motivated by compassion.”
“So there are many variety (of emotions), fear (can be) positive or negative, desire (can be) positive or negative … that is from a Buddhist viewpoint, you have to judge.”
“We can not say all emotions are the same for every person or in every case.”
Raised by an uneducated farming mother who was illiterate, Lhamo Döndrub (or Thondup) as he was born, said understanding how our emotions affect us is one of the keys to happiness.
He said another thing was to learn how to limit the intensity of our ‘negative’ emotions and see a situation for what it really is – from every perspective.
“I think from (a) Buddhist view point most of the emotions which disturb our mind are based or related with (having a) wrong perception.”
“So I think (the) simple way to explain this is that there’s gap, appearance and reality, so most of the emotion which increases disturbances – these emotions in most cases are spontaneous – so these emotions are based on appearances.”
“On the level of appearances they are using most of these distracting emotions because they need some kind of independent, absolute kind of target or object.”
The 76-year-old said that with anger, for example, people often feel they are a victim and need someone or something else to point the finger at.
He said that reality is often overlooked in many situations where intense emotions arise – if a partner cheats for example, naturally the victim feels hurt and angry at their partner and the person they were with, when in reality chances are there was much more to it, and if we see past what appears black and white, there is an area of grey that can calm our emotions.
“When anger develops it needs some kind of target, something absolute and independent, so when that target is a little bit shaky then the intensity of anger also retreats a little bit, that’s very clear.”
“So if we have this target that (we think) is independent and absolute and we actually investigate and then answer, you will find – no (there is more to it).”
“So the grasping feeling (that something must be) independent (or) absolute, is ignorance.”
Having been forced into exile in India following the Tibetan uprising in 1959, the Dalai is someone who could house a lot of anger, but as he explains this would have isolated him further.
“Anger and hatred bring a sort of fear because anger develops a clear attitude where your self is distanced from others, so then there’s distrust, suspicion (and) that brings more fear and deep inside some unruly feeling.”
“Altruistic attitude brings (people) together, so through that way there’s no basis of fear.”
At just two years old he was selected as the rebirth of the 13th Dalai Lama and at 15 was formally recognised as the 14th Dalai Lama.
Before taking up the distinctive position he said he enjoyed a fun and free childhood that he continues to recall on still, and he urges others not to forget the simple joys they experienced as a kid.
“When we’re grown up … supposedly we gain more experience and become more wise, but then sometimes we a little bit neglect these basic human values.”
“We pay too much attention to our intelligence and then more ambitions. I think we really need to pay more attention (to the fact that) while our education, knowledge and experience increase, the basic human values must catch up, that’s my fundamental belief.”
“In order to develop these fundamental human values individuals and religion are very limited, (because their beliefs) can not be universal. So I use what you call the secular way to promote these things – not through prayer, not through meditation, but through events and through education.”
“Generally people don’t have adequate education about the value of warm-heartedness, so we do not pay attention about that, we consider that a religious matter.”
“Basically we all have the same sort of potential (and) experience, but we need to nurture these things.”
” The intelligence side, the brain side, we rapidly develop, but the warm- heartedness stays dormant, and that is something we seriously need to think about.”
About the author: Mike Worsman is an Australian journalist and filmmaker, who founded A Million Smiles – an organisation sharing stories about people, places and ideas that can inspire people to find and pursue what makes them smile. See more about the project and his time in Afghanistan via amillionsmilesmovie.com