The Dalai Lama has come on a four-day visit Lisbon and I’ve been lucky enough to be one of the 1200 people who attended his three-day teachings on Shantideva’s The Way of the Bodhisattva. The text itself is a wonderful poem about generating compassion and fighting off negative emotions and about taking the Bodhisattva’s Vows. The Dalai Lama knows it extremely well and has stated several times how important this text is in his own life. So it was wonderful to be able to listen to his teachings on the different chapters of the poem, watching his enthusiasm and feeling his own personal conviction about compassion and loving-kindness.
But the most important day, im my opinion, was the fourth. In the morning, the Dalai Lama attended an inter-religious conference, with representatives of the major religions present in Portuguese society. The meeting itself is nothing new to the Dalai Lama, since promoting inter-religious tolerance is one of his self-declared main goals and he attends them wherever he goes. This was the first time, however, that such an encounter of the differents visions of the divine was held in a mosque. Islam has been taking a beating from a lot of quadrants around the world, for the last several years. It has largely been held responsible, as a whole, for the actions of a few deranged fanatics. It is seen, unjustely in my opinion, as a particularly intolerant religion. The fact that the muslim community commited to host such an event on their place of worship validates and encourages the hope that someday we may look first at our similarities rather than at our differences.
In the afternoon of that same day, the Dalai Lama held a public conference for about 10000 people, which I was fortunate to attend too. On a much more secular note, His Holiness talked about the need to develop a good heart and compassion on all aspects of human life. Compassion, in Buddhism, has a very clear meaning, as does loving-kindness. The Dalai Lama used the example of the relationship between mother and child, the closeness, the self-sacrifice, the unconditional love and acceptance that, in its higher form, that relationship ensues. Compassion means taking that unconditional, fully accepting love, that expects nothing in return and extended it to the whole of Mankind and to all living beings. It means being left without a single enemy, in a world full of brothers and sisters, without having to depend on the actions and words of anyone to feel it. And you don’t have to be a buddhist to pursue it. You don’t even have to be religious. Because, although every major religion has this concept at the core of its doctrine, the beauty of his notion is that it focus on us humans, on the respect and care we all should have for each other, no matter who we are or where we come from.
Asking for world peace has been banalized to the point of being turn into a caricature of empty speech (after all every Miss Universe candidate is supposed to ask for it in her interview, right? ). The difference of generating compassion is that it comes from inside out. You don’t ask for world peace, you make it. You build it every day of your life, in every interaction with others and the world, no matter how short or distanced it may seem. You build it at home first and then translate it to the outside world. You make it a core value in your life and measure every single thing you think, say, feel or do against it.
As with any other path, chosen or not, you’ll trip or even fall along the way. There are times in any of our lives when anger or sadness or pain seem to be overwhelmingly strong, when patience is the last thing on our minds, when nothing seems to matter more than being right and standing our ground no matter what. The beautiful thing about compassion, is that we can extend it to ourselves, and ask forgiveness from ourselves and others and get up and get back on the path. As with any trained habit, each step becomes easier, after you’ve taken the first stride.