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January 17, 2009

A New Spirituality

The Dalai Lama

I believe deeply that we must find, all of us together, a new spirituality.

 -- Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama


Good Morning,

Brian Glanz and Mohini Glanz

The words above, at the center of today's discussion, answer a question asked several times of CompassionRise: if you are not Tibetan Buddhist, or even Buddhist, or even religious, then why should you so often discuss the Dalai Lama? A similar message from the Dalai Lama was discussed where he said in part "Compassion is not religious business; it is human business."

The man Tenzin Gyatso is the 14th Dalai Lama, just as the man Joseph Ratzinger is Pope Benedict XVI. CompassionRise has often discussed the compassionate wisdom of the Dalai Lama, and though we most often use his popular title, "the Dalai Lama," we first refer to him as Tenzin Gyatso. We seek his guidance not as a god-king, the living divinity in Tibetan Buddhism and the ruler of the Tibetan people; it is when he speaks as a man that he speaks to us all, and he is most wise.

The first Dalai Lama ruled 500 years ago, and Tenzin Gyatso was taught from a young age to follow in his footsteps and in the paths of all the Dalai Lamas. In his mesage today, the Dalai Lama walks in what may be a much older, more compassionate, and wiser path than any Dalai Lama before him.

2,500 years ago, it is written that there lived a prince named Siddhārtha Gautama in what we now call Nepal and India. The incredible story of Siddhārtha Gautama's life has no doubt been exaggerated and we cannot have total confidence in its details, but it is along this same path that the Dalai Lama walks today and it is thus that we appeal to his guidance. The story has inspirational merit, at least.

From Wikipedia:

Siddhārtha, destined to a luxurious life as a prince, had three palaces (for seasonal occupation) especially built for him. His father, King Śuddhodana, wishing for Siddhārtha to be a great king, shielded his son from religious teachings or knowledge of human suffering.

Siddhārtha spent 29 years as a Prince in Kapilavastu. Although his father ensured that Siddhārtha was provided with everything he could want or need, Siddhārtha felt that material wealth was not the ultimate goal of life.

At the age of 29,
Siddhārtha left his palace in order to meet his subjects. Despite his father's effort to remove the sick, aged and suffering from the public view, Siddhārtha was said to have seen an old man. Disturbed by this, when told that all people would eventually grow old by his charioteer Channa, the prince went on further trips where he encountered, variously, a diseased man, a decaying corpse, and an ascetic.

Deeply depressed by these sights, he sought to overcome old age, illness, and death by living the life of an ascetic, for himself. While still 29 years old, he left his palace forever.

Later in his life and still 2,500 years later, the man Siddhārtha Gautama has been called another name: "the Buddha." He starved himself to know the suffering of the starving, and endured other trials intentionally while seeking to find the root cause of all suffering. In time, he concluded that the root cause of suffering was ignorance, and he then devoted his life to teaching what he had learned.

If it is the case that all the story of Prince Siddhārtha Gautama, the Buddha's life, is historically true, then it is because a path so great was found that we know of it still, 2,500 years later. Or, if it is the case that a path so great was simply imagined, then we know of it still just as an ideal, as inspiration. It does not matter. What is important is that we have walking beside us now a man, Tenzin Gyatso, who is walking a similar path.

For the leader of a religion to see a world divided, then to say that religion is not enough: this is the Buddha's celebrated path. The Dalai Lama says "I believe deeply that we must find, all of us together, a new spirituality" and he is not suggesting we should all become Tibetan Buddhists.

In his preparation from childhood for a life as the Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso was taught the story of the Buddha. He in turn has endured great personal sacrifice to teach all people a universal lesson of compassion. Perhaps he walks the path of Siddhārtha Gautama due to direct inspiration, or perhaps he has learned from life experience that we must find a new spirituality beyond our religious divisions; this also does not matter.

At the heart of every religion is an honest principle, an inviolable ethic of compassion which is the logical undoing of that religion. At every religion's ideological center is a claim that it alone is the one, true religion. The Dalai Lama has followed the ethic of compassion to reject the ideological center of his and every religion.

The audacity of his statement and its circumstance draw the attention of the world. Compassion does not call us to nod our heads in approval. We are not called to follow, we are called to lead.