Compassion as empowerment

Jun 08, 2014, 07:38 IST | Meenakshi Shedde

I was lucky enough to attend the Dalai Lama’s lectures at Somaiya Vidyavihar, last weekend

I was lucky enough to attend the Dalai Lama’s lectures at Somaiya Vidyavihar, last weekend. The Dalai Lama is wonderfully charismatic. Not only is he wise, erudite and compassionate, but also offers a lot of practical advice to living a more fulfilling life. Above all, he is utterly charming, with a disarming sense of humour — he kept giggling at his own jokes, his eyes disappearing into his smile. The four-day lectures, called “Living, Loving, Laughing and Dying: The Buddhist Way,” was organised by the Nalanda Shiksha, a collective of Indian Buddhist groups. I’d like to share a few insights I got from listening to his lectures.

One of the most impressive things I learnt is to view compassion as empowerment. The Dalai Lama spoke of compassion as a powerful force, and therefore believes women have a key role in taking society forward. The power of compassion, truth and reason are important; physical strength is not so important, he observed. Usually, kind people are seen as namby-pambies, with a few exceptions.

Dalai Lama

It’s stuff you may do in your spare time to help the needy — a cheque here, a visit there — out of compassion, or to improve your social status, for a great selfie, or to fulfill your corporate social responsibility. But what about individual social responsibility? Buddhism is a non-theistic religion — it does not believe in God — but believes in karma, the law of causality — so we bear the consequences of our actions, positive and negative.

The Dalai Lama said, “We can create a more forceful, positive karma, to overcome our earlier negative karma.” So the most important thing we need today, is for sustained compassion and coordinated activism to replace passive acceptance and despair. In fact, the Buddha emphasised “loving kindness” and being “skilled in goodness.” Mahatma Gandhi, who understood the close relationship between power, activism and femininity, dismantled the British Empire and colonial masculinity in India by embracing his femininity — through love, non-violence and non-cooperation.

Moreover, the Dalai Lama spoke of developing control over our emotions. Anger will only harm you, your family and others, whereas patience leads to a peace of mind. “Make an objective study of the pros and cons of the results, when you respond to a problem with anger, and with patience,” he suggested. Patience and compassion should replace anger, he added.
Another fascinating insight he shared is on the nature of forgiveness.

Buddhism believes that each one of us is responsible for all humankind, for all sentient beings. Therefore, forgiveness is not merely acceptance of what another does. “If someone does an unjust action, you can try to prevent wrong-doing out of concern for their well-being: with their negative karma, they will suffer ultimately by the law of karma,” said the Dalai Lama. “For instance, we oppose, we criticise the Chinese authorities, but I have never developed anger towards them, but maintained a sense of compassion, of forgiveness towards them.”

Reflecting that there will never be a single religion that appeals to seven billion humans on this planet, he observed that “therefore, India’s secularism is the way forward.” The book Widening the Circle of Love: His Holiness the Dalai Lama, translated and edited by Jeffrey Hopkins, quotes the scholar and yogi Nagarjuna in his Precious Garland of Advice: “This is my simple religion. No need for temples. No need for complicated philosophy. Your own mind, your own heart, is the temple; your philosophy is simple kindness.”

Kudos to the organisers for arranging the Dalai Lama’s lectures in Mumbai.

Meenakshi Shedde is India Consultant to the Berlin Film Festival, an award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide, and journalist. She can be reached on

The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.

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