Dalai Lama on Laughter and Compassion
In an excerpt from his new book, My Spiritual Journey, The Dalai Lama shares his belief in the surprising power of laughter and smiles to reach other people, even our enemies.
I Am a Professional Laugher
I have been confronted with many difficulties throughout the course of my life, and my country is going through a critical period. But I laugh often, and my laughter is contagious. When people ask me how I find the strength to laugh now, I reply that I am a professional laugher. Laughing is a characteristic of the Tibetans, who are different in this from the Japanese or the Indians. They are very cheerful, like the Italians, rather than a little reserved, like the Germans or the English.
My cheerfulness also comes from my family. I come from a small village, not a big city, and our way of life is more jovial. We are always amusing ourselves, teasing each other, joking. It’s our habit.
To that is added, as I often say, the responsibility of being realistic. Of course problems are there. But thinking only of the negative aspect doesn’t help to find solutions and it destroys peace of mind. Everything, though, is relative. You can see the positive side of even the worst tragedies if you adopt a holistic perspective. If you take the negative as absolute and definitive, however, you increase your worries and anxiety, whereas by broadening the way you look at a problem you understand what is bad about it, but you accept it. This attitude comes to me, from my practice and from Buddhist philosophy, which help me enormously.
I often say jokingly that a truly selfish person must be altruistic!
Take the loss of our country, for example. We are a stateless people, and we must confront adversity along with many painful circumstances in Tibet itself. Nevertheless, such experiences also bring many benefits.
As for me, I’ve been homeless for half a century. But I have found a large number of new homes throughout the vast world. If I had remained at the Potala, I don’t think I would have had the chance to meet so many personalities, so many heads of state in Asia, Taiwan, the United States, and Europe, popes as well as many famous scientists and economists.
The life of exile is an unfortunate life, but I have always tried to cultivate a happy state of mind, appreciating the opportunities this existence without a settled home, far from all protocol, has offered me. This way I have been able to preserve my inner peace.
I Love the Smile, Unique to Humans
If we are content just to think that compassion, rationality, and patience are good, that is not actually enough to develop these qualities. Difficulties provide the occasion to put them into practice. Who can make such occasions arise? Certainly not our friends, but rather our enemies, for they are the ones who pose the most problems. So that we truly want to progress on the path, we must regard our enemies as our best teachers.
For whoever holds love and compassion in high esteem, the practice of tolerance is essential, and it requires an enemy. We must be grateful to our enemies, then, because they help us best engender a serene mind! Anger and hatred are the real enemies that we must confront and defeat, not the “enemies” who appear from time to time in our lives.
Of course it is natural and right that we all want to have friends. I often say jokingly that a truly selfish person must be altruistic! You have to take care of others, of their well-being, by helping them and serving them, to have even more friends and make more smiles blossom. The result? When you yourself need help, you will find all you need! On the other hand, if you neglect others’ happiness, you will be the loser in the long run. Is friendship born of arguments, anger, jealousy, and unbridled competition? I don’t think so. Only affection produces authentic friends.
In contemporary materialistic society, if you have money and power you have the impression of having a lot of friends. But they aren’t your friends; they are the friends of your money and power. If you lose your wealth and influence you will have trouble finding those people again.
Unfortunately, so long as things are going well, we think we can get along by ourselves. However, as our situation and health decline, we soon realize how wrong we were. That is when we understand who really helps us. To prepare ourselves for such a time, by making true friends who are useful when we need them most, we must cultivate altruism.
As for me, I always want more friends. I love smiles, and my wish is to see more smiles, real smiles, for there are many kinds—sarcastic, artificial, or diplomatic. Some smiles don’t arouse any satisfaction, and some even engender suspicion or fear. An authentic smile, though, arouses an authentic feeling of freshness, and I think the smile belongs only to human beings. If we want those smiles, we must create the reasons that make them appear.