“Your Health is My Health:” A Theology of Compassion

The Dalai Lama addressing a crowd of 11,500 at Viejas Arena

The 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet paid a historic visit to San Diego State University on Thursday, April 19th. He is a man of humor and charisma. Though his speech was marred by his struggle with English, his eloquence was found elsewhere in his profound sense of simplicity, lightheartedness, calmness and peace.

He had already delivered two talks in San Diego, but his last talk at SDSU was far from a formality. He was extremely enthusiastic, saluted and thanked the crowd at the beginning, during and after his talk. Diana Kutlow, a program coordinator, was quoted in a piece written by Peter Rowe, “Everyone who was around him was important to him.” She goes on to describe that the Dalai Lama constantly made sure his guards and hotel staff felt appreciated. These are qualities of a man who has genuinely internalized the ethics and sense of enlightenment his religion stands for.

He started his speech by a message of equality, reminding us that we all share the same potential, body and soul. It’s what we do with our lives that set us apart from the rest who let grudge and aggression dominate their minds.  The Dalai Lama views compassion not as a luxury, but as a “means of survival.”  Love your enemies, he says, their wrong actions will hurt themselves more than they will hurt you.

For justice-minded individuals who expected the Dalai Lama to address particular conflicts of our times, the Palestinian suffering, the ongoing U.S occupation of Afghanistan, human rights abuses taking place in Iran, Syria, Israel and his own Tibet, his speech would have been disappointing at first. He made a remote reference to the the U.S involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan as “very complicated.” Why did the Dalai Lama avoid controversial political issues at SDSU? Each individual is to focus on his/her own being and actions, this was at the core of his talk. He did not deviate from this path, united the crowd rather potentially dividing them.

Avoiding politically-charged conflicts in a nation itself divided by bi-partisan politics does not signify the Dalai Lama’s silence or disinterest in politics in general. He is perhaps one of the only religious leaders of our times to openly favor secularism and scientific advancements. He described his definition of secularism not as anti-theist–“against religion”–but as a system free from religious discrimination and forced indoctrination. The Dalai Lama’s point most particularly concerns not only theocracies but also societies that have secularized badly, removing religious rituals and symbols from the social arena, rather than remove religion’s institutional influence on politics.

The Dalai Lama, arguably the most loved religious leader of our time, left our San Diego yesterday, having shown us what a man who has developed a capacity for compassion, inclusion and tolerance looks like at 76: nothing less than a young soul, filled with energy and humor, the life of every gathering. He remakes laughingly at the end of his talk, “I have an eye on this world, and an eye on the next world.”

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Also, please read a more thorough report by my friend and colleague, Jacquelyne Yawn, published by San Diego Entertainer Magazine.

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