I was lucky enough to have the opportunity of attending a lecture, titled ‘Happiness: the power of giving & receiving’, handed down by none other than the 14th Dalai Lama himself upon the eve of his 80th birthday.

Now, I’m not much of a spiritual person, or a religious person for that matter. I attended an all-boys catholic high school and was made to sit through hours of religion classes on a weekly basis, but it became quickly apparent that religion, prayer, and meditation weren’t really for me.

I came in with an open mind and I left with nothing but appreciation, respect, and praise for a man who represents so much, has been through so much more, and has such a wonderful and practical message to share with the world in search of inner peace and happiness for all.

In light of that, I thought I would share with you the 5 things that really hit home to me, not because they are profound or paradigm-shifting, but actually because they are so frank and deliberate, and can apply to everyone from every walk of life:

You are your own master. Ultimately, no one can make you happy if you aren’t able to find it yourself

This was the key to his whole lecture. The only person truly responsible for your own happiness is yourself. Others can try; they can give you the world and expect nothing in return. But if your heart cannot find a way to find contentment and peace within your surroundings, whether engulfed with love and support or starkly alone, nothing else will be able to overcome that.

You are the master of your own happiness, your own sadness, your dreams, and your regrets. The Dalai Lama argued that happiness comes from finding inner peace with yourself and your life, along with service and engagement in your community. But one comes hand in hand with the other.

This one really hit home with me. On my travels, away from my support network of friends and family at home, I’ve had to teach myself new ways of finding happiness and peace when loneliness takes over. And I have found that engaging with the community, giving back to others, and embracing all aspects of the life I lead are major contributors to putting a smile on my face as I wake up every morning.

Seeking happiness through material goods brings only temporary relief, and hides the real problems

Just like the people around us are ultimately powerless to overcome our own feeling of emptiness, the value of papering over our issues with material things is also temporary. In fact, the Dalai Lama stressed that focusing our energy on distracting ourselves from the real issues only prolongs and clouds our path to fulfillment.

So the next time you drown your sorrows in a bottle of wine, or turn to retail therapy to paper over the loneliness, try mindfully accepting and embracing the hurt, and focus on why it exists, and how you can shift your psyche to make it disappear.

Secular education and a strong sense of compassion for others is the key to happiness

I found this point of his to be extremely refreshing. For the head of a spiritual order to endorse secular education within schools, away from dogmatic religious shackles, and towards the scientific embracing of the mind and soul was extremely impressive.

He rattled off anecdote after anecdote about his time studying with scientists in psychology, neurology, quantum physics, and chemistry, explaining how science is the key to educating people into the future about the world we live in, and through that, building a global foundation of compassion and understanding.

It was truly inspiring. Through better educating ourselves of the world we live in, we build stronger connections with those around us. Through empathy we build compassion, and through compassion, we build happiness. From the poorest streets in Zambia, to the bustling skyscrapers of New York, this is true for everyone.

The power of praying to a god or deity for happiness or help is questionable at best

This one shocked me a little. It really affirmed to me that the Dalai Lama is a rational, logical, frank, and open-minded person. Instead of preaching from the book, like the rest of the spiritual leaders around the world, he preached from his own mind and experiences.

He told us of his time as a refugee from his own country in March 1959. He recalled a period of great despair where, as leader of six million Tibetans and not much older than I am, he was powerless to protect his people from the might of the Chinese Communists. He was urged to pray to Buddha for help.

So he did. But does he believe that prayer to Buddha, or any deity for that matter, actually does anything? His answer, “I don’t know”, as he chuckled away. Instead, The Dalai Lama said that meditation, education, and deep thought about the issues he faced, were probably the key to finding his way through the toughest times of his life.

Formality impedes true connection with others

I found this one to be the most humorous, but also the most telling of them all. Obviously, the Dalai Lama receives a great deal of respect wherever he goes. He is greeted with a level of pomp and procedure received by few. But he made it very clear at the outset that he thought very little of the formalities prepared for him.

In fact, he argued through his usual anecdotal style, that formality is a mask that sits in front of who we truly are, and that when we are simply being ourselves, we build stronger connections with those around us. It’s something we see every day, and simply accept as a part of life. But to have a man of such a high office argue against the acts of respect he receives in order open the floor for real dialogue and trust is a very impressive thing.

Breaking down the barriers of formality and hierarchy were a key tenet in his assertion that we really are all equal, including his holiness himself. The Dalai Lama spoke like the most traveled and educated man I had ever met.

His thoughts and beliefs reflected not that of a spiritual leader tied to his holy scriptures, but of a pragmatic and compassionate elder, enlightened by decades of learning from and sharing with people across the globe. Through education and the extension of his arms towards all he has met around the world, he stands as a shining example of the beacon of peace and happiness we can all be.

Featured photo credit: Minette Layne via flickr.com

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