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12 Timeless Life Lessons Learned from the Dalai Lama

12 Timeless Life Lessons Learned from the Dalai Lama

What greater tragedy could there be than to spend your whole life unhappy, fearful and/or in conflict with other human beings? Surely it is far better to use your time here on earth living a meaningful life that not only enriches your own life, but also the lives of others. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama – spiritual leader of the Tibetan people and head monk of the Gelugpa lineage of Tibetan Buddhism – says: “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.”

A Nobel Peace Prize winner, the current Dalai Lama has spent his life teaching truths that help people reach greater happiness and enlightenment. He advocates for a life of compassion and service. Here are some of his most powerful life lessons that will benefit us if we internalize and put them into practice.

1.    We are all the same—members of the same human family

No matter what your status in life may be, you are still part of the same human family. We are all one. We should not be guided by notions of “them” vs. “us”, but instead think of our world much more in terms of a great “US.”

In the Dalai Lama’s own words from Kindness, Clarity, and Insight:

“Human beings by nature want happiness and do not want suffering. With that feeling everyone tries to achieve happiness and tries to get rid of suffering, and everyone has the basic right to do this. In this way, all here are the same, whether rich or poor, educated or uneducated, Easterner or Westerner, believer or non-believer, and within believers whether Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and so on.  Basically, from the viewpoint of real human value we are all the same.”

2.    If there is love, there is hope for families

Families today are plagued with strife, tensions and breakups, but the hope for families is love. If there is love in our homes, there is hope.

In the Dalai Lama’s own words from The Path to Tranquility: Daily Meditations:

“If there is love, there is hope to have real families, real brotherhood, real equanimity, and real peace. If the love within your mind is lost, if you continue to see other beings as enemies, then no matter how much knowledge or education you have, no matter how much material progress is made, only suffering and confusion will ensue.”

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3.   Good wishes alone are not sufficient; you must be actively engaged

Things won’t just work themselves out: you must work to bring about the change you desire in your life and in the lives of others. Roll up your sleeves and be actively engaged.

In the Dalai Lama’s own words from The Path to Tranquility: Daily Meditations:

“In the present circumstances, no one can afford to assume that someone else will solve their problems. Every individual has a responsibility to help guide our global family in the right direction. Good wishes are not sufficient; we must become actively engaged.”

4.    Before you generate love, you must first know what love is

You cannot offer what you don’t have or excite true love except by love. You must understand what love is and embrace it fully with all its costs. This way you will be able to generate true, sincere love and compassion.

In the Dalai Lama’s own words from The Compassionate Life:

“Before we can generate compassion and love, it is important to have a clear understanding of what we understand compassion and love to be. In simple terms, compassion and love can be defined as positive thoughts and feelings that give rise to such essential things in life as hope, courage, determination, and inner strength. In the Buddhist tradition, compassion and love are seen as two aspects of the same thing: Compassion is the wish for another being to be free from suffering; love is wanting them to have happiness.”

5.    Self-confidence is vital to making a better world

Self-confidence built on an awareness of your own potential is vital to making yourself and others better.

In the Dalai Lama’s own words from The Dalai Lama’s Book of Wisdom:

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“With the realization of one’s own potential and self-confidence in one’s ability, one can build a better world. According to my own experience, self-confidence is very important. That sort of confidence is not a blind one; it is an awareness of one’s own potential. On that basis, human beings can transform themselves by increasing the good qualities and reducing the negative qualities.”

6.    Self-discipline is your best defense against negative emotions

Negative emotions like anger, bitterness, hate, and jealousy bring about disasters of epic proportions in modern life. We can combat and diffuse negative emotions by exercising self-discipline: self-discipline is your fortress.

In the Dalai Lama’s own words from Live in a Better Way: Reflections on Truth, Love and Happiness:

“Self-discipline, although difficult, and not always easy while combating negative emotions, should be a defensive measure. At least we will be able to prevent the advent of negative conduct dominated by negative emotion. That is ‘shila‘, or moral ethics. Once we develop this by familiarizing ourselves with it, along with mindfulness and conscientiousness, eventually that pattern and way of life will become a part of our own life.”

7.    Success does not come merely by luck

Successful people are not successful merely by luck. There is a cause for success. Hard work breeds success. You must not just sit and wait for luck to smile at you. We merit success by working for it.

In the Dalai Lama’s own words from Answers: Discussions with Western Buddhists:

“It is our custom to say that someone is “lucky” or “unlucky” if they meet with fortunate or unfortunate circumstances, respectively. It is however, too simplistic to think in terms of random “luck.” Even from a scientific point of view, this is not a sufficient explanation. Should something unfortunate happen, we immediately think, “Oh, how unlucky!” And yet this is not sufficient to explain what happened – there must be a cause. We seem to call “luck” that factor which overrides external conditions to bring about a positive situation. But that too is a cause; it is an inner cause, which we call “merit.”

8.    No action is meaningless in a community

Society exists as a collection of individuals. Every effort is important; every individual action significant. No action is meaningless. You must take initiative and be responsible for your actions to move communities forward.

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In the Dalai Lama’s own words from The Dalai Lama’s Book of Love and Compassion:

“Sometimes we feel that one individual’s action is very insignificant. Then we think, of course, that effects should come from channeling or from a unifying movement. But the movement of the society, community, or group of people means joining individuals. Society means a collection of individuals, so that initiative must come from individuals. Unless each individual develops a sense of responsibility, the whole community cannot move. So therefore, it is very essential that we should not feel that individual effort is meaningless- you should not feel that way. We should make an effort.”

9.   Tomorrow’s events depend very much on today’s actions

What we do today has a direct impact on our tomorrow. So, learn from yesterday, do your best today, and reap the fruits tomorrow.  

In the Dalai Lama’s own words from Live in a Better Way: Reflections on Truth, Love and Happiness:

“According to Buddhism, there is a commensurate relationship between cause and effect where pain and pleasure are concerned. The immediate cause is karma. Karma means action. Tomorrow’s events depend very much on today’s actions, this year’s events on last year’s, while this century’s events are linked with those of the previous centuries. The actions of previous generations affect the lives of the generations that follow. This is also a kin of karma. However, there is a difference between actions carried out by a group of people or sentient beings jointly, and actions carried out by single person. In individual cases, the actions of the earlier part of one’s life have an effect on the latter part of one’s life.”

10.   Calmness of mind is a supreme source of mental happiness

Calmness of mind brings mental tranquility and happiness even in difficult and trying times. Have a calm mind and nothing will shake you.

In the Dalai Lama’s own words from The Dalai Lama’s Book of Wisdom:

“We often speak of the external enemy. For example, in my own case, our Chinese brothers and sisters are destroying Tibetan rights and, in that way, more suffering and anxiety develops. But no matter how forceful this is, it cannot destroy the supreme source of my happiness, which is my calmness of mind. This is something an external enemy cannot destroy. Our country can be invaded, our possessions can be destroyed, our friends can be killed, but these are secondary for our mental happiness. The ultimate source of my mental happiness is my peace of mind. Nothing can destroy this except my own anger.”

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11.   True tranquility springs from fewer personal requirements

True tranquility calls for fewer personal requirements and higher involvement in community.

In the Dalai Lama’s own words from The Path to Tranquility: Daily Meditations:

“As far as your personal requirements are concerned, the ideal is to have fewer involvements, fewer obligations, and fewer affairs, business or whatever. However, so far as the interest of the larger  community is concerned, you must have as many involvements as possible and as many activities as possible.”

12.   Our own survival is tied to the survival of the natural environment

No matter how much we try to disengage from our natural environment, our own survival as a species is tied to the survival of the natural environment.

In the Dalai Lama’s own words from The Dalai Lama, A Policy of Kindness:

“Just as we should cultivate more gentle and peaceful relations with our fellow human beings, we should also extend that same kind of attitude towards the natural environment. Morally speaking, we should be concerned for our whole environment. This, however, is not just a question of morality or ethics, but also a question of our own survival. For this generation and for future generations, the environment is very important.

If we exploit the environment in extreme ways, we may receive some benefit today, but in the long run, we will suffer, as will our future generations. When the environment changes, the climatic condition also changes. When the climate changes dramatically, the economy and many other things change. Our physical health will be greatly affected. Again, conservation is not merely a question of morality, but a question of our own survival.”

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The Gentle Art of Saying No

The Gentle Art of Saying No

No!

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

  1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
  2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
  3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
  4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
  5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
  6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
  7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
  8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
  9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
  10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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