Journey for Peace: His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, by Matthieu Ricard and Christian Schmidt, photographs by Manuel Bauer (Scalo Publishers), 291 pages.
The Dalai Lama has become a celebrity around the world, especially since receiving the Nobel Peace prize in 1989 and after the popular movies Seven Years in Tibet, The Little Buddha and Kundun were released in the 1990s. He deserves this popularity; his life has been a long, courageous, tragic and spiritual adventure. This coffee-table book, published on the occasion of the Dalai Lama’s 70th birthday in 2005, is a dedication to his long journey for peace and compassion.
The Dalai Lama is unlike the type of a religious leader we may think of – with a serious head in the sky and a heart limited to his doctrine and congregation. The Dalai Lama does not condemn other religions or even non-religions. He believes that all religions can serve humans and that spiritual virtues are basic human qualities, which can be realized via religious traditions or other ways. He says over and over: "The purpose of life is to be happy and is to avoid suffering." He says, "My religion is kindness." Happiness and kindness go hand-in-hand.
The Dalai Lama smiles, he is humorous, he is down to earth. An anecdote in this book narrates that while walking with French President Mitterrand’s wife in a temple in Paris, the Dalai Lama pointed to a Buddha statute and introduced it, "That is my boss!" This book does not attempt to idealize the Dalai Lama; it shows the human side of him as the Dalai Lama talks frankly about himself. For example, we read that he got angry when his luggage from Madrid airport to his hotel did not show up, or sometimes beautiful women appear in his dreams but he remembers that he is a monk!
The Dalai Lama is sensitive to problems facing the humanity. He talks about daily life, death, sex, poverty, war, peace, human rights and the environment. The Dalai Lama is not a religious fundamentalist. He is immensely interested in modern science, agrees with both Big Bang and Evolution theories, and searches for ways to converge science and spirituality. For the past two decades, the Dalai Lama has held a series of dialogues with scientists, called the Mind and Life conferences.
Although he is regarded by Tibetans as the spiritual and national leader of their country, and by millions of non-Tibetans as an icon of peace and compassion in our world, the Dalai Lama himself says, "I am a simple monk." He resents people’s expectation of him as a healer, a magician or a saint with supernatural powers. "All he will acknowledge having at his command," notes the writers of this book, "is a little bit of positive energy." Tibetans call him "Kundun" (presence), the Mongolian word, "Dalai," and the Tibetan word, "Gyatso," mean "ocean of wisdom."
This book is filled with superb photographs taken from the daily life and public activities of the Dalai Lama in recent years. Two text chapters offer light reading. The first ("The Monk") is an interview with the Dalai Lama interwoven with background information and interesting anecdotes by the interviewers. The second text ("Timeline") is a chronology of Tibet, Tibetan Buddhism and Dalai Lamas, especially the present one.
In the seventh century, Lhasa became the capital of Tibet and Buddhism was first introduced to Tibet from India. The institution of Dalai Lamas, as incarnated lamas of the Buddha of Compassion (Avalokiteshvara in Sanskrit or Chenrezi in Tibetan) began about 600 years ago.
Lhamo Dhondup ("wish-fulfilling goddess") was born to a peasant family in a remote village of Taktser in northeast Tibet on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Year of the Wood Pig. This Tibetan date translates into July 6, 1935, and the body so named was discovered by Lhasa officials as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama who had passed away two years earlier. The boy was taken to the Potala Palace, was given the title Tenzin Gyatso, and trained in Buddhist and Tibetan traditions. In 1950, as the Chinese communist army invaded Tibet, the 15-year-old Dalai Lama resumed the ruling power of his country. Nine years later, he passed his final examination to obtain the highest degree ("Ghese") in Tibetan Buddhism, but as Chinese brutal actions in Lhasa posed danger to the Dalai Lama himself, he fled to India. Since 1959 the Dalai Lama has lived with his government-in-exile in Dharamsala, a beautiful Himalayan town in north India.
Over the past four decades, the Dalai Lama has successfully preserved Tibetan culture in exile, has brought the plight of his people to the attention of the world, and has preached what he practices – peace, non-violence, compassion and dialogue. His journey is not only the life journey of a single remarkable man or the historical journey of a religion and people, but also an inward journey beneficial to all humans.