There aren’t many of us who will ever get to sit down for two days and enjoy a private conversation with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, so when someone does exactly that and shares the experience in book form, it is a book well worth noting.
The Dalai Lama on What Matters Most gives us the opportunity to eavesdrop on an extended conversation between Japanese anthropologist Noriyuki Ueda and the Dalai Lama on the topics of anger, compassion, social action and more.
The book opens with an Introduction, subtitled The Road to Dharamsala, in which the anthropologist outlines how he and the Dalai Lama came to have the conversation that is shared in the pages that follow.
Ueda’s motivation for the meeting was a strong desire for peace, as he states so clearly at the end of this Introduction:
‘I want to eliminate war from this world. I want to stop the bullying of defenceless people. I want peace and happiness for all human beings. Since I was a small child, I have been captivated by this idea, even to the point of obsession, and I thought this time, meeting face to face with the Dalai Lama, I might find some kind of answer. I had no idea what an immense treat awaited.’
There are four main parts to this book, and the first addresses the question What Can Buddhism Offer? Here we get to listen in as Ueda asks the Dalai Lama about his ideas on creating An Altruistic Society, What Matters Most in life, society as A Biological Need, Cultivating Compassion and the relationship between Faith and Social Development.
Part Two is entitled Compassionate Anger, and here we are treated to the Dala Lama’s thoughts on Ritual and Meaning, Buddhism as ‘Science of Mind’, Compassionate Anger, Good and Bad Attachments, Knowledge and Practice, The Dilemma of Modernization and Faith, The Right Spirit of Competition and Emptiness and Compassion.
… It is important not to think of Buddhism as a religion but as a “science of mind.”
A discussion of Love and Attachment occupies Part Three of this book, and the Dalai Lama begins by discussing the difference between the two in an examination of Love vs Attachment. The concepts of conditional and unconditional love arise here, and the conversation explores how those play out among Humans and Animals, with humanity having a stronger awareness of community. This leads on to a discussion about Love and Innate Healing Power, where the connection between inner spiritual values and physical health is explored.
Part Four is entitled Enlightened Buddhism for a Modern World, and here the conversation covers The Buddha’s Spirit of Social Service, Self-Responsibility in Buddhism and Transcending Suffering. It is in this section of the book that the Dalai Lama highlights the fact that Buddhahood is a goal we should all be pursuing. As he says so eloquently:
The Buddha taught that ultimately you yourself should become a Buddha. And he himself was once an ordinary person like us. He set an example for us by practicing until he attained Buddhahood.
In summary, The Dalai Lama on What Matters Most is a wonderful title that will give Buddhists of all traditions something to think about. If you want to live with a more open mind and heart then you should read this book, and if you don’t yet want to live that way, you should probably read it twice.