Saturday, April 9, 2011

Cultivating Compassion: A Review of In My Own Words: An Introduction to My Teachings and Philosophy by His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Synopsis: In In My Own Words: An Introduction to My Teachings and Philosophy, His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, introduces the principal teachings and philosophies of Mahayana Buddhism. He also gives consul on how to become a better person through developing compassion for others and creating within yourself a sense of universal responsibility.

Review: I picked this book up a year or two ago when I was going through a period of spiritual curiosity. I got to about the fourth chapter and then life intervened and I was forced to put it down. I had always meant to get back to it at some point and I guess this month was as good a time as any.

I want to start off by saying that I really respect the Dalai Lama as not only a spiritual leader but also as a human being in general. He is a kind and compassionate person as well as an eloquent and powerful speaker. He spoke at the University of Buffalo my sophomore year of college and I opted not to go to Buffalo to see him because I was afraid that my professors wouldn't consider it a legitimate excuse for missing class. You know that saying about not assuming things? I found out the day of his talk that they would have been completely fine with me skipping to go see him.

This was pretty much my reaction to that news.

Anyway, this book was definitely not as awesome as I'm sure hearing him speak would have been, but it was a well-written, albeit short, book that featured essays written by the Dalai Lama about various ideas and practices within Mahayana Buddhism that was edited by one of his students, Rajiv Mehrotra.

There isn't much to say about this book. It's not very in depth, as it's an introduction, and most of it is fairly easy to comprehend. There are some parts--a few full chapters, actually--that are somewhat obtuse, but they are the more philosophical parts and, as someone who has read his fair share of philosophy, I expected as much. The chapters on compassion and universal responsibility, as well as the chapters that first introduce the concepts of Buddhism are very readable, however, and showcase the Dalai Lama's gift for explanation, his indelible humor, and his devotion to the eventual freedom of all people from tyranny and oppression. 

The Dalai Lama is not just a spiritual leader. He is also the leader of Tibet's exiled government, which is currently located in India. He and the people of Tibet have been mercilessly persecuted by the Chinese government and have been trying to regain their independence for what seems like forever.* As someone who has experienced first-hand the horrors of oppression, he is uniquely qualified to speak of the need for peace, non-violence, and democracy on a global scale. His Nobel Peace Prize only serves to further his qualifications in my mind. 

Anyone wishing to study Buddhism or simply to learn more about it will find a lot of useful information in this book. It is, of course, important to find an actual teacher if you desire to pursue the path to enlightenment, but this book is a starting point. Some of the more difficult philosophical passages can be a little frustrating but on the whole I found the book to be quite enjoyable and a rather easy read. 

I'm giving In My Own Words a four out of five stars. It loses a star because of the bits that were hard to understand. I think that if I had had more time to sit down and read through the book slowly and more contemplatively that I would have them but I am, unfortunately, on a schedule and couldn't take the time to read it at a more leisurely pace. 

On an unrelated note, if you've been paying attention to the "On Deck" section of the left sidebar, you'll have noticed that the next three books I'm reading are not of a religious nature in any sense of the word. I'm trying to get through all five Skulduggery Pleasant books this month (the three I've previously read as well as the two new ones that I have not) so in addition to my already planned filler book, Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, I'll be reading two of the five Landy books this weekend and possibly into Monday. That means more reviews for you and a short break from non-fiction for me. 


*I have just managed to get myself blocked in China. I apologize to the people there who were following my blog.

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