The Asian Reporter 19th Annual
Scholarship & Awards Banquet -
The Asian Reporter's
From The Asian Reporter, V13, #30 (July 22-28,
2003), page 11.
Compassion and wisdom
How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life
By His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Translated and edited by Jeffrey Hopkins, Ph.D.
Pocket Books, 2002
Hardcover, 223 pages, $20.00
By Josephine Bridges
Whenever I read a self-help book, a nagging voice in the back of my mind asks what good the book would do a political prisoner sentenced to a lifetime of hard labor. Usually, I have to admit, not much. How to Practice is different. The Dalai Lama tells a story of a scholarly Buddhist monk who explained that, while imprisoned in a Chinese Communist gulag for almost eighteen years, he had faced danger on several occasions. The Dalai Lama assumed that the monk meant his life was threatened, yet had the wisdom to ask, "What danger?" "Losing compassion toward the Chinese," the monk answered.
"On every level — as individuals, and as members of a family, a community, a nation, and a planet — the most mischievous troublemakers we face are anger and egoism," writes the author in his profound yet accessible introduction. "The big question is whether or not we can practice kindness and peace."
It’s a big question, all right, and should we decide we want to take on this challenge, How to Practice gives us clear instructions. The book is divided into six sections, beginning with "The Basics," a five-page overview which includes the Dalai Lama’s first-person account of his own practice. "Vows to restrain counterproductive physical and verbal activities made me mindful of my behavior and drew me to inspect what was happening in my mind." If we all simply did likewise, I have no doubt that our world would improve immediately and immeasurably.
But there’s more. The book’s second and largest section, "Practicing Morality," lists ten nonvirtues. "The physical nonvirtues are killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct. The verbal nonvirtues are lying, divisive talk, harsh speech, and senseless chatter. [This reviewer is especially grateful for the inclusion of senseless chatter.] The mental nonvirtues are covetousness, harmful intent, and wrong views." By abandoning these and cultivating their opposites, we can "create the foundation for an eventual spiritual state devoid of suffering and limitation." This section also includes suggestions for achieving contentment in material areas, information on being "wisely selfish," and the essence of the Buddha’s teaching: "If possible, you should help others. If that is not possible, at least you should do no harm."
"Practicing Concentrated Meditation," the third section, guides the reader through the steps of this activity, the cultivation of which one Tibetan described as "worse than imprisonment in a Chinese jail!" The fourth section, "Practicing Wisdom," contains the best explanations of the Buddhist concepts of emptiness and selflessness that I have ever read. "Tantra," the fifth section, is a brief and fascinating description of this spiritual fast track. "When I was a young boy," writes the holy man who sometimes sounds like a stand-up comic, "Tantra was just a matter of blind faith."
"Steps Along the Way," this book’s closing section, is a wonderful summation and recapitulation of the rest of the book. If you have only fifteen minutes to give How to Practice, read the last fifteen pages. Typically humble, peaceful, and respectful, the Dalai Lama finishes his treasure trove of wisdom and compassion with these words, which I will also use to close this review of one of the most useful books I have ever read: "Though my own knowledge is limited and my experience is also very poor, I have tried my best to help you understand the full breadth of the Buddha’s teaching. Please implement whatever in these pages appears to be helpful. If you follow another religion, please adopt whatever might assist you. If you do not think it would be helpful, just leave it alone."