Sunday, October 3, 2010

Book Review: Freedom in Exile: The Autobiography of the Dalai Lama

I just finished reading Freedom in Exile: The Autobiography of the Dalai Lama. Before deciding to take the year off from school, I was supposed to take a class on Buddhism this fall and bought several of the books on the class reading list to read over the summer, including this one.

I found reading this book challenging, mostly because of the horrific descriptions of the oppression, torture, and murder of Tibetans by the Chinese given by the Dalai Lama. Despite the enormity of the human rights violations that have taken place in Tibet since the 1950's (and continue to this day), I have heard little about it in either the news or at school. To be honest, I am unsure why that is. It is common to see stories on atrocities committed in the Middle East, yet we hear nothing on Tibet. At least for the United States, this is probably influenced by our large economic ties to China.

However, I greatly admired the Dalai Lama himself. Throughout the book, he never insults an individual, even if their actions against his people were terrible. All the way up to Chairman Mao, the Dalai Lama always attempted to point out the best qualities in people. Although he never explicitly related his views on human nature, my impression was that he believed that every person is inherently good, a belief we would share.

I also admired his tolerance. While he discussed his Buddhist beliefs in great depth, he also praised the beliefs of other religious traditions and thought that these traditions had the same potential for helping people as Buddhism. When it comes to women, he encouraged their participation as leaders both in the Buddhist religion and in his own government in exile.

His courage and endurance are inspiring. His life has been filled with great suffering, yet he has never stopped working to help his people in Tibet, despite how difficult and sometimes dangerous his mission is. He is a truly selfless man. 

My favorite quote is a prayer the Dalai Lama uses to end his autobiography, saying it gives him "great inspiration and determination":

For as long as space endures,
And for as long as living beings remain,
Until then may I, too, abide
To dispel the misery of the world.

I loved this prayer because it can speak to a person no matter when religion they practice. For me, it means our goal must always be to help others and to selflessly work to eliminate all suffering on Earth. Sometimes, I think people become so caught up in the dogma of their religious beliefs and trying to live "right" that they forget this goal, yet it is too important and vital to ignore.

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