The Good Heart (1998)

It is a Christian belief that when Scripture is read by someone with a good heart, it comes to life for all of us again” (57).

The Good Heart by H.H. the Dalai Lama, Laurence Freeman, et al. is a wonderful book. In it, the Dalai Lama reflects on passages from the New Testament, encouraging us to look for places of dialogue but cautioning us against conflating all religion into one. He says that “one religion simply cannot satisfy the needs of such a variety of people. If we try to unify the faiths of the world into one religion, we will also lose many of the qualities and richnesses of each particular religion. Therefore, I feel it is better…to maintain a variety of religious traditions” because “a diversity of religious traditions is more suited to serve the needs of the diverse mental dispositions among humanity” (41–42). He offers four ways harmony among religions can be promoted: (1) by scholarly meetings, (2) by meetings of spiritual people, (3) by having religious leaders gather together, and (4) by going on interfaith pilgrimages to holy sites (39–40).

The Dalai Lama’s “main concern” in this book is to “help or serve the Christian practitioner” (45). With this stated, he begins with Matthew 5:38–48, “Love your enemy.” Citing Matthew’s claim that the sun shines on the just and the unjust, he says, “This is a wonderful metaphor for compassion. It gives you the sense of its impartiality and all-embracing nature” (49). Next, the Dalai Lama reads Matthew 5:1–10, the Beatitudes. He says that they communicate that “those who are willing to embark on a path and accept the hardships and the pain involved in it will reap the rewards of their commitment” (53–54). He also discusses causality and karma, saying that these “verses imply that if you act in a certain way, then you experience a certain effect” (54).

Chapter 4 is titled “equanimity” and focuses on Mark 3:31–35. This passage “not only [gives] us a definition of what compassion is, but they also describe the stages in the development of a consciousness generating that compassion.” He writes,

To my mind, this tells us that true and genuine compassion is a compassion that is free from attachment, free from the limitations of personal bias…[I]n compassion there is a certain freedom from attachment….[T]he precondition for genuine compassion is to have a sense of equanimity toward all sentient beings.

Our normal state of mind is heavily biased. We have an attitude of distance from people that we consider as unfriendly or enemies and a disproportionate sense of closeness or attachment toward those whom we consider our friends….Until we overcome these prejudices, we have no possibility of generating genuine compassion (67).

He continues, “Genuine compassion…springs from a clear recognition of the experience of suffering on the part of the object of compassion, and from the realization that this creature is worthy of compassion and affection. Any compassionate feeling that arises from these two realizations cannot be swayed” (68). So enemies then become the object of compassion too. He applies it to “the Christian spiritual context,” saying, “just as myself, this enemy shares the same divine nature and is a creation of the divine force” (68–69).

After reflecting on the notion of kindness, he concludes this chapter by saying,

Every aspect of your life—your religious practice, your spiritual growth, even your basic survival—is impossible without others. When you think along such lines, you will find sufficient grounds to feel connected with others, to feel the need to repay their kindness.

In light of these convictions, it becomes impossible to believe that some people are totally irrelevant to your life or that you can afford to adopt an indifferent attitude toward them. There are no human beings who are irrelevant to your life (70).

Next, the Dalai Lama reflects on Mark 4:26–34, the Kingdom of God. He focuses on the nourishing aspects of religion and embracing commonalities while maintaining differences. In the discussion that is recorded after this reflection, one panel member makes an interesting observation: “Rather than detachment, however, one way of translating this Buddhist concept might be more a sense of non-possessiviness toward other people and things. People can immediately recognize that possessiveness is inherently unwholesome and that a sense of ownership has a sticky quality that brings delusion, division, and other problems” (75).

Reflecting on the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28–36), the Dalai Lama explains how in the Buddhist tradition advanced spiritual practitioners are believed to be able to experience such transformations. He also discusses the notion of “emanation,” suggesting that the appearance of Elijah and Moses could be understood though that phenomenon.

Reading Luke 9:1–6, the mission, he states that this passage communicates that “a spiritual practitioner who has gained a certain degree of realization as a result of his or her long practice should not rest content. Instead, this practitioner should set out and attempt to communicate it to others, so that they too can share in the experience” (95). He also discourages “active conversion,” favoring instead “the Buddhist attitude” of spreading the message: “unless someone approaches a teacher and requests specific teachings, it is not right for a teacher to impose his or her views and doctrines onto another person” (98). He also describes references to demons as interior dispositions, not external “autonomous” forces (98).

Chapter 8, about faith, focuses on John 12:44–50. He says that Buddhists recognize three different types of faith: (1) admiration, (2) aspiring, (3) conviction (112).

The final chapter deals with John’s resurrection narrative. The Dalai Lama tells something that a priest shared with him about understanding Jesus’s physical body, subtle body (the Resurrection body), and spiritual body (his post-Ascension body) (118).

The book concludes with the following charge: “Please ensure that you make the precious human life you have as meaningful as possible” (130).

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