How much do you really love your freedom? How about those home comforts? Do you kinda take for granted the regularity of your daily life, daily routine…you know, just the known and familiar stuff? Imagine for a moment…having that all stripped away or taken from you! Everything! Imagine having to flee your homeland and live in exile in a foreign country, because of who you are or what you believe in or stand for? Sound rough, unfair…or maybe actually really really scary????
Today I’m going to talk to young about an amazing human being who really has been a world changer. He’s faced some pretty significant challenges and has taught the world some profound lessons in the message he shares. We can learn a heck of a lot both through the content of his lessons, and also by the dignified way he shares them.
Let me introduce you to the Lhamo Thondup, also known to most as the Dalai Lama, who at the age of 15 had to do just this…
As the 14th Dalai Lama, he could’ve rightly assumed that he would spend his reign in the relative luxury of Potala Palace in Lhasa Tibet. Unfortunately, Politics or ‘international relations’ got in the way. The Peoples Republic of China laid claim to and invaded Tibet in 1959, and their relative animosity and aggression towards the Tibetan people really put the Dalai Lama on shaky ground.
The Chinese army forced compliance at gunpoint, fast-tracking the throning of the Dalai Lama, and the official naming of him as spiritual leader of 6 million Tibetan people. Sure, he’d been in training since he was roughly 3 years old and had been raised and taught by monks to take on this role. But it was the eventual invasion of the Chinese that threw him firmly and officially into the hotseat if you like. Quite a responsibility, especially when the invading army are set to rip your nation apart, or force you into submission. The people surrounding, training and protecting the Dalai Lama tried desperately to stop the Chinese invasion. But the Chinese used rather dirty tactics, forging official seals to persuade delegations of various areas of Tibet into submission. They also used guns, and they’re pretty convincing. The Dalai Lama’s requests for help from other nations went unanswered, or the responses were not as he hoped. Tibet was left realizing that they faced the inevitable. Imagine how devastating and terrifying this must have been for the young leader, particularly since he’d only just been officially appointed or given the job!
Once this invasion, known as the ‘Tibetan Uprising’, was a certainty, some pretty big decisions had to be made. Knowing that he faced certain imprisonment, and possibly death, at the hands of the Chinese invaders, the only way he could continue to serve his followers and religion effectively was to actually flee his homeland. The Dalai Lama was forced to leave everything he had ever known and everything that was familiar in Tibet, he was forced to take an enormous step outside his comfort zone if you like.
Often we think of comfort zones as in a physical sense, we think of physical hardship and challenge or suffering, but stepping outside your comfort zone applies equally to cultural and spiritual challenges or hurdles. When the Dalai Lama moved into exile in India he faced a huge cultural and spiritual challenge because he still carried the enormous responsibility of spiritual leadership of millions, but needed to now carry out this role from a new and foreign location. And just remember, he’d only just been officially throned! The challenge was unavoidable, his faith and his message to his followers mattered too much to him.
The Dalai Lama fled to exile in McLeod Ganj, India, where he currently lives to this day. 80,000 Tibetan refugees followed him into exile, which is a pretty significant show of support for a spiritual leader really. They were fleeing the aggression of the Chinese, but also wanted to follow and feel safe in the presence of their leader. McLeod Ganj has been nicknamed Little Lhasa or Dhasa, due to its population consisting mostly of Tibetans. The official Tibetan government in exile is located here along with the Dalai Lamas Temple and the Tibetan museum containing thousands of exquisite artifacts salvaged from Tibet, despite the best efforts by the Peoples Republic of China to destroy anything remotely Tibetan, or to control anything coming in or out of Tibet.
So we can probably all agree that the 14th Dalai Lama had a rather different experience at 15 to what we’ve all been living here in our own comfort zones here in Wanaka. But it’s not the upheaval, the fleeing his homeland or his living in exile that has really stamped his mark. The Dalai Lama has made a difference and continues to make a difference because of what he gives to the people of this world. It’s his message about life, about living, about priorities and what’s important or what actually matters that has really made him a well-loved and well-respected individual.
Despite being a leader of the Buddhist faith, the Dalai Lamas message on a wide range of important topics, including human rights, non-violence, environmental issues, astronomy, health and even neuroscience, has drawn huge respect from people of all faiths from all around the world. His quiet, yet important message about so many areas, from really simple to really complex aspects of life and humanity, have drawn widespread support and respect all over the globe. This ultimately resulted in him being awarded the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize.
In addition to the messages he shares on such a wide range of important humanitarian topics and world issues, his own personal journey or story can teach us many lessons that we can all incorporate into our daily lives. Doing what you think is right and staying true to your principles or beliefs, may sometimes require an unconventional approach or deviating from your original plan. His original plan was to rule as a leader in Tibet. That changed, but his life’s work and message to his followers has not. We can also learn that life sometimes throws up unexpected and complex situations, that require you to adapt and refocus in order to achieve your goal or do the work you feel you need to do. He’s done this. We have much to learn from this great leader. He leads by example. He is a world changer and someone who has achieved great things, ironically by teaching about the small stuff, and all of this from outside his comfort zone.
As The Dalai Lama often says: My religion is simple, my religion is kindness. He continues to travel the world teaching us these lessons. While the setting and location might change, good works with good intentions have a profound impact no matter where you are in the world.