From Spirituality & Health -- The Soul/Body Connection

Despite exile and persecution, His Holiness the Dalai Lama maintains a buoyant spirit and the low blood pressure of a child. In this conversation with T George Harris, the founding editor of Psychology Today and American Health, held at the Trappist monastery Gethsemane in the hills of Kentucky, the Dalai Lama reveals the spiritual practices that sustain him.

In one of your books you talk about a secular spirituality. How much of a health component does that have?

Everybody wants a happy, successful life. Of course, external conditions are important, but I think that for a happy life, a happy family, and a happy community, much depends on our mental attitude. The key factor, I feel, is human compassion, a sense of caring for one another.

Sometimes, when we talk about the value of compassion and forgiveness and love, people get the impression these are religious matters: When people have religious faith, these things are important; otherwise, they aren’t relevant. That kind of attitude, I think, is due to ignorance or lack of awareness, and I feel it’s dangerous.

"Basically, a human being is a social animal. So, if you create some short moment of happiness for people, you get deep satisfaction."

Generally speaking, in advanced societies, the education facility is excellent. But there is a lack of something here in the heart. Sometimes, the brilliant brain can create more suffering, more trouble. So the smart brain must be balanced with a warm heart, a good heart--a sense of responsibility, of concern for the well-being of others. An individual who has this good quality automatically becomes calmer and more peaceful. So these values might promote deeper human values, not necessarily religious faith.

They also promote health. The American Medical Association Journal is doing a series of reports saying that American doctors should use meditation and relaxation therapies in combination with regular medication and surgery for most common ailments. A lot of this research was inspired by your work.

What I believe, according to my own experience, is that a calm, peaceful mind is a very important element for sustaining the body in a balanced way. When you lose your temper, immediately you feel uncomfortable. Eventually, you lose your digestion and sleep. You have to rely more and more on tranquilizers. So, whether you are a believer or a non-believer, the peaceful mind in daily life is very, very important.

I also consider human activities. Whether these activities are constructive or destructive, depends on mental attitude. If the motivation is negative, even religion becomes dirty religion. If your mental attitude is right, then human actions become useful and constructive. So the mind is very important. I think that in the medical field, more and more people may now realize this. Maybe.

How do you achieve this peaceful mind?

Analyze the situation. For example, a serious pain. Think about the pain. If there is a way to overcome that pain, then there’s no need to worry, because there’s a way. If there’s no way to overcome it, then no use to worry too much--you can’t do anything! [laughs] Then it’s very useful to make a comparison to some past experience or some other possibility of even bigger pain. Immediately, you get the feeling, "Oh, compared to that, today’s pain is easier."

So, you see, mental attitude toward the object is very crucial. Even a small event, if you are looking at it very closely, appears very big, beyond your control. If you look from a different angle, from a distance, the same problem seems smaller.

It’s worst in the middle of the night. In your own work, what kinds of meditation and prayer are you focusing on?

According to different religious traditions, there are different methods. For example, a Christian practitioner may meditate on God’s grace, God’s infinite love. This is a very powerful concept in order to achieve peace of mind. A Buddhist practitioner may be thinking about relative nature and also Buddha-nature. This is also very useful. I’m a Buddhist monk, so I’m practicing according to this teaching.