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Posted: March 24, 2014

Fearless Leaders: Dumbfounded by the Dalai Lama

His life-changing insight

TC North

For more than 30 years, I've contemplated some of the teachings of the Nobel Peace Prize winner, the Dalai Lama. His statement on the purpose of life originally stunned me. I was listening to a cassette recording (that really dates me) of him speaking to around 400 psychologists and psychiatrists about the similarities and differences between Buddhism and Western psychology. I was so transfixed that even though I'd arrived home and was parked with my car turned off, I stayed in my silver Honda Civic and continued to listen.

His response to one of the questions during the question-and-answer period of his speech dumbfounded me, and I'm still processing it more than three decades later. Since hearing it, I've shared it with thousands of my clients, both individual coaching clients and my audiences when I speak. Here's the Dalai Lama's conversation with a woman in the audience that I continue to ponder:

Woman, excited: "Can you tell us what the purpose of life is?"

Dalai Lama: "Can you ask me an easier question, please?" He laughed, as did the whole audience. "Actually, it's an easy question. The purpose of life is to be happy."

For about 30 seconds, there was absolute silence. Everyone was stunned.

Woman, now timid: "Your Holiness, with all the suffering in the world, how can you say the purpose of life is to be happy?"

Dalai Lama: Obviously recognizing that it was hard for this woman to challenge his thinking, replied with great compassion: "Remember, I'm a Buddhist monk, and one of my vows as a monk is to help alleviate suffering in the world. So I have to ask, will I be more effective at alleviating suffering in the world if I'm happy or not happy?"

Like many of the Dalai Lama’s teachings, it changed me. In my youth, I was always deeply philosophical, and everything was very serious. I was seriously serious — really! I was so serious that I had to take a workshop to learn to smile and laugh (after hearing this definition of the purpose of life).

Recently, I read an amazing story by Douglas Preston for Slate.com, and I encourage you to read it too. Preston's discerning and hilarious article about the Dalai Lama visiting a ski area for the first time made me laugh until I cried, and it validated the story I've been sharing for 30 years about the Dalai Lama's view on the purpose of life. It also provides insight into how he:

  • Lives in the present, with the amazement of a child
  • Deals with potentially embarrassing moments
  • Lives with joy and humbleness
  • Is courageous and stands strong in his beliefs and is willing to be different
  • Thinks with mindfulness at a whole new level
  • Learns why you should never wear wing tip shoes on a ski slope

The Dalai Lama is a true Fearless Leader. He acts with inspiring courage, reacts to misfortune with resilience, thinks with mindfulness and excels with unrelenting fire.

Dr. TC North is co-author of the book, Fearless Leaders (release date is Sept. 2014). For 28 years, has been a high-performance executive coach and speaker who accelerates individuals and organizations in attaining their visions and dreams. He has also mentally coached a professional sports team and Olympic teams in the art of creating thoughts and emotions that maximize success. He’s a professional speaker on, “Fearless Leaders™” and “Master Fear.” Dr. North’s work has been featured on TV and radio and in business and scientific journals. Learn more at www.TCNorth.com. Contact Dr. North at 303-665-8920 or TC@TCNorth.com, or connect on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter.

 

 

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Readers Respond

Liz, you must of been born after cassette tapes were replaced! grin Diana, i'm glad you understand and appreciate the Dalai Lama's simplicity. In his simplicity, his clarity is profound! By TC North on 2014 03 24
I am in agreement with the Dalai Lama. I find a great deal of happiness in the simplicity of his utterances and thinking. One's happiness may well be the only reward in this world. Doing things to help others is a genuine source of happiness. How one defines "others" is always an interesting question: one's family, neighbors, clients, community - defined in many ways, nation, world, living beings, and on and on. The only thought I've found (so far) that modulates this - and I am uncertain of the source and exact wording: "Much of what gets done in this world has been done by people who didn't feel good / were ill." But I surmise they had a good measure of happiness nonetheless. By Diana Smith on 2014 03 24
Great article TC! Cassette? What's a cassette? Ha. I'm glad you are no longer seriously serious! Liz By liz wendling on 2014 03 24
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