The Mother Divine
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Book Review by Vikas Shukla

Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama is perhaps the most recognised spiritual leader of the modern times; familiar to millions across the world by his genial countenance, gentle humour, twinkling eyes and a smile that seems to have the power to melt rocks. "I love smiles and my wish is to see more smiles, real smiles", he says. Behind those sparkling eyes is a restless ocean of compassion for all human beings. He declares, "My first commitment in life, as a human being, is the promotion of human values and those qualities of spirit that are key elements in a happy life", making his life as a Buddhist monk and the cause of Tibet, his second and third priorities.

The book My Spiritual Autobiography is a fascinating account of the extraordinary life of Dalai Lama. This is a unique book inasmuch as it is a string of Dalai Lama's personal thoughts, his talks and public speeches expertly woven by Sofia Steril-Rever into an autobiographical narrative. Dalai Lama speaks to his readers in his distinctive style, with fearlessness, simplicity and honesty, without hiding behind walls of words or pretentions. His message is direct and clear; live a life of compassion and the transformation will follow.

The book is organised into brief chapters, some barely a few paragraphs long, but none missing any part of the message. They are reminiscent of intricate miniature designs that make up a magnificent thangka, each with its own context and importance but lending a key colour to grand scheme. In several places, the translator has provides an additional string of notes from her personal meetings with Dalai Lama, which add to the richness of the text and provide a vital outside view of the incident or the theme under discussion.

Dalai Lama opens book with the bold statement, "I am no one special", unhesitatingly stepping away from all titles and positions, and declaring himself "just a human being". He proceeds to expand on the theme of compassion, something he believes is essential for making the world a better place. "Every human action becomes dangerous when it is deprived of human feelings. When they are performed with feeling and respect for human values, they become constructive."

Dalai Lama recalls with fondness, his home, family and pastimes in his remote village in Tibet. He goes on to narrate the story of his 'discovery' as the fourteenth Dalai Lama. He wears lightly his accomplishments of having vivid memories of his previous lives or having identified the personal articles of his earlier incarnations, the extraordinary feat that led to his confirmation as the fourteenth Dalai Lama. His relates numerous anecdotes from his days at the Potala. They are honest accounts of a young boy's wonder at the strange new world or the occasional mischief he indulged in.

Dalai Lama's simple narration, the touch of humour and the common-sense appeal, temporarily makes the reader forget the immense power of his living connection with the thirteen previous Dalai Lama incarnations, the years of rigorous study of scriptures under unrelenting supervision of his teachers or the depth of his spiritual practice and experience.

Speaking on the theme of transformation of self, Dalai Lama unveils the inclusive and non-discriminatory foundation of his approach with the words, "Even if another tradition goes against our own convictions, it has its own reason for being, in the support it provides for others" and "Although the philosophical views differ and often contradict each other, in spiritual practice all religions are connected."

A discerning reader can sometimes detect a distinct whiff of Advaita in the passages on impermanence of phenomena and perception of time resting on a mistaken apprehension of reality.

A part of the book is devoted to Dalai Lama's escape from Tibet and the struggle of the Tibetan people against the Chinese regime. He makes impassioned appeal to his "spiritual brothers and sisters in China" to help bring peace to Tibet. What strikes as remarkable is through the layers of his pain at the suffering of his people, his anchor in compassion for all human beings holds fast. He says, "I have absolutely no hatred in my heart for the Chinese people" and continues to place his hope in the human heart.

idden in the narratives are valuable examples and powerful messages for the readers. Dalai Lama's humility is devoid of pretentions. He takes no credit for his accomplishments and achievement, presenting himself again and again as a human being committed to bringing peace to the world through compassion. He lights a flare of hope, "We share in common with Buddha the same potential for goodness and serenity", and gives a clarion call for a spiritual revolution, which he calls an "ethical reorientation of our attitude". For a reader with sensitivity and an open mind, it may be a call hard to not to answer.