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Changing our Perspective

I was recently introduced to a most amazing video about the Dalai Lama and Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the anti-apartheid and human rights activist of South Africa.

This video showed the friendship of the two of them, and featured some wonderful conversations and dialogue. Their friendship was both humorous and touching. They playfully kidded and joked with each other like little kids.

One of the highlights of the video to me was when Tutu asked a question to the Dalai Lama, saying, to paraphrase, “You had to escape from your country and your country was taken over. Monasteries were destroyed and many people were killed by the Chinese military. Why are you not morose?”

First, the Dalai Lama asked his translator what the word “morose” meant. He was told that it meant “sad.”

The Dalai Lama said that he was sad, of course, but that in Buddhism, we have to shift our perspective. He said that because he was exiled, he has been given this opportunity to share the Dharma with the world in a way that he never could have if he had stayed in Tibet as the Dalai Lama.

Instead of just staying angry, bitter, and morose over his situation, he shifted his perspective, to see the positive side of his situation, and how much he has loved being able to share the Dharma with the world.

Only the Dalai Lama can say something like that without any sense of bitterness or anger. How wonderful to be able to shift one’s perspective in that manner.

Most of us cannot shift our perspective like that. We stay in our state of bitterness and anger. We say things like: “Why did that terrible thing have to happen to me?” “I didn’t do anything to deserve this awful situation.” Isn’t that how we react to negative situations in our life? Don’t we flounder, even choosing to stay in such a state of anger and bitterness rather than finding something positive about the situation?

Shinran Shonin was just like the Dalai Lama. Shinran Shonin became a follower of Honen Shonin. The established Buddhism of their time was threatened by Honen’s popularity as a Buddhist teacher that was reaching many people. Honen and Shinran were both banished from the city of Kyoto. Shinran Shonin was sent to the harsh area of Echigo, which is present day Niigata, on the Japan sea side of Japan. The winters are terribly harsh there.

But after being banished to Echigo, Shinran Shonin simply said, “Now I have the opportunity to share the Dharma, to share the Nembutsu with the people of Echigo.”

Just like the Dalai Lama, he was not morose. He was not bitter. He was not angry. He shifted his perspective, and saw the wonderful opportunity that he had been given.

I would have a hard time being that positive about such a banishment. If a previous Bishop had asked me to move to somewhere like Alaska to start a new temple there, I would have said, “Why me? Why do I have to go to Alaska? I can’t golf there and it is so far from Las Vegas.”

I would have been morose and angry. But not Shinran Shonin, and not the Dalai Lama.

What a wonderful teaching it is that Buddhism gives us. Just shift your perspective. Look at the situation of your life, no matter how terrible, no matter how awful, no matter how bleak, and see it from a different perspective. Isn’t there something positive to see from that new perspective? Isn’t there something meaningful in that new perspective?

Listening to and watching that wonderful video and dialogue between the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu gives me a great teaching about the simplicity but yet profundity of Buddhism. May we all learn to shift our perspective to find the most positive and meaningful view of our life.


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