Thursday, August 27, 2015

Fearless Heart Review

                                                           A Fearless Heart

                                                                                                       By Dorjee Damdul

               “You are your own enemy, and you are your own savior” (p81).


Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come. The idea here is the cultivation and practice of compassion for others, for self and for the entire humanity in this interconnected world.


When we discuss and share our thoughts on reading a book, I feel it is more like a review of the book. So the question is how to do a book review?  I have no answer to this myself, but I am interested to share with you what inspires, and strikes me and any Ah Ha moment I have felt from reading the book: A Fearless Heart.

Of all the things that the book touched on, I would focus on the fascinating story of the author, who we all know is the principal English translator  for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, but little did I know about his other facet of life, until I read the book. I would try to encapsulate the central idea of the book and finally the learning that occurred to me.

I.                  Thupten Jingpa went against his parents’ wishes to be the breadwinner of the family and choose to be a monk at the tender age of 11. But two decades later, he gave up his celibacy vow to become the breadwinner of his own family. The reason he gave for why he chooses to leave the monastery is for his longing to have a family of own, which he feels he was deprived at his young age. There is some mention of his difficult decision on this issue.  I thought it would be very interesting stuff for western readers, if he could share a little more details of his romance with a westerner. How it started, what was the trigger point for his aberration. I wonder if he ever feel remorse today? Even though the author said that his disrobing is not a sign of disillusion of monastic life, but I feel people may not perceive that decision as a sign of strength. In fact, as intellectually stalwart as he is today, could he have achieved more by remaining a monk than being a lay person.
D.C Tibetan Book Club meeting at Office of Tibet. Aug.03.2015

What is interesting is that the author has not attended any formal school, and he is self-taught. He learnt English by listening to VOA, and BBC world service and through the help of another Germany lady, while staying at the monastery. No doubt he was a veracious reader. He wrote the  evocative power of the English language deeply impressed him and thanks to his mastery of the language, landed him the job of interpreting for His Holiness the Dalai Lama since 1985. His Holiness sensing his acute intellect told Thupten Jingpa to lead an independent life dedicated to scholarship. His attendance at o Cambridge University to further his studies on religion might have been a turning- point in his life. Dr. Jinpa is one of the rarest cream of the crop in our exile society, who has a combination of deep knowledge on Buddhism philosophy and western thoughts.

Now let me move on to his book Fearless Heart and what he says and the ideas presented in the book.

II.                The central theme of book:
             Compassion is a basic necessity for our survival; it is something that we can acquire and adopt through practice and training.   

I believe compassion is at the heart of Tibetan Buddhism teaching, when we encounter someone is suffering, Tibetans would automatically express the word “Nyingje”. I believe in what the author says that, Compassion is a part of our everyday experience of being human (p.14) Compassion has something to do with what it means to lead a good life.  Compassion is the common ground where the ethical teachings of all major traditions, religious and humanistic come together.(p14).  As the spirit of coexistence and cooperation is so essential in this globalized world today, the practice of compassion is needed more than ever. Its time has come. The noted emotion scientist Paul Ekman makes a powerful case as what her refers is “global compassion” which is the most important challenge of our time. The author assumes a very optimistic tone, as he says  If we as an individual and together as a global society, can take the compassionate part of our nature seriously, we have a real chance of making a more humane world.

The logic of this argument on why compassion is the answer is as follow;

We are not just self-seeking and competitive creatures, but we are caring and cooperative beings as well.  A new field of science tells that by training our mind, we can literally change our brain. Which is known as brain elasticity.  He said that first step to create a compassionate individual and society is through creating awareness and education on the subject. And by being positive of its impact, and he believes in the power of self-fulfilling prophecy.  “When our story says that we are at heart selfish and aggressive creatures, we assume that every man is for himself. In this “Dog eat dog world” it is only logical then to see others as a source of rivalry and antagonism. By contrast, if our story says that we are social creatures endowed with instincts for compassion and kindness, and that as deeply interdependent being our welfare is intertwined, this totally changes the way we view and behave in the world.  So the stories we tell about ourselves, about the transformative power of compassion, do matter, quite profoundly”. The problem is no matters how precious are the act of compassion for self and others, yet we fail to give it a central role in our lives and in our society. As for some people, compassion is a matter of religion and morality, a private concern of the individual with little or no societal relevance.  But the author makes a compelling argument, that compassion is fundamental to our basic nature as human beings.  The instinct for compassion is more like our ability to learn a language.(p25) and the author goes on to say that Dalai Lama and Mother Terrassa excelled in the language compassion because , they worked on it . Similarly the seed of compassion is present in all of us, if only we gave it a chance..

As learning a new language is a not everyone’s cup of tea, so is the practice of compassion. Unless we practice and change our habits and make it an active force in our lives, it will only be something that happens to us- we get angry when provoked. Feel compassion when triggered. When we leave it that way, we fail to tap into the transformative power of compassion. (p. 31)

Very young children fourteen to eighteen months exhibit genuine helping behavior. Compassion is innate (p.30)

The author goes to say scientist have identified positive effects of compassion in the brain. When we help someone with genuine concern for her well-being, the levels of endorphins, which are associated with euphoric feelings, surge in the brain. That means you don’t have to get drug to get high, you can help someone to get high, that may even last longer.

Other benefit of compassion is that it slows aging process, fights loneliness, reduces stress, and contributes to better relationship. Even in romantic relationships, being kind makes us more attractive. We are born to connect and kindness is contagious. Our health, happiness, and our whole world depend on our giving and receiving kindness.


As Buddha said,  when you  have compassion you possess all the virtues. In Tibetan, compassion is known as Nyingje,which means  the king of heart.

Even though His Holiness the Dalai Lama talks about global compassion, oneness of humanity, it is possible that they are people who feel it is such a lofty idea, and too idealistic. On other hand the cynics believe, including author Mark Twin, we failed humanity. But each of us analyze and draw our own conclusion based on sound evidence, therefore we should not take things at its face value..  But I believe through changing our behavior we change the world. That is what the Buddha meant when he stated, “With our thoughts we make the world”.(p.71). That is to say by changing the way we perceive ourselves and the world we live in , we can transform the way we experience ourselves and the world.

 I am deeply impressed by the analogy of Shantideva, as how each of us each make a difference  in the world,
“If we were to try to cover the entire face of the earth with leather to protect our feet, where could be find enough leather? Instead by covering the soles of our feet with leather shoes we can achieve the same purpose as covering the entire earth. The best solution to a problem is the one that you yourself can bring about.(p.70) or it means to the same cliché as think globally, act locally.

To wrap up, I shared with you, what is compassion, why it matters and how we can embrace it.  The steps in mental training are highlighted in the compassion cultivation training. Dr. Jinpa has designed. I am in agreement with the author, as a rational and emotional beings, it’s no wonder we are also moral creatures, constantly evaluating the world around us and adjusting our responses according to our values, attitudes and goals.

The Dalai Lama once said that he envisions a time when, just as today we accept good diet and exercises as key to physical health, the world will come to recognize the importance of mental care and training for mental health and human flourishing. That time may not be so far away. Actually I believe the time for compassion to play a central role in our lives has arrived. Let me end with another inspirational quote from Shatendiva:

If something can be done about it,
What need is there for dejection?
And if nothing can be done about it,
What use is there for being dejected?

                                            Thank you.   

 Presented at D.C Tibetan Book Club meeting.  

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