This morning I read a story about the Dalai Lama that I had not heard before.  It occurred in 1992 when he was speaking at Rice University in Houston, Texas and a person asked him this question: “What is a Buddhist?”

“Bishop Desmond Tutu and HH Dalai Lama, Nobel Laureates and best buds.” Photo by Sirensongs, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

He thought for a while and then said, “I don’t know.”  Further questions followed, but he was dealing with that one question apparently, for he stopped and said, “Let me go back.  A Buddhist”—and he stroked his chest—“is someone with a good heart.”

That has been my experience.  Many of the Buddhists I’ve known have had good hearts.

How would a Christian answer the same question: “What is a Christian?”

How would a Jew answer the question, “What is a Jew”?

Or a Hindu?  Or Muslim?  Or an atheist?  Or an indigenous believer?

See Matthew Fox, One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faith Traditions

To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: Uncountable points of light: the Divine in all. Photo by Aurélien Lemasson-Théobald on Unsplash

Queries for Contemplation

How did the Dalai Lama’s refusal to answer the question strike you?  And then his answer?  How would you answer the question given whatever tradition you identify with (or none)?

Recommended Reading

One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths

Matthew Fox calls on all the world traditions for their wisdom and their inspiration in a work that is far more than a list of theological position papers but a new way to pray—to meditate in a global spiritual context on the wisdom all our traditions share. Fox chooses 18 themes that are foundational to any spirituality and demonstrates how all the world spiritual traditions offer wisdom about each.“Reading One River, Many Wells is like entering the rich silence of a masterfully directed retreat. As you read this text, you reflect, you pray, you embrace Divinity. Truly no words can fully express my respect and awe for this magnificent contribution to contemporary spirituality.” –Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit

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12 thoughts on “A Short Meditation with the Dalai Lama”

  1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Matthew, Today you give us these Queries for Contemplation to reflect on and to discuss. First you ask: “How did the Dali Lama’s refusal to answer the question strike you?” It struck me as evasive. I took a three-day retreat with the Dalai Lama and he definitely has more to say about what a Buddhist is than that. And then his answer was so general that it does not identify a Buddhist any more than any other ” someone with a good heart.”
    The second thing you ask us is: “How would you answer the question given whatever tradition you identify with (or none)? I identify with those who visit many wells to partake of their shared water… That too may sound evasive but I am a person of faith, but not just one faith, I am spiritually eclectic.

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    For my wife (now passed into another plane of existence() and myself ( still here in this one) this is what comes to mind in response to Mathew, your DM this am: ‘There are as many pathways to the Divine as there are people in the world, as there is “Being” throughout the “Uni-Verse” “Heart-felt luminous understanding permeates every thought, each word, and action as we accept and embrace our own invitation through fuller participation in perpetually Illuminating Consciousness.” “Heart-felt connections are chosen and healthy relationships heal. When you have a healthy relationship with your self, you will have healthier relationships with others. This lesson begins within so it may universally be learned without as well.”
    Co-authored, Jan Jennings, Dr. Darryl Luke Pokea….Perhaps when we are asked….when we experience the ineffable… what else can we say?,,
    Alice Bailey said:
    “From the point of Love within the Heart of God. Let Love stream forth into the hearts of all. May Christ Return to Earth.”

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    martina nicholson

    Dear Matthew,
    I love this question and answer! The dogma is not the container. We each are the container and the personhood is much more important than the dogma. How do we show that we love? How do we “be a person fully alive?” like St. Iranaeus said? I am feeling like we need to take down any references to natural law, which was a concept which doesn’t fit reality. We now have biology, biochemistry, and evolutionary consciousness.
    The Dalai Lama’s answer is perfect— “a person with a good heart”. We are a people in a love affair with God, and we are trying to stay in communion and community. Thanks for your wonderful reflections! martina

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    The Dali Lama’s answer at first to the question, “What is a Buddhist?”, seems to me to be an honest one… one of not knowing. His next response, later, to the same question, speaks to me of the hearts desire and the souls longing to remember and awaken to… living into the question itself… which is “Who Am I.” How I would answer the question with regards to my own spiritual path is… that I am on the journey of not knowing and knowing, of desiring and longing, of forgetting, remembering and awakening to all of that which I AM. Daily I lean into living the question itself, sometimes letting go, sometimes reclaiming, sometimes releasing the old and outworn notions of this and sometimes giving birth to the unknown aspects of self newly discovered. Within this journey I drink from the living waters of many spiritual wells… which offers me comfort, consolation and wisdom counsel. I am never alone on this journey for I am maintained and sustained through the sacred connection of relationship, in various ways, with the Great Mystery, the Great Spirit, known and unknown by many names… as one of many being loved into becoming… which continously unfolds, evolves and emerges from within.

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    To be clear, the Dalai Lama did not refuse to answer the question. Rather he embraced the not-knowing. Whenceforth, the answer emerged.
    I was born a Hindu, and to me, a Hindu is radical and loving acceptance of everyone and everything.

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    There’s an unvarying presence of the numinous (Spirit) in which all things consist and hold together. Being a universal constant that fills all things, its essence is colorless, odorless, tasteless, raceless, a-political and a-religious. It’s on loan to us like sunshine, the air we breathe or rain. Being common property, no one owns it. Being the substance of everything in creation, it’s their deepest identity – Spirit “appearing as” tree, fish, birds, humans, and all things. As it knows no distinction separate from itself in all things, all such distinctions are artifacts of human thought. Such thought cuts like a knife, sharply segmenting its indivisible presence into a disconnected sense of what it deems as separate parts. Only those who awaken to its loving presence have their citizenship under its governor and governing influence. The latter are separate from world governments which operate outside of their own domain and will, doing so contrary to its sacred principles. The enlightened citizens of the universal government are asked to live above the fray of party spirits and divided factions, dedicated to bringing the higher government to earth until the nature of Spirit as individual identity and unitive consciousness takes affect worldwide. In that day, the illusory age of separation consciousness, identity, nations, and religions shall have completely passed from the face of the earth.

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    The Dalai Lama’s answer of someone with ‘a good heart’ can be the answer by any believer of a faith tradition or any good humanist. The symbol of ‘a good heart’ is usually associated with a human being who is open and sensitive to the Sacred Spirit of Love within them and in All living and non-living things, that is All Creation. ‘A good heart’ is therefore aware/conscious of the Sacred Oneness of All Life/Creation/Cosmos and leads to deeper Being~becoming of our unique inter-connectedness with-in the mystery of ongoing, creative, evolving Divine Love….
    Blessings ?❤️??

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    An atheist writing to support a weekly atheist gathering that was starting up in our community described the god he no longer believes in. Then he wrote, “Now all I believe in is love.”

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    I think that the Dalai Lama’s answer reflects the limitations of words to describe faith. Labels are confining and are only useful to describe something or someone but not to define something or someone. For some years I have described myself as a person of faith, not as a Christian because of the negative connotations from those who have hijacked the meaning of what it means to follow Jesus. I feel I have more in common with those who love God and neighbor, and I think that all major faiths teach this, as do atheists and humanists. “By their fruits, ye shall know them.” The fruits of fear, hatefulness, prejudice and divisiveness that lead to violence against body, mind and spirit are not the fruits of true followers of Jesus or of Buddha, etc.

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    I like His Holiness’s first answer. “I don’t know.” I often have the same response, internally though I generally don’t speak it, when I’m asked, “What is a Christian mystic?” I try to formulate an answer, and I’m quite sure I always fail. I may refer to Meister Eckhart, “I pray God to rid me of God” sometime in my explanation. I may say that a Christian mystic believes in three bibles—the bible of nature, the written Bible, and the bible in one’s heart. But ultimately I have no answer. As I think of His Holiness’s second answer and others’ answers here, this statement comes to mind for some reason: “What is true anywhere is true everywhere.” Perhaps the truth of any religion is “a person with a good heart.” Not surprisingly, one of the books on my bookshelf is The Good Heart by His Holiness himself. 🙂

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