5 Things I Learned from the Dalai Lama


“That person is so compassionate.”

Who comes to mind for you?

For Christian believers, we might respond that Jesus is the ultimate example of compassion. And through many of his followers we can find clear examples of compassion today.

But God plants seeds of compassion—companions to seeds of love—in each of us.

One place that those seeds have grown is in the 87-year-old Tenzin Gyatso, known as Gyalwa Rinpoche to the Tibetan people, and to most of the rest of the world as the 14th Dalai Lama.

In my research on compassion for my Year of Compassion a few years ago, the Dalai Lama’s name came up again and again.

So when I heard in October of that year that the Dalai Lama was coming to Birmingham, only a couple hours from my house, I bought 2 tickets right away.

(Here stated, Jeff is an awesome companion to play along in my adventures. Here is his selfie with a photo of the DL.)


5 Things I Learned from the Dalai Lama

Here’s what I learned and what has stayed with me after hearing and watching the Dalai Lama that Sunday afternoon.


The man chuckles. A lot.

And because he laughed frequently and genuinely that afternoon, we did, too. Even though he spoke broken English and had a thick Tibetan accent and the audio at Regions Field wasn’t the greatest, it didn’t matter.

When he got tickled, it was contagious.

In the middle of his talk, the Dalai Lama pulled out a white cloth and did what he does in the heat of India: he put it on top of his head, snickered about his “special hat,” then kept on talking. He finished out his speech with this rag on his head.

Yes, keep the serious conversations going—the Dalai Lama sure did—but don’t take yourself too seriously. When you can bring joy into a situation, do.

Smile and laugh often to brighten the day for everyone.


“Since our human life begins with affection, affection is important all our life.”

That’s what the Dalai Lama said.

But I noticed even more what he did.

When he was talking on the stage with Birmingham’s then Mayor at the time William Bell, the Dalai Lama would often reach for Mayor Bell’s hand. And he’d hold on for quite awhile.

It was a great visual to see this Asian Buddhist monk from Tibet holding hands with this southern Black mayor of Alabama.

Make friends with whoever is near you, no matter how different you think you may be.



It was a hot afternoon that Sunday and the speakers’ stage was in full sun. A monk stood over the Dalai Lama with an umbrella to create shade.

But the mayor was several feet away. After a few minutes, the Dalai Lama noticed, stopped his talk, and told the mayor, “Come closer. It can cover both.”

So the two sat squeezed side by side under the shadow of one umbrella until someone else brought a canopy tent on stage that was large enough to shade them all.

If your comfort can cover you and somebody else too, make it happen.


“Stop Dalai Lama!”

Outside Regions Field before and after the event, a crowd of Buddhist monks and nuns handed out fliers, sang songs, and demonstrated against the Dalai Lama.

We asked a nun about it who had traveled here all the way from Canada just to protest. She explained to us that the International Shugden Community shows up wherever the Dalai Lama does to protest his disapproval of their Buddhist deity Doria Shugden.

But it didn’t shake the Dalai Lama.

Even amidst their disapproval, he kept his calm and stuck to his message of peace, the oneness of humanity, and promotion of harmony among all.

“Real source of happiness is not outside, but inside,” he said.



The Dalai Lama wanted us to understand how each of us depends on the rest of us. Even for his morning tea, he said, he depends on others.

We all come from the same creator and we all want to be happy.

He asked those below 30 years old to raise their hands. He told them that real hope in overcoming violence and hatred will be in their hands. “It is your responsibility to make a peaceful world,” to spread freedom as citizens in the leading nation of the free world.

  • Respect each other.
  • Keep dialogue central.
  • Resolve disagreements peacefully.
  • Act morally out of self-discipline, not just because of legislation.

“You seven billion human beings must work together.”

I agree, Dalai Lama.

Yes, there were things I disagreed with as well. But overall, I discovered I had more in common with the Dalai Lama than I would have imagined.

He’s a living legend and lesson in compassion.


* * *

Who have you surprisingly learned from lately? What did they teach you? Please share with us in the comments.

revised from the archives

43 thoughts on “5 Things I Learned from the Dalai Lama

  1. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

    Wonderful, simply great. Too ill to say more this morning, but thank you for bringing the Dalai Lama into the conversation.

    I’ve practiced Zen for many years,and it’s sharpened my Christianity…but once upon a time, long ago, I was surprised when Jesus gave meaning to Zen practice!

    And – Happy Birthday to the United States Marine Corps!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’m learning too that meditating isn’t antithetical to Christianity but is another spiritual discipline to increase our awareness of God in our lives. We have much to learn from others who aren’t always like us, but who have messages from God for us.

      Praying your day gets better, Andrew. Semper fi! My dad was a Marine before I was born, but as you know, once a Marine, always a Marine. It never left him and we all benefited.

  2. Beth

    What a great opportunity to see him and hear his thoughts, Lisa. Who knew that Birmingham, Alabama would be a prime spot for the Dalai Lama to visit and share!? And thanks so much for these wonderful photos too! That last photo is a real stunner! 🙂

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I know–Birmingham? Ha. I knew it would be a rare opportunity, and it was the perfect year for me. Photos were all with my phone. Gotta love our multi-use iPhones. 🙂

  3. Liz

    Loved this post! (Linking up via Unforced Rhythms.)

    If I had the opportunity to hear the Dalai Lama speak, I would absolutely take it. And I really appreciate the five things you took away from hearing him.

    I’m not sure I’ve had any significant moments as of late – learning from someone I didn’t expect. Though I have learned a lot about a relationship I have this year through conflict. It’s jarring when you think your relationship has been a healthy one, only to experience a conflict and realize it was only an illusion of health.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I hear you about discovering unexpected conflict. I went through a situation like that last year, discovering that feelings didn’t go quite as deep in a place where I expected them to. It was very disconcerting. I’m still working on coming to a place of acceptance about it. But it is what it is, so I’m thankful for growth in knowledge anyway.

  4. Sharon

    You know, Lisa, I found this post fascinating. I loved the lessons that you learned – they are powerful indeed. Some of my most surprising lessons come from watching my son’s beagle, Marty. I have found that God teaches me a great deal through this adorable little creature who is full of love and loyalty.


    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes. Isn’t it amazing how much we can learn from animals? God can use anything to teach us. 🙂 If God can use a donkey to teach Balaam, he can use our beloved pets.

  5. TC Avey

    I think we so often let differences divide us instead of bring us together. I’ve learned so much from my best friend who’s an atheist. She inspires me in many ways that the Christians in my life don’t. She’s one of the most giving, honest, and open people I know.
    It’s good to get out of our “comfort zones” and reach across the great divide and find things that unify us. It’s in finding our similarities that we can learn to truly love like Christ. None of us are righteous and yet He came to die for us anyway. He has compassion on us DESPITE us.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Beautiful example, TC! Thank you for sharing that about your friend who is an atheist. God gives us a great big world to learn from if we’ll just keep our eyes and hearts open.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      He moved me too, Dana. I didn’t realize that I’d be using the word “precious” to describe the Dalai Lama, but that’s how he came across to me by the end of the day. 🙂

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Agreed, Loren. I need to speak this advice over my life more often. I drift toward the serious but it needs to be balanced with the funny–there’s plenty of room for both.

  6. Nicki Schroeder

    Who new a child, let alone the Dalai Lama could teach so much, right? I try to incorporate all these things into my life, but it’s the holding hands one that I have the most issue with. Germ phobe here….just shaking hands at church on Sundays can give me the willies. This weekend I will try harder to put what you write into practice. 🙂

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I have to resist the urge to use hand sanitizer immediately after shaking someone’s hand. A mom was urging her little baby last week to give me kisses; I couldn’t do the lips–had to let him kiss my cheeks. So yeah, I hear you. 🙂

  7. Laura

    Such valuable lessons. I’ve heard so many sound bites from the Dalai Lama that capture simple wisdom. Your post is another example of why I need to learn more about him. Although, I have seen Seven Years in Tibet :).

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      You’re ahead of where I was then, if you’ve already seen Seven Years in Tibet. 🙂 I’ve learned a lot this year from the Dalai Lama. Even though the truths he shares aren’t necessarily new, they’re still very timely and applicable.

  8. Amber @ Beautiful Rubbish

    Lisa, these moments of being caught by surprise, hearing the Spirit speak through unlikely (to us) voices, have become some of my favorites. The beauty and wisdom you describe here moves me. I’m so grateful you were able to hear the Dalai Lama, and so grateful you passed it along to us.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I appreciate your encouragement, Amber. Not everyone could understand my excitement about getting to hear the Dalai Lama, but it was a rare opportunity and I’m so thankful I was able to snatch it up. God is good.

  9. Renee Ratcliffe

    This is a fascinating post – thank you for sharing, and I’m glad to find you through Holley’s link-up. I’ve been reading about compassion too and, like you, learning from some surprising resources. Your words remind me that we are all Image Bearers, and if we will step outside of our comfort zones, we fill find that humility and grace are our teachers.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Isn’t it amazing how much God opens our eyes when we intentionally want to be more compassionate? I’m glad to have a companion on reading about compassion. It’s been a fascinating year yet a challenging one too, as God keeps revealing more and more to me about the suffering around me.

      “we are all Image Bearers” – thank you for that reminder. And that humility and grace are our teachers. Beautiful, Renee!

  10. Ceil

    Hi Lisa! First of all, I love that you would follow your heart and jump at tickets for this talk. And then you got so much from him, and much of it confirmation.
    I really resonated with the ‘joy’ part. I have trouble with that sometimes. I let so much get to me, that I forget that God is in charge and I don’t have to worry. I have to let go and see the joy he brings every day. Oh, and the Dalai’s humility. That’s such a refreshing trait, isn’t it?

    Thank you for sharing this experience with all of us. It’s wonderful that he is as inspiring as he is joyful 🙂

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      It was quite amazing at how humble the Dalai Lama was. He kept emphasizing (and I also hear it in his writings) that he’s just like the rest of us, nothing special. People treat him differently, but he doesn’t see himself that way. I love that quality in those who are esteemed by so many.

      I understand about that worry thing myself. It can steal my joy in a hurry too. 🙁 The Welcoming Prayer helps me with it. More faith, Lord, to accept whatever happens when it happens, not anticipate it as disastrous ahead of time! Thanks for your words here, Ceil.

  11. Joe Pote

    So many valuable lessons!

    I’m impressed that you were open enough to learn from such an unusual source. I’ve found that God can teach me through many sources.

    I recently posted about lessons I’ve learned from my horses. As I recall, in the Old Testament, God once used a Donkey to speak His word to a prophet.

    Thanks for sharing this experience with us, Lisa!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I agree–hopefully this is an experience that I will remember the rest of my life. And my husband too. 🙂 He wasn’t as excited about it initially as I was, but when all was said and done, he enjoyed it too.

  12. Stefanie

    I love seeing you being able to learn from someone so different. My mother saw the Dalai Lhama in Toronto and she said he was amazing, and I believe her. I think many of us have so much to learn, and I believe God works through so many people 🙂

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Awesome! I’m glad your mom got to see him too and verify what I’m saying. 🙂 I’m totally with you–God can speak through whoever he wants to if he wants to get our attention. Thanks, Stefanie.

  13. Heather @ My Overflowing Cup

    I love these quotes, Lisa. I wrote a post awhile back on my favorite Corrie Ten Boom quotes and the Dalai Lama’s quotes remind me a lot of some of the things she said. Loved this – “If your comfort can cover you and somebody else too, make it happen.” I also love your word of the year. Compassion is beautiful because Christ lived that word out in His life as well as in His death. I think I will follow suit and pray about a word for me for 2015. Thanks so much, Lisa!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’ll have to track down your Corrie ten Boom quotes! She is such an inspiration. I have absolutely loved having a word of the year for the past several years now. The Lord uses it to wake me up to things I’d not notice otherwise. This year of compassion has been crazy. I’m so grateful that yes, Christ did live out that word in both life and death! We’re blessed. If you do pick out a word (or one picks you!), I’d love to hear about it.

  14. Corinne Rodrigues

    Ah! What a wonderful opportunity to see him in person, Lisa. Yes, there’s a lot we can learn from him even if we don’t agree with all that he says. Thank you for presenting this in a way that will stick in my mind! ♥

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, it was such a thrill to get to hear the Dalai Lama in person! I’m so glad we took the opportunity to go. It was quite a show from beginning to end with all the hoopla surrounding his visit. 🙂 It made me realize again the delight in actually showing up.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, every person has something to teach us, if we’ll humble ourselves enough to listen. I don’t always do that if I already have my mind made up about something. 😉

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