Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, lived through remarkable times that thrust him onto the world stage. Political events in his home country and a growing global demand for its wisdom expanded his role as the leader of a nation and a religious community into that of an international spiritual authority and diplomat. The winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize for his work on nonviolent resolution with China, he became even perhaps more widely known for his lectures on spiritual topics ranging from traditional Buddhist teachings to the intersection of religion and science.

Born in 1935, the Dalai Lama was recognised as such in 1937 by monks who identified him as the reincarnation of the previous Dalai Lama, who had died in 1933. Born into a humble farming family in which he was one of sixteen children, he was swept into a very different world when he began his rigorous monastic education. At the Potala Palace, he studied monastic discipline and meditation, Buddhist metaphysical and ethical teachings, and other subjects including fine arts, logic, and medicine. His childhood and education are explored in the 1997 Martin Scorsese movie Kundun, which also depicts the Chinese invasion of Tibet that sent him and many other Tibetan Buddhist monks into exile in 1959.

The Dalai Lama belongs to the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism, which teaches Vajrayana Buddhism, a branch of the Mahayana Buddhist school. In Mahayana Buddhism, the goal of individual enlightenment is set aside for the goal of liberating all other beings from the cycle of suffering or samsara. The essence of Vajrayana, or Tantric Buddhism, is the concept of rapid spiritual transformation through direct engagement with the substance of everyday life. In Vajrayana, negative states of mind such as hatred and desire are embraced and worked with directly as the path to enlightenment. One of the symbols of Vajrayana is the peacock, whose beautiful plumage was said to result from the transmutation of poison.

Traditional Tibetan teachings go into great depth regarding the nature of mind. The unique path of the 14th Dalai Lama has led him to publish dozens of books ranging from dense texts on complex tantric teachings like the Kalachakra (Wheel of Time) to books for a popular audience on happiness and compassion.

So without further ado, here are 50 life-changing Dalai Lama quotes on life, love, health, happiness, kindness and more!

On Happiness

“I believe that the very purpose of our life is to seek happiness.”

– The Art of Happiness

“Happiness is determined more by one’s state of mind than by external events.”

– The Art of Happiness

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

– The Art of Happiness

“The basic sources of happiness are a good heart, compassion, and love. If we have these, even if we’re surrounded by hostility, we’ll feel little disturbance.”

– The Basic Sources of Happiness

“There’s another Tibetan saying that it is actually the painful experiences that shine the light on the nature of happiness. They do this by bringing joyful experiences into sharp relief.”

– The Book of Joy

“If something is lacking in your perspective—if something is missing in your heart—then despite the most luxurious surroundings, you cannot be happy. However, if you have peace of mind, you can find happiness even under the most difficult circumstances.”

– How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life

“I say, if you are selfish, you should be wisely selfish. Ordinary selfishness focuses only on your own needs, but if you are wisely selfish, you will treat others just as well as you treat those close to you. Ultimately, this strategy will produce more satisfaction, more happiness. So, even from a selfish viewpoint, you get better results by respecting others, serving others, and reducing self-centeredness.”

-How to Practice

“Whether our action is wholesome or unwholesome depends on whether that action or deed arises from a disciplined or undisciplined state of mind. It is felt that a disciplined mind leads to happiness and an undisciplined mind leads to suffering, and in fact it is said that bringing about discipline within one’s mind is the essence of the Buddha’s teaching.”

-The Art of Happiness

The Dalai Lama’s teachings focus on the central role of happiness in personal and global transformation. At first, this may seem counterintuitive, out of place for a lofty spiritual thinker who has spent his life studying complex teachings on the nature of mind. Yet, to the Dalai Lama, happiness is the foundation upon which all other positive change rests. Compassion and altruism much more naturally flow from people who are happy than from people who are unhappy. Similarly, cultivating compassion and love is the most direct and powerful way to achieve and maintain happiness. These states of mind inspire actions that benefit others, and these states, as well as the fruits of the actions driven by them, inspire feelings of well-being.

As the Dalai Lama teaches, compassion and love can be generated through various forms of mental training and meditative discipline. These traits are a much more stable foundation for happiness than fleeting external circumstances. In the Buddhist perspective, this positive cycle in which benefits to self and benefits to others feed upon one another reflects the wisdom that the mind, rather than the objects it perceives, is the primary basis of experience.

On Love

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”

– Dzogchen: The Heart Essence of the Great Perfection

“Ultimately, the reason why love and compassion bring the greatest happiness is simply that our nature cherishes them above all else. The need for love lies at the very foundation of human existence. It results from the profound interdependence we all share with one another.”

– Official Website

“Though it is possible for love and compassion to be influenced by afflictive emotions, true love and compassion are unbiased and devoid of exaggeration, because they are founded on valid cognition of your relationship to others.”

– How to See Yourself As You Really Are

“Real compassion is based on reason. Ordinary compassion or love is limited by desire or attachment.”

– How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life

“One kind of compassion is tinged with attachment—the feeling of controlling someone, or loving someone so that person will love you back. This ordinary type of love or compassion is quite partial and biased. And a relationship based on that alone is unstable… If there is a slight change in the situation, a disagreement perhaps, or if your friend does something to make you angry, then all of a sudden your mental projection changes; the concept of ‘my friend’ is no longer there. Then you’ll find the emotional attachment evaporating, and instead of that feeling of love and concern, you may have a feeling of hatred. So that kind of love, based on attachment, can be closely linked with hatred.”

– The Art of Happiness

“We humans have existed in our present form for about a hundred thousand years. I believe that if during this time the human mind had been primarily controlled by anger and hatred, our overall population would have decreased. But today, despite all our wars, we find that the human population is greater than ever. This clearly indicates to me that while anger and aggression are surely present, love and compassion predominate in the world. This is why what we call ‘news’ is composed of mostly unpleasant or tragic events; compassionate activities are so much a part of daily life that they are taken for granted and therefore are largely ignored.”

– The Compassionate Life

The Dalai Lama sees love as the driving force of the human realm: though hate and violence exist, they are not our true nature. Like all Buddhists, the Dalai Lama believes human nature and human life are fundamentally good, and that the nature of the mind is fundamentally peaceful. As he notes, while we tend to focus on and react to stories that reinforce our self-image as a violent and destructive species, the greater human story is one of cooperation and of helping one another.

It is our love for one another that is the source of our greatest inspiration to learn, create, succeed, and overcome the challenges we face. It is not that the “three poisons” of greed, hatred, and ignorance are not at play in the world, but that they are not the fundamental nature of this world. Rather, they arise from a cycle of misperception that can be broken and disappear completely in the light of the awakened mind.

The Dalai Lama takes care to distinguish the wholesome, self-sustaining love of the disciplined mind from the confused and unstable feelings that arise from attachment. Wise love does not seek to control another person and is not dependent upon that person’s reactions or feelings. Instead, it is rooted in a desire for the other to be happy. This kind of love never transforms into hate and is a balm for the spirit in the face of loss and hardship. It is the flame that lights the way when all else has become dark, bringing us back to others and to our own inner wisdom.

On Kindness

“When you are concerned about others, your own welfare is fulfilled automatically.”

– How to Practice

“This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”

– The Dalai Lama: A Policy of Kindness

“A person’s general goodness is in direct correlation to the force, or quality, of the kind thoughts he or she generates.”

– Stages of Meditation

“Kindness is essential to mental peace. The central method for achieving a happier life is to train your mind in a daily practice that weakens negative attitudes and strengthens positive ones.”

– How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life

“My earnest request is that you practice love and kindness whether you believe in a religion or not. Through this practice you come to realize the value of compassion and kindness for your own peace of mind.”

– How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life

“Compassion can be roughly defined in terms of a state of mind that is nonviolent, nonharming, and nonaggressive. It is a mental attitude based on the wish for others to be free of their suffering and is associated with a sense of commitment, responsibility, and respect towards the other.”

– The Art of Happiness

“I think that in many cases people tend to expect the other person to respond to them in a positive way first, rather than taking the initiative themselves to create that possibility. This leads to problems and can act as a barrier that serves to promote a feeling of isolation from others.”

– The Art of Happiness

One of the Dalai Lama’s most well-known quotes is that his religion is kindness. In the simple act of helping others is folded an entire science of mind. Peace, love, compassion, and kindness are profoundly interrelated; a loving and peaceful mind naturally generates acts of kindness and compassion, which in turn reinforce positive states of being. As with love, the Dalai Lama teaches that true kindness is not driven by the desire to control another person or to elicit a certain response from them. Rather, it is driven by a genuine wish for another to be happy and free from suffering. This wish is grounded in wisdom and the understanding that others cannot be made happy, but can be inspired and aided in their path to happiness by acts of kindness. Such acts encompass everything from sharing material resources to speaking encouraging words.

In the Buddhist tradition, one of the kindest things a person can do is free others from fear. The most profound way to do this is to share wisdom that dispels illusion: in the Buddha’s words, to help people see that the snake they fear is actually just a rope. As the Dalai Lama teaches, just as happiness is dependent on the cultivation of positive states of mind, fear is dependent on the maintenance of negative states, which are in turn dependent on misperceptions. Helping a person with a burdensome task has the power to achieve not only a material outcome, but to shift that person’s perspective. Simple acts of kindness often have an impact far beyond the moment and circumstances in which they arise.

On Peace

“Mental peace is a basic need for all humankind.”

– How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life

“We may be wealthy and have abundant material facilities at our disposal, but as long as we are disturbed within our minds, we will have no peace.”

– Stages of Meditation

“If your mind is scattered, it is quite powerless. Distraction here and there opens the way for counterproductive emotions, leading to many kinds of trouble.”

-How to See Yourself As You Really Are

“The undisciplined mind is like an elephant. If left to blunder around out of control, it will wreak havoc. But the harm and suffering we encounter as a result of failing to restrain the negative impulses of mind far exceed the damage a rampaging elephant can cause.”

– Ethics for the New Millennium

“As long as there is a lack of the inner discipline that brings calmness of mind, no matter what external facilities or conditions you have, they will never give you the feeling of joy and happiness that you are seeking. On the other hand, if you possess this inner quality, a calmness of mind, a degree of stability within, then even if you lack various external facilities that you would normally consider necessary for happiness, it is still possible to live a happy and joyful life.” 

– The Art of Happiness

“It is helpful to think of adversity not so much as a threat to our peace of mind but rather as the very means by which patience is attained. From this perspective, we see that those who would harm us are, in a sense, teachers of patience.”

– Ethics for the New Millennium

“If we think about the projected injustices done to us, the ways in which we have been unfairly treated, and we keep on thinking about them over and over, then that feeds the hatred. It makes the hatred very powerful and intense. Of course, the same can apply to when we have an attachment towards a particular person; we can feed that by thinking about how beautiful he or she is, and as we keep thinking about the projected qualities that we see in the person, the attachment becomes more and more intense. But this shows how through constant familiarity and thinking, we ourselves can make our emotions more intense and powerful.”

– The Art of Happiness

“Without forgiveness, we remain tethered to the person who harmed us. We are bound to the chains of bitterness, tied together, trapped. Until we can forgive the person who harmed us, that person will hold the keys to our happiness, that person will be our jailor. When we forgive, we take back control of our own fate and our feelings. We become our own liberator.”

– The Book of Joy

One of the most fundamental Buddhist teachings is that inner peace comes from within; it is entirely independent of external states. While freedom from a certain level of external strife makes the attainment of peace easier, a person with excellent mental discipline can find peace even in extremely violent or chaotic circumstances. A traditional Tibetan Buddhist teaching is to see everyone as a teacher, especially those who appear to be enemies. The Dalai Lama and many other Tibetan Buddhists were forced to put these teachings to the most extreme test as they suffered the hardships of persecution, exile, and even torture. Their ability to maintain peace was dependent on their ability to have compassion for those who harmed them.

Fortunately, most of us won’t be tested under such extreme circumstances. Instead, we learn how to maintain peace in the face of everyday adversity: rude treatment by strangers, traffic, frustrations at work, and misunderstandings with loved ones. The Dalai Lama does not advise us to be passive, but that we try to resolve difficulties with a peaceful mind. The best way to learn how to maintain equanimity in the face of adversity is to work directly with the mind, especially through the practice of meditation. Learning how to return the attention to the breath when thoughts arise helps train the mind for the greater challenge of letting go of negative emotions.

On Health

“Certainly I attribute the good health I enjoy to a generally calm and peaceful mind.”

– Ethics for the New Millennium

“Our own destructive emotions pollute our outlook, making healthy living impossible. We need to cleanse our own internal perspective through the practice of wise compassion.”

– How to Be Compassionate

“Peace, tranquillity, and others’ care are essential to recovery from illness. We can also identify a basic longing for peace. Why? Because peace suggests life and growth whereas violence suggests only misery and death.”

– Ethics for the New Millennium

“My earnest request is that you practice compassion whether you believe in a religion or not. Through this practice, you will come to realize the value of compassion for your own peace of mind. The very atmosphere of your own life becomes happier, which promotes good health, perhaps even a longer life.”

– How to Be Compassionate

“Consider the relationship between peace—which as we have seen is the fruit of love—and good health. According to my understanding, our constitution is more suited to peace and tranquility than to violence and aggression. We all know that stress and anxiety can lead to high blood pressure and other negative symptoms. In the Tibetan medical system, mental and emotional disturbances are considered to be a cause of many constitutional diseases.”

– Ethics for the New Millennium

“In identifying one’s mental state as the prime factor in achieving happiness, of course that doesn’t deny that our basic physical needs for food, clothing, and shelter must be met. But once these basic needs are met, the message is clear: we don’t need more money, we don’t need greater success or fame, we don’t need the perfect body or even the perfect mate – right now, at this very moment, we have a mind, which is all the basic equipment we need to achieve complete happiness.”

– The Art of Happiness

The Dalai Lama teaches that physical health is linked to a peaceful mind. This is a traditional Buddhist view, and in the last several decades has received increasing support from scientific research. In his work with the Mind and Life Institute and other scientific organisations, the Dalai Lama has been at the forefront of the dialogue between science and religion. One fundamental area of agreement between the two is the link between body and mind. Stress has been shown to not only cause immediate changes in blood pressure and immune response, but to contribute to the development of chronic conditions. Similarly, meditation and other practices that cultivate a peaceful mind, like yoga, have been linked with improved health.

This said, the Dalai Lama is careful to clarify that our striving for better health is only effective up to a point. People do not need to attain the “perfect body” or the perfect state of health to find peace. Just as people can learn how to face interpersonal adversity with a calm mind, peace is still possible when physical pain or ill health arise. By training the mind, people can learn how to let go of the thoughts and emotional states that increase discomfort and tension and identify with the ground of being, the peace that is always there underneath the pain and stress.

On Truth

“In our struggle for freedom, truth is the only weapon we possess.”

-1989 Nobel Lecture

“The more honest you are, the more open, the less fear you will have, because there’s no anxiety about being exposed or revealed to others.”

-The Art of Happiness

“So one fundamental attitude shared by Buddhism and science is the commitment to keep searching for reality by empirical means and to be willing to discard accepted or long-held positions if our search finds that the truth is different.”

-The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality

“In our usual state we are distracted, like water running everywhere, scattering the innate force of mind in multiple directions, making us incapable of clear perception of the truth.”

-How to See Yourself As You Really Are

“It is not enough to look at any given situation or problem from only one perspective. We need to look at it from this direction and that direction, from all sides.”

-Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World

“Similarly, when you are able to stop your mind from chasing sensory objects and thinking about the past and future and so on, and when you can free your mind from being totally ‘blanked out’ as well, then you will begin to see underneath this turbulence of the thought processes. There is an underlying stillness, an underlying clarity of the mind.”

-The Art of Happiness

Buddhist teachings emphasise the importance of truth. To the Dalai Lama and other Buddhists, truth is not that which can be believed, but something that is beyond belief. The difference has to do with the Buddhist view of thoughts, which are understood as a phenomenon at the surface of the mind rather than its deepest expression or nature. Thoughts can be useful in navigating day-to-day life but are also a primary source of confusion and suffering. It is only when people learn how to experience the deeper states of mind beneath the movement of thoughts that they gain clarity. Understanding that thoughts cannot capture the entire truth of a situation allows a person to be less fixed in their views and to respond more freely to life circumstances.

In Buddhism, wisdom and compassion are understood as essentially linked, two aspects of the same reality. Compassion only liberates when it is wise and grounded in truth, and wisdom is only meaningful to the extent it is linked to compassion. The cultivation of each is also linked; the wiser people become, the more compassionate they become, and vice versa. It is for this reason that the Dalai Lama focuses his teachings on the cultivation of compassion: it is a direct path to truth that does not demand perfect clarity or adherence to any particular belief system. The benefits of a more compassionate life are not limited to membership in any one religion.

On Life

“All human life is some part failure and some part achievement.”

-Time Magazine Interview

“Neither a space station nor an enlightened mind can be realized in a day.”

-How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life

“I believe the most important thing for humankind is its own creativity. I further believe that, in order to be able to exercise this creativity, people need to be free.”

-Freedom in Exile

“No dark fate determines the future. We do. Each day and each moment, we are able to create and re-create our lives and the very quality of human life on our planet. This is the power we wield.”

-The Book of Joy

“Gratitude is the recognition of all that holds us in the web of life and all that has made it possible to have the life that we have and the moment that we are experiencing.”

-The Book of Joy

“Change, on the infinitesimal level, is accompanied in our mind by an appearance of continuity. Yet the continuity thus perceived is illusory. For nothing remains the same, and no two consecutive instants are alike.”

-My Spiritual Journey

“In the frenzy of modern life we lose sight of the real value of humanity. People become the sum total of what they produce. Human beings act like machines whose function is to make money. This is absolutely wrong. The purpose of making money is the happiness of humankind, not the other way round. Humans are not for money, money is for humans.”

-How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life

“The work of a person laboring in some humble occupation is no less relevant to the well-being of society than that of, for example, a doctor, a teacher, a monk, or a nun. All human endeavor is potentially great and noble. So long as we carry out our work with good motivation, thinking, ‘My work is for others,’ it will be of benefit to the wider community.”

-Ethics for the New Millennium

“One very important factor for sustaining hope is to have an optimistic attitude. Optimism doesn’t mean that you are blind to the reality of the situation. It means that you remain motivated to seek a solution to whatever problems arise. Optimism involves looking at a situation not only in relation to problems that arise, but also seeking out some benefit—looking at it in terms of its potential positive outcome.”

-The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World

The Dalai Lama’s teachings about the way to achieve and maintain inner peace are simple: be kind and cultivate love and compassion. However, he is also comfortable with life’s complexities. He acknowledges that even he makes mistakes and gets angry. He remarks upon our need to come together to address challenges like environmental degradation and social injustice, and how these require multifaceted solutions.

The importance of consistent practice on the spiritual path is also emphasised. This path is not a permanent solution to life’s problems or a form of control, but a way of moving through life’s challenges with peace and clarity. The point of meditation is not to completely rid the mind of thoughts, but to practice bringing the attention back when distractions arise. Likewise, the aim of practising compassion is not to achieve a state where anger never arises, but to learn how to return to a loving state of mind after it does.

Seeing life in this way brings its own peace, as it reminds us that the happiness we seek is not on the other side of a permanent attainment, but is always as close as our ability to return to it. Life’s value does not lie in what can be measured, listed on a resume, or added to a bank account. We might do different jobs or have differing levels of status or wealth, but we all fundamentally seek happiness and all find it in the same place: in ourselves.

Ben Fishel

Ben is a freelance writer and the creator of Project Monkey Mind, a blog that looks at Psychology and Spirituality to find practical wisdom for the digital age.

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