A Review of Becoming Enlightened by His Holiness the Dalai Lama

In Becoming Enlightened, the Dalia Lama is a teacher, plotting out the path to the Buddhist understanding of spiritual development. His Holiness presents a step-by-step, analytic approach to the Buddhist spiritual path that is both practical as well as accessible to non-Buddhists.The “essence” of the Buddhist religion, for the Dalia Lama, rests in living out compassion and the doctrine of dependent arising. “Totally unbiased compassion” is the highest level of spiritual practice. The Dalai Lama links personal spiritual growth with our altruistic concern for others. This is also an important teaching within Christianity, that the more a Christian can cultivate a self-less spirit, the more spiritually mature and Christ-like s/he becomes. As the Dalia Lama puts it, “working at achieving the welfare of others accomplishes your own along the way.”

This statement he makes is intriguing to me. In a general sense, I find this to be true. I think it is especially helpful as a guide for personal spiritual growth, especially at the beginning of spiritual practice. There has to be some faith that compassion will benefit us. Otherwise, it is too easy to depart form our spiritual practices and carry on with business as usual. In a general sense, it is true that our own obsession with ourselves is our biggest obstacle to happiness and fulfillment. Is it true in an absolute sense? I’m not so sure. I wonder, for example, if “the welfare of others accomplishes your own” in instances where you have enemies intent on harming you. I’m thinking particularly of instances of genocide, ethnic cleansing, or other forms of violence where the perpetrator couldn’t care less if you live or die.

Another core of Buddhist spiritual development is the doctrine of dependent arising. This is distinctively Buddhist. It begins with the idea that there is no thing in the world that exists without depending on a cause. More controversially, Buddhism then asserts that human beings have no permanent, fixed self. Instead, each of us merely exists, moment-to-moment, as the convergence of forces: desires, physical sensations, cultural conditioning, and for the Dalai Lama and many Buddhists, the karma of past lives. Any sensation that the self is permanent, that we exist in any fixed sense, is an illusion of the ego. It inhibits spiritual development because it perpetuates the illusion that we are not interconnected. For Buddhists (and many others as well), spiritual growth depends on understanding that we are interconnected and do not exist as separate egos, self-dependent. As the Dalai Lama says, the self “lacks a core, like a bubble.”

I listened to Becoming Enlightened on audiobook, with Jeffrey Hopkins narrating. I have seen and heard the Dalai Lama, and I was quite disappointed with the narration. In person, the Dalai Lama is light, funny, and deeply joyful. Hopkins’ narration, however, often felt tight and somewhat forceful. It struck me as quite the opposite tone that the Dalia Lama often personifies.

Another critique is that the teaching can sometimes feel boxy and bland. The writing can thus feel monotonous and mundane. This is especially true when the text reviews main points constantly! Yet this systematic approach does reinforce the points, and from my experience, spiritual development depends on coming back to basic truths time and again, because our normal way of being in the world is often reflexively negative. Training the mind is a long process. Buddhists perhaps more than any other religion recognize that “an unruly mind causes unhappiness and suffering.”

One point of particular interest to me was when the Dalai Lama said that “teachers of other religions could have been emanations of a Buddha or a Boddhisattva.” Even things like bridges or ships could be emanations of a Buddha, whatever is helpful to people. So, within Buddhist teaching that the Dalia Lama represents, Jesus or the Apostle Paul or Muhammad could have been emanations of a Buddha.

I most appreciated Becoming Enlighted for the Dalia lama’s practical tips for spiritual development, particularly in relation to becoming more compassionate and altruistic. He provides many simple strategies for gradually changing our normal self-centered perception of the world into something more generous and giving. We could all use a bit of that, eh?

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Jonathan Erdman

Writer. In the summers, I live and work in the incredible state of Alaska, in the bush community of McCarthy, as the Executive Director of the Wrangell Mountain Center. When not in McCarthy, you'll typically find me in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, writing and working with local activists. My primary writing project right now is a novel set in remote bush Alaska, of the magical realism genre wherein an earnest and independent young woman finds a mysterious radio belonging to her grandmother, a device that has paranormal bandwidth and a disturbing ability to mess with one's mental stability.

8 thoughts on “A Review of Becoming Enlightened by His Holiness the Dalai Lama”

  1. the point is to simply be good to each other. If you call it god and I call it buddhanature, perhaps, it is not the naming so much that is so fundamental, but the shared intention to make this life a more present, kinder experience for ourselves and those around us.

    How does the wild beast get tamed? Whichever you can I suppose.


    1. Yeah. That’s the question, right? Just how does the wild beast get tamed? Sheesh. From my experiences, spiritual growth is a slow process that requires dedication. It’s also got to be a little bit fun; I mean, you kinda hafta wanna go there, be excited about the prospect of change and have some kind of motivation for taming the beast.


  2. “Taming the beast,” I sometimes think we’ve been so domesticated that we’ve removed the wheat with the tares. Nothing like a bit of wildness. It’s also part of a healthy spirituality. Something very unattractive about being over-tamed. Just a thought.


    1. I think I see where you are coming from. For me, “taming the beast” refers to setting my mind free from the habitual, reflexively negative habits of thinking. To be free in this way seems to have allowed me to be far less tame and domesticated and far more wild, in the best sense of the term. The “beast” of an unruly mind finds itself constantly controlled by the external world and by other people’s actions and expectations. So, the beast gets pissed off when someone cuts them off in traffic, or it becomes intimidated that it doesn’t measure up to the standards of society in some way, or it gets caught in a cycle of needing to be an over-achiever to impress people, or conversely it might withdraw from the world feeling inadequate. There seem to be a million ways that we “conform to the pattern of this world,” as Paul puts it; but it seems to me that if we are really free in our minds, then we can choose for ourselves what we want, no matter how wild that may be, without reference to others.

      The goal of taming the beast, in my very humble opinion, is to free the wild soul inside. You’ve read Parker Palmer, no? He talks a good deal about the wildness of the inner heart.


  3. the goal of taming the beast varies in aesthetic according to whichever flavor/brand of realization you ascribe to.. there are as many forms as there are variations of human expression, I can’t count ’em. They all share a universal form of human truth however, and that’s where we see unity.

    Correction of my typo sentence:

    How does the wild beast get tamed? Whichever way you can tame it, I suppose.


  4. I’ve long been impressed with how UNenlightening the things the Dalai Lama says are. I guess if I lived in Tibet or Nepal or wherever area he is from and I heard him speak then I might consider some of the stuff he says as fairly impressive. But not as an informed, educated Christian living here in the USA.

    Buddha was a vile bastard. He abandoned his wife and child to go start his own “philosophy” or whatever you want to call it and even with that complete self-centered devotion to creating it he never came up with any really great quotes or statements comparable to what you would read from Jesus Christ. I guess that’s why its so rare to read anyone quoting Buddha.


  5. Quinn,

    It’s quite fine if you are not impressed by the Dalai Lama or by the teachings of Buddha. Many sayings have been attributed to the Buddha, and it’s actually quite difficult to try to discern which of them are authentic. There is a massive body of Buddhists scriptures and literature out there, much of which I am unfamiliar. I have, however, tried to study and really absorb some of them. I have appreciated, for example, reading the Dhammapada. You are obviously well-read on Buddhism, which sources have you studied?

    I disagree with you on Buddha being self-centered. The essence of Buddhism is compassion and altruism, which the Dalai Lama talks a good bit about in this book. The highest level of Enlightenment, in fact, is to become concerned far more about the well-being of others than even for one’s own enlightenment and future karma. In Christian terminology, it would be to wish that you yourself would suffer hell in order that others might gain eternal life.

    Buddhism is also focussed on compassion toward one’s enemies. This is central to Buddhism. In this sense, there is a deep resonance, for me, with my Christian faith. The idea of loving one’s enemies is identical in both the Buddha’s teachings and the teachings of Jesus.


  6. There is a verse in the bible that describes the actions of the Buddha who left his wife and child behind.

    1 Timothy 5:8 But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.


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