“My Religion Is Kindness” — Dalai Lama
Such a simple religion.
On or about June 5th, I saw the most curious tweet with a quote from the Dalai Lama:
The four words, “My religion is kindness”, have reverberated through my mind for weeks now since I saw that quote. I am not really religious myself. I have little faith in organized religion because they all seem to me to be needlessly complex.
The major religions have giant books to explain their respective faiths. I found them to be complicated and confusing. I am interested in simplicity because I am a human that can be easily confused. If I am to adopt any religion, it must be a simple one. Kindness as a religion is about as simple as I think I can get.
When I was a kid, I was introduced to Christianity more than once. I saw the bible. I saw the cross in the church and the statues of Jesus, Joe, and Mary. I heard them talk about God, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus. I didn’t know why we needed all three of them. I didn’t see the point of morality expressed through folklore, and then being told that the folklore is God’s word.
As a younger adult, I worked the 12 Steps because they were so simple. I did that work not because I knew it would work. I did it to see if it would work. I am a happier person today because I performed a self-examination that helped me to know better, who I am.
I am married to a Buddhist. The holy books of Buddhism are many volumes. That’s too much for me. I look at the other religions, Judaism and Islam, and I see they both have many volumes of explanation, too. I am probably smart enough to comprehend the wisdom of those books. But I want something simple.
I have been exploring philosophy for many years now, looking for something that works for me. I have found a simple rule that works for me: Err on the side of peace. I didn’t read this one in a book. I learned this one from experience.
I err on the side of peace because I know that other people may be locked in a personal struggle I know nothing about. They want to get their needs met and they want to remain in peace. They have other demands set upon them and I may have no knowledge of what those demands are. So I err on the side of peace because life is hard enough already.
I avoid judging people because I don’t know what struggles they are dealing with. I have made a habit of reserving judgment. I reserve judgment to keep my mind open for new information. I define faith as distinct from belief, I define it as a verb. Faith is the action of reserving judgment so that I may receive new information.
So I have spent more than a decade erring the side of peace and reserving judgment. I’m not perfect at it, and I do have my moments from time to time, but I found a great deal of happiness just following those two principles alone. I now have a third guiding principle to follow: be kind. I think I’ve been following this one for a long time and didn’t really know it until someone else made an interesting suggestion.
That someone else was the Dalai Lama. His suggestion? “Kindness is my religion.” We all know what kindness is. We can feel it when we receive it. We can feel it again when we give it. We know the difference between being mean and being kind. If we’re self-aware, we know which action brings us more peace. Every act of kindness is a spiritual awakening.
Long ago, before I got married, before I had kids and before I became aware of the principles I spoke of above, I was living alone. I was unhappy one day, working in a retirement home.
I remember walking around with a dark cloud over my head. I was determined that morning, not to say anything to anyone unless absolutely necessary. I was not even going to be funny for anyone. No one-liners, no zingers, not even a hint of dry humor. I love to be funny, but that day, I wanted to deny my humor to everyone.
I had a habit of sharing my humor with the receptionist in the lobby. She always laughed at my humor. But that day, the day I decided I was going to withhold my humor, I was there, at the side of the reception desk, not smiling, not wanting to smile, not wanting to say much, but I had to ask her a question as a part of my job and then move on.
I don’t remember what the conversation was about or what I said, but she totally set herself up for me to say something funny for her. My humor is never personal. Whatever I said had her laughing hysterically for a minute or two, and I felt better. I had resolved my own unhappiness with a little kindness to someone else. That was my first clue, so long ago.
I have studied kindness through action. The best examples I can find usually occur when I’m working my day job. I have more interactions with strangers when I’m at work. I have worked with red hot customers, unhappy with the service they’ve had before me, and I have talked them down from the stratosphere with kindness. I have fixed customer software with kindness. I have thanked them for an opportunity to be of service with kindness.
I have done the similar things for my wife. I have talked her through her upsets with kindness. I have considered other ways, but in every case, as I thought through alternatives to kindness, I could only see unpalatable outcomes. I have found that kindness cuts through anger like butter. Kindness soothes sadness. Kindness resolves conflicts in a way that confrontation cannot. If you want to de-escalate, kindness is the can opener.
When my kids are upset, I de-escalate with kindness. When my wife is upset, I help to calm her with kindness. Even when I’m unhappy, I can soothe my discomfort by being kind to others.
I err on the side of peace. I reserve judgment. I start every interaction with kindness as my first intent. I have found that when I practice these principles over and over again, the benefits are persistent and cumulative. Peace becomes a habit. Reserving judgment becomes a habit. Kindness becomes a habit. When I practice these principles, they are reflected back to me, over and over again. Huh. Another virtuous circle.
I am pleased that a spiritual leader such as the Dalai Lama, with millions of followers all over the world, can make such a profound statement. I believe that the world can be changed with a thousand tiny influences. That one statement by the Dalai Lama has influenced the world. When, “Kindness is my religion” is repeated often, and shared by millions of other people to the people they know, the influence of that suggestion spreads like a wave, and it reflects back upon the point of origin.
It might not seem like much, but I believe that such small influences, multiplied millions and even billions of times, can have a measurable effect on our state of being in the world. I’m not trying to change the world by challenging other people to change. I’m just making a suggestion, knowing that it’s not possible to unlearn something we’ve learned. We may find new information that contradicts what we learned before, but that original thought that “kindness is my religion”, cannot be unlearned.