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How to Be Compassionate: A Handbook for Creating Inner Peace and a Happier World

How to Be Compassionate: A Handbook for Creating Inner Peace and a Happier World

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by Dalai Lama, Jeffrey Hopkins (Translator)

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Each one of us is responsible for all of humankind, and for the environment in which we live. . . . We must seek to lessen the suffering of others. Rather than working solely to acquire wealth, we need to do something meaningful, something seriously directed toward the welfare of humanity as a whole. To do this, you need to recognize that the whole world is part


Each one of us is responsible for all of humankind, and for the environment in which we live. . . . We must seek to lessen the suffering of others. Rather than working solely to acquire wealth, we need to do something meaningful, something seriously directed toward the welfare of humanity as a whole. To do this, you need to recognize that the whole world is part of you. —from How to Be Compassionate

The surest path to true happiness lies in being intimately concerned with the welfare of others. Or, as His Holiness the Dalai Lama would say, in compassion.

In How to Be Compassionate, His Holiness reveals basic mistakes of attitude that lead us to inner turmoil, and how we can correct them to achieve a better tomorrow. He demonstrates precisely how opening our hearts and minds to other people is the best way to overcome the misguided ideas that are at the root of all our problems. He shows us how compassion can be a continuous wellspring of happiness in our own lives and how our newfound happiness can extend outward from us in ever wider and wider circles.

As we become more compassionate human beings, our friends, family, neighbors, loved ones—and even our enemies—will find themselves less frequently in the thrall of destructive emotions like anger, jealousy, and fear, prompting them to become more warmhearted, kind, and harmonious forces within their own circles. With simple language and startling clarity, His Holiness makes evident as never before that the path to global harmony begins in the hearts of individual women and men. Enlivened by personal anecdotes and intimate accounts of the Dalai Lama’s experiences as a student, thinker, political leader, and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, How to Be Compassionate gives seekers of all faiths the keys to overcoming anger, hatred, and selfishness— the primary obstacles to happiness—and to becoming agents of positive transformation in our communities and the world at large.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
The Dalai Lama's latest publication, with his former interpreter Hopkins (Tibetan & Buddhist studies, emeritus, Univ. of Virginia), does not dwell on his life or experience, as some of his more popular recent titles have done; nor does it address specifically Buddhist concerns or spirituality. Rather, the Dalai Lama works here from the Buddhist places (awareness, nonattachment) to speak to general readers about habits that make for unhappiness (anger, for one) and the attitudes that increase contentment. VERDICT Light on politics and even lighter on the more abstruse points of Tibetan Buddhism, this is a fine and accessible book for the everyday reader; excellent for the self-help market.

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Atria Books
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Read an Excerpt

Introduction: Recognizing the Source of Happiness

Our lives are in constant flux, which generates many predicaments. However, when these are faced with a calm and clear mind supported by spiritual practice, they can all be successfully resolved. By contrast, when our minds are clouded by hatred, selfishness, jealousy, and anger, we not only lose control, we lose our sense of judgment. At those wild moments, anything can happen. 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.

When you are caught up in a destructive emotion, you have lost one of your greatest assets: your independence. At least for the time being, your mind is disturbed, which weakens your capacity for sound judgment. In the grip of strong lust or hatred, you forget to analyze whether an action is suitable, and can even speak crazily and make wild gestures. Afterward, when that emotion fades, you often end up embarrassed and sorry for what you have done. This shows us that, while you had fallen under the influence of that strong emotion, your capacity to distinguish between good and bad, between suitable and unsuitable, was nowhere to be found.

Although unfavorable conditions need to be removed, when they are removed with hatred, the means of relief creates its own problems, because hatred, distorted by its bias, does not see the true situation. But unfavorable conditions can be removed through analysis—by examining the facts and discerning the actual situation—without any negative emotional side effects.

Only human beings can judge and reason; we understand consequences and think in the long term. Human beings also can develop infinite love, whereas animals have only limited forms of affection and love. However, when humans become angry, all this potential is lost. No enemy armed with mere weapons can undo these qualities, but anger can. It is the destroyer. When animals act out of lust or hatred, they do so temporarily or superficially; they are incapable of committing destruction in ever-increasing strength and variety. However, humans can think from a great many points of view. Because our intelligence is so effective, humans can achieve good and bad on a grand scale.

When we look deeply into such things, the blueprint for our actions can be found within the mind. Self-defeating attitudes arise not of their own accord but out of ignorance. Success, too, is found within ourselves. From self-discipline, self-awareness, and clear realization of the defects of anger and the positive effects of kindness, come happiness and peace. For instance, at present, you may be a person who gets easily irritated. However, with clear understanding and awareness, your irritability first can be undermined, and then replaced.

If we allow love and compassion to be dominated by anger, we will sacrifice the best part of our human intelligence—wisdom, which is our ability to decide between right and wrong. Along with selfishness, anger is one of the most serious problems facing the world today. Anger plays a large role in current conflicts, such as those in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, as well as those between highly industrialized and economically undeveloped nations. These conflicts arise from a failure to understand how much we have in common.

Answers cannot be found in the development and use of greater military force, nor can they be purely political or technological. The problems we face cannot be blamed upon one individual person or a single cause, for they are the result of our own negligence. What is required is an emphasis on what we have in common. Hatred and fighting cannot bring happiness to anyone, even to those who win. Violence always produces misery, so it is fundamentally counterproductive.

How can a world full of hatred and anger achieve real happiness? If we examine our long history of turmoil, we see the obvious need to find a better way. Attempts by global powers to dominate one another through arms races—whether nuclear, chemical, biological, or conventional—are clearly counterproductive. The sale of weapons, thousands and thousands of types of arms and ammunition by manufacturers in big countries, fuels the violence, but more dangerous than guns or bombs are hatred, lack of compassion, and lack of respect for the rights of others. External peace is impossible without inner peace. As long as hatred dwells in the human mind, real peace is impossible. We can only solve our problems through truly peaceful means—not just peaceful words, but actions based on a peaceful mind and heart. This is the way we will come to live in a better world.

On every level, the most mischievous troublemakers we face are anger and egoism. The kind of egoism I refer to here is not just a sense of “I,” but an exaggerated self-centeredness that leads to manipulating others. As long as anger dominates our disposition, we have no chance of achieving lasting happiness. In order to achieve peace, tranquility, and real friendship, we must minimize anger and cultivate kindness and a warm heart. As we become nicer human beings, our neighbors, friends, parents, spouses, and children will experience less anger, prompting them to become more warm-hearted, compassionate, and harmonious. The very atmosphere becomes happier, which even promotes good health. This is the way to change the world.

It is time for all of us, including world leaders, to learn to transcend differences of race, culture, and ideology in order to regard each other with appreciation for our common human situation. To do so would uplift individuals, families, communities, nations, and the world at large.

Those countries that have achieved great material progress are beginning to understand that the condition of society, and of our physical well-being, is closely related to our state of mind. This is where profound change has to begin. Individually, we have to work to change the basic perspectives on which our feelings depend. We can only do so through spiritual training, by engaging in transformative practice with the aim of gradually reorienting the way we perceive others and ourselves.


There are different levels of happiness. Physical happiness is often related to material things, whereas mental happiness stems from inner or spiritual development. Since our sense of self, or “I,” contains dual aspects—physical and mental—we need to address both. Balancing them is crucial to the good of human society.

Schemes for world development arise from our basic urge to attain happiness and relieve suffering. But just as we need a long-range perspective to protect our external environment, we need an internal strategy that extends far into the future. It is noble to work at external solutions, but they cannot be successfully implemented so long as our minds are ruled by anger and hatred. Living in society, we must share the suffering of our fellow citizens, and practice compassion and tolerance toward our enemies as well as our loved ones.

We must set an example by our own actions, for mere words cannot convince others of the merit of our values. We must live by the same high standards of integrity and sacrifice we seek to convey to others. This requires moral strength. The ultimate purpose of compassionate values is to serve and benefit the world. This is why it is so important that we always aim to promote the happiness and peace of all beings. For this, we need transformative practice.

In life we are confronted by unfavorable circumstances, one after another, day in and day out. By simply reacting, we generate counterproductive emotions, specifically lust, hatred, and confusion, which produce even more suffering in the future. Those who reject transformative practice generally do not see lust and hatred as problematic; instead of viewing these destructive emotions as toxic, they allow themselves to be controlled by these attitudes. Those who do choose transformative practice, however, view lust and hatred as emotions to be avoided and, for the most part, these people are more peaceful, and happier.

I question the popular assumption that ethics has no place in politics, and that spiritually minded people should sequester themselves from the ways of the world. Such a view lacks a proper perspective on the individual’s relation to society, and the role of compassionate values in our lives. Religions themselves often call for giving up attachment to the world, but this does not mean that you can no longer be an agent for positive change.

In 1954, I travelled to Beijing to meet with Mao Zedong. During our final meeting in 1955, he told me, “Religion is poison for two reasons. The first is that it harms development of the nation. The second is that it diminishes the population.” His thought was that if many people became monastic, it would reduce the number of births. In hindsight, we can say now that more monastics are just what China needed to reduce overpopulation! Mao simply did not understand the real meaning of religion. He did not know that the essence of religion is caring and concern for others.

Ethical behavior is just as crucial to a politician as it is to a religious practitioner. Dangerous consequences follow when politicians and rulers forget moral principles. Whether we believe in God or karma (the power of actions and their effects), strong ethical values are the foundation of society, and must become the underpinning of our daily lives. Still, the good intentions of various religions and philosophies are not sufficient; we must implement them day by day in social interaction. Then we can realize the full value of these teachings.

When you generate a well-founded aspiration to enhance the happiness of others, you become more humane. The ultimate purpose of transformative mental practice is to help others. In order to do so, you must remain in society, contributing according to your ability. As you develop inwardly, you can contribute outwardly with greater force.


We all want happiness and do not want suffering, and since the pain we seek to avoid mainly stems from twisted mental attitudes, we have to consider whether there are any forces that oppose these destructive emotions. If, for instance, anger causes suffering, then we must find its antidote. The antidote for anger is compassion. Anger and compassion are both attitudes, but they have contradictory ways of seeing the same object. Their outlooks are exactly opposite.

If a room is too hot, the only way to reduce the heat is to introduce cold. Just as heat and cold oppose each other, so, too, do mental states such as anger and compassion. To the extent you develop one, the other decreases. This is the way that counterproductive states of mind are reduced, and finally removed. Antidotes exist, and must be found and introduced.

To help you in your effort to resolve your own problems, picture yourself as a sick person who has come under the influence of three destructive diseases: lust, hatred, and ignorance. Transformative practices are like medicines, acting in opposition to these internal ailments. The practice of compassion is like a remedy for ruinous overemphasis on your self.

The sole source of peace within you, in the family, the country, and the world, is altruism—love and compassion. At the core of our existence as human beings is the desire to live purposeful, meaningful lives. Our purpose is to develop a warm heart. We find meaning in our lives by being a friend to everyone. Altruism is the cure because it is the authentic way to conduct your life.


We need to base our lives on altruistic concern, aimed not just at our own private welfare but also at the good of society. As I have mentioned, if people could enjoy both external prosperity and inner qualities of goodness, that indeed would provide a comfortable human life. Therefore, we need to engage in activities for the welfare of the world as a whole, such as building schools, hospitals, and factories. However, since happiness mainly derives from inner attitudes, helping others should not be limited to providing food, shelter, and clothing, but must also include replacing the basic causes of suffering with the basic causes of happiness.

Just as smart public policy aims to educate people so that they can take care of their own lives, so it is with the practice of altruism: the most effective way to help others is by teaching them what to adopt in their future practice and what to discard from their current behavior. People need to learn how to bring about their own happiness.

Each one of us is responsible for all of humankind, and for the environment in which we live. We need to think of each other as true brothers and sisters, and need to be deeply concerned with each other’s welfare. We must seek to lessen the suffering of others. Rather than working solely to acquire wealth, we need to do something meaningful, something seriously directed toward the welfare of humanity as a whole. To do this, you need to recognize that the whole world is part of you.

Foolish people are always thinking only of themselves, and the result is always negative. Wise people think of others, helping them as much as they can, and the result is happiness. Love and compassion are beneficial, both for you and for others. Through kindness toward others, your mind and heart will open to peace.

Expanding this inner environment to the larger community around you will bring unity, harmony, and cooperation; expanding peace further still to nations, and then to the world, will bring mutual trust, mutual respect, sincere communication, and finally successful joint efforts to solve the world’s problems. All this is possible. But the first step is to change ourselves.

Now, let us turn to considering mistakes we commonly make, and how to counteract them. First, let us address the problem of anger, and then the lust that lies behind anger. This leads, in turn, to examining the exaggerations on which these self-defeating emotions are built. I will offer what I hope you will find are helpful techniques, both to alleviate your problems and to develop a kindhearted outlook that will affect you and those around you in a positive way. If you find these techniques beneficial, please implement them; if not, set them aside for now. They may become helpful later.

© 2011 His Holiness The Dalai Lama

Meet the Author

Tenzin Gyatso, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, is the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people. He frequently describes himself as a simple Buddhist monk. Born in northeastern Tibet in 1935, he was as a toddler recognized as the incarnation of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama and brought to Tibet's capital, Lhasa. In 1950, Mao Zedong's Communist forces made their first incursions into eastern Tibet, shortly after which the young Dalai Lama assumed the political leadership of his country. He passed his scholastic examinations with honors at the Great Prayer Festival in Lhasa in 1959, the same year Chinese forces occupied the city, forcing His Holiness to escape to India. There he set up the Tibetan government-in-exile in Dharamsala, working to secure the welfare of the more than 100,000 Tibetan exiles and prevent the destruction of Tibetan culture. In his capacity as a spiritual and political leader, he has traveled to more than sixty-two countries on six continents and met with presidents, popes, and leading scientists to foster dialogue and create a better world. In recognition of his tireless work for the nonviolent liberation of Tibet, the Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. In 2012, he relinquished political authority in his exile government and turned it over to democratically elected representatives.

His Holiness frequently states that his life is guided by three major commitments: the promotion of basic human values or secular ethics in the interest of human happiness, the fostering of interreligious harmony, and securing the welfare of the Tibetan people, focusing on the survival of their identity, culture, and religion. As a superior scholar trained in the classical texts of the Nalanda tradition of Indian Buddhism, he is able to distill the central tenets of Buddhist philosophy in clear and inspiring language, his gift for pedagogy imbued with his infectious joy. Connecting scientists with Buddhist scholars, he helps unite contemplative and modern modes of investigation, bringing ancient tools and insights to bear on the acute problems facing the contemporary world. His efforts to foster dialogue among leaders of the world's faiths envision a future where people of different beliefs can share the planet in harmony. Wisdom Publications is proud to be the premier publisher of the Dalai Lama's more serious and in-depth works.

Jeffrey Hopkins, Ph.D., served for a decade as the interpreter for the Dalai Lama. A Buddhist scholar and the author of more than thirty-five books and translations, he is emeritus professor of Tibetan and Buddhist studies at the University of Virginia, where he founded the largest academic program of Tibetan Buddhist studies in the West.

Jeffrey Hopkins, Ph.D., served for a decade as the interpreter for the Dalai Lama. A Buddhist scholar and the author of more than thirty-five books and translations, he is emeritus professor of Tibetan and Buddhist studies at the University of Virginia, where he founded the largest academic program of Tibetan Buddhist studies in the West.

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How to Be Compassionate: A Handbook for Creating Inner Peace and a Happier World 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The thrust is reorientation of one's life to cope with cacophony that surrounds us and in the process to offer a more peaceful approach to others.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Dalai Lama has PRACTICED compassion for all the world to see so his examples are cedible. It is always a stretch to follow these practices, but I AM LEARNING THAT HONEST COMPASSION THAT IS REAL CAUSES SO MUCH MORE PEACE AND JOY IN MY LIFE.