Anything But Peaceful


Finding Peace In The Midst Of Suffering

by Eric Elkin

O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.
— Psalm 34:8

Crowds flock to see the Dalai Lama wherever he travels. He commands respect from those who do not even share his Buddhist beliefs. There is something about his calm demeanor and gentle voice which radiates joy.  Perhaps visitors think just by being in his presence he will help them discover peace.


Strangely, the Dalai Lama’s life has been anything but peaceful. At the age of two, Buddhist spiritual leaders determined him to be the 14th Dalai Lama. They removed him from his parents and raised him in relative isolation in a remote Buddhist monastery.


Before they could remove him, though, the regional governor of the area, placed in power by the Chinese government, learned of his presence. He had the child, and his family arrested. Tibetan leaders pretended the boy was not the Dalai Lama and spent two years of negotiating his freedom.


At the age of fifteen, the Dalai Lama assumed full responsibility for the Tibetan people. His first duty was to negotiate a peaceful resolution between Tibet and China. For centuries China sought to control and occupy Tibet.

And it is because in a very large measure you have transmuted what would have been totally negative. You’ve transmuted it into goodness. Because, again, you have not said, ‘Well how can I be happy?’...You’ve said, ‘how can I help to spread compassion and love?’
— Archbishop Desmond Tutu commenting on the Dalai Lama in "The Book of Joy"

Any hopes of a peaceful outcome ended in 1959 with the Tibetan Uprising. The uprising resulted in the death of over 80,000 Tibetans. It also placed the Dalai Lama in danger and forced him to flee the country of his birth and identity.


To escape the Dalai Lama disguised himself as a palace guard. He was forced to remove his glasses to avoid detection. The small group headed off on a three-week journey on foot into the Himalayan Mountains. They endured blinding snow and sand storms as the ill-equipped group climbed through nineteen-thousand-foot mountain passes. 


In The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, which chronicles a series of conversations between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama reflects on this event in his life. 


Looking back, he saw suffering as a path towards happiness. In the midst of his own pain, through prayer and meditation, he was able to see the suffering of others more clearly. Seeing others helped him understand all the sides of his event.


This vision of things led him to recite a Tibetan saying, “Wherever you have friends that’s your country, and wherever you receive love that’s your home.” To me, reading Psalm 34, it seemed the Buddhist way of saying, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” It’s the kind of wisdom one only receives in prayer.


Click to read Psalm 34: 1-8

Reflection Questions:

  • Who do you view as a peaceful and happy person?
  • How much of their happiness is the result of enduring pain?
  • When you consider your own suffering, where do you see the suffering of others?
  • When you pray, do you start with your own needs or those of others?

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