While not found on the cover, the subtitle of “The Power of Compassion” is, “A Collection of Lectures by His Holiness The XIV Dalai Lama” and this adds some clarity to the content of the book because the book is not exclusively related to the subject of compassion. While the Dalai Lama exudes compassion throughout “The Power of Compassion” and, while compassion may be the thread that connects the discussions in this book, there are essentially six main topics (broken into distinct chapters) that this book focuses on:
1) Contentment, Joy and Living Well
2) Facing Death and Dying Well
3) Dealing with Anger and Emotion
4) Giving and Receiving: A Practical Way of Directing Love and Compassion
5) Interdependence, Inter-connectedness and the nature of Reality
6) The Challenge for Humanity: An Interfaith Address
and there is a seventh chapter that presents a series of questions and answers.
Of course, these discussions come from a Buddhist perspective; however, the Dalai Lama also seems to use a great deal of common sense when exploring these ideas. Indeed, the Dalai Lama even says that, “…in Buddhism, greater emphasis is given to reason and intelligence than faith.” Having very little knowledge of the Buddhist philosophy, this came as a surprise to me.
Another aspect of Buddhism that I found surprising was how it seems to evolve and incorporate new ideas as society changes,
“I think it is quite important to be able to make a distinction between what I call the ‘core’ and ‘essence’ of religious teachings and the cultural aspects of the particular tradition. What I would call the ‘essence’ or ‘core’ of religious traditions are the basic religious messages, such as the principles of love, compassion and so forth, which always retain the relevance and importance, irrespective of time and circumstances. But as time changes, the cultural context changes, and I think it is important for the followers of religious traditions to be able to make the necessary changes that would reflect the particular concerns of their time and culture.”
Furthermore, the discussion around ‘Interdependence, Inter-Connectedness, and the Nature of Reality’ might very much read like a section straight out of a modern textbook in physics rather than Scriptures from hundreds of years ago.
While this aforementioned, fifth chapter of the book provided for a challenging read, I also find that my layman’s knowledge of Buddhism was a hindrance when trying to grasp the many precepts that entered into the discussion. Principles such as: the Four Noble Truths, the Four Powers, the Three Jewels, the Ten Negative Actions etc. are all absolutely foreign to me. I assume, even though I prefer not to make assumptions, that readers who are better versed on Buddhist traditions and texts would derive far more benefit from these specific discussions that I was able to.
In general though, I would say that, in spite of my limited knowledge, I felt that there were some profound insights in “The Power of Compassion” and my life will be improved from having read them.