Life in the Kingdom Blog

The Dalai Lama's Impartial Love

I’ve been thinking a lot about Robert’s last post on “Impartial Love.” In it, Robert spelled out the challenging implications of Jesus’ teaching about the inadequacy of only loving those who love you (Q 6:32, 34):

“It doesn’t take much thought to see where this leads us. It leads us to the idea that our loving and giving should not be tethered to how people treat us. Even when they treat us really badly, we should still love, we should still give. This, of course, brings us right back around to where we started—to loving our enemies.”

My question is one that I suspect many of you have been pondering as well: Is such impartial love really possible? We are so selective in our love, and we are so quick to condemn those who don’t love us. Can we whose love is so limited really lift ourselves up to such a lofty ideal?

As challenging as it is, I would like to believe that we can—with time, effort, and a lot of help from God. And one thing I find helpful in my own process is to look to inspiring examples, people who have gone a long way toward achieving impartial love. For me, one of those people is the Dalai Lama, the great Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader.

Most people know the broad outlines of his story. To quote from one brief synopsis online:

“At age 15 [in 1959], he assumed political power of Tibet as the Dalai Lama. The People’s Republic of China invaded that same year. Fearing assassination, he and thousands of followers fled to Dharamsala in northern India, where they established an alternative government. Since then, the Dalai Lama has taken numerous actions in hopes of establishing an autonomous Tibetan state within the People’s Republic of China. However, the Chinese government has shown no signs of moving toward peace and reconciliation with Tibet. The Dalai Lama has also conducted hundreds of conferences, lectures and workshops worldwide, as part of his humanitarian efforts. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.”

The Dalai Lama has, in short, become one of the world’s great exemplars of peace, forgiveness, and compassion in the face of the most extreme persecution. Even as an exile from his native land, witnessing from afar the brutal atrocities committed against his own people within Tibet, he has chosen to respond to his “enemies” not with anger and vindictiveness, but with love.

As I said, for me he has been an especially inspiring example. Years ago, I had the great pleasure of seeing him in person. My partner Patricia did too on another occasion—in fact, she had a powerful experience of deep love as her eyes met his for a brief moment, an experience that still brings her to happy tears whenever she recalls it. So we were delighted when, a few days after Robert’s blog post, we saw one of our favorite comedians, John Oliver, interview the Dalai Lama on his show.

As with most of Oliver’s presentations, this was a mix of serious information and snarky jokes. (Warning: The video includes a few naughty words and some off-color humor.) But in the course of the interview, we were particularly moved by the Dalai Lama’s response to Oliver’s mentioning that the Chinese government has called him a “wolf wrapped in monk’s robes” and a “demon”:

“Whatever they want to say, that’s their freedom. I have no negative feeling, I just feel a love. Like that. I practice, you see, taking others’ anger, suspicion, distrust, and give them patience, tolerance, and compassion. I practice that.”

Patricia and I both choked up a little at that. It wasn’t just the words themselves, as powerful as they are. It was the utter conviction behind them. It was so obvious that he really felt this love for his persecutors in the heart of his being. He was loving people who don’t love him, who have treated him and his people very badly, who by any normal definition would be called his “enemies.”

While I’m sure the Dalai Lama isn’t perfect, this is a man who has achieved impartial love to a remarkable degree. And that has an impact. We could see in the course of the interview that even Oliver was affected. He’s normally a bit of a skeptic when it comes to religion; tales of lamas choosing their next incarnation aren’t his usual cup of tea. (And he clearly wasn’t too fond of the Dalai Lama’s idea of curing alcoholism by drinking horse milk!) But it sure looked to us like he was moved by being in the Dalai Lama’s presence, especially in those moments when the Tibetan exile spoke of loving the Chinese who exiled him. And who can resist that infectious laugh?

So maybe, just maybe, the impartial love that Jesus calls us to offer to everyone really is possible. But achieving it will require of us the same thing it requires of the Dalai Lama: practice. So, why don’t we give a “Kingdom” version of his practice a try? If you find yourself faced with another person’s anger, suspicion, and distrust, ask God to help you give that person patience, tolerance, and compassion in return. Ask God to help you love this person who isn’t loving you (at least not currently), and ask Him for guidance in how to express whatever loving feelings you experience. Let us know how it goes.

The John Oliver video (the interview with the Dalai Lama begins at 10:42):

E-mail me when people leave their comments –

You need to be a member of Mustard Seed Venture Network to add comments!

Join Mustard Seed Venture Network


  • Thanks for sharing this, Ken. As they say, "All's well that ends well." I think it's so often a process of doing it wrong the first time, but then cleaning it up when you get another chance. Sounds like you did that, and the results in the end were great!
  • Thanks Greg! I had a recent situation which involved someone who declared to handle something on my behalf and ended up dropping the ball. I was ultimately responsible for this situation and so I had to face the consequences which, in hindsight, I could have faced it better utilizing your Dalai Lama practice. Shucks! I was then torn between wanting to point out to the person, who had dropped the ball, his error and the practice of patience, tolerance and compassion. What compounded it further was this was the second time we had made an agreement that he failed to follow through. When we finally came together there was no admission or apology on his part. Yet, I did focus on being kind, compassionate and tolerant and at the end of the encounter I felt much love for him. It did not matter. There were so many other praiseworthy efforts he had followed through with, for me and for others, that dropping the ball receded to the background with his good efforts coming into focus. It was a pretty amazing experience considering how conflicted I was feeling in wanting to honor both sides.
  • Thanks, Robert. You know, your comment about realizing that these principles are not "impractical" reminds me of an interview that Larry King did with the Dalai Lama (available on YouTube). At one point, Larry King asks the Dalai Lama about ISIS. The Dalai Lama says that we should "extend our hand" and "reach out" to ISIS. Then the following exchange ensued:

    King: "But they don't listen."

    DL: "Then okay. But our part—try!" [He sees King's skepticism and then chuckles and says,] "Maybe unrealistic."

    King: "Sounds unrealistic. Look what they do."

    DL: "I believe, you see, we should make attempt. Fail? Nothing lose."

    He's so right. Of course, as a group they may well not respond with kindness—I understand what King is saying—but is it not perfectly realistic to TRY? Many people actually do leave terrorist groups. Some of them have even written books about how they came to see the insanity and futility of what they were doing. How many among those people desperate enough to follow something like ISIS would have their hearts changed by someone extending genuine love to them? And does the alternative of trying to exterminate them all have the remotest chance of a long-term positive outcome? I think the Dalai Lama is the ultimate realist, as was Jesus.
  • I loved this post. There is something very powerful about a living example. I think something inside everyone recognizes the truth of these principles, but the principles have a hard time finding a real foothold in our conscious convictions, in part because we tell ourselves "It's impractical and indeed impossible to actually live these out." That's one of our big excuses for keeping that recognition safely tucked away in our minds. As a result, when we see someone actually living out these principles and in the process showing that they aren't impossible and maybe not even impractical, it's as if the tarp we've thrown over our underlying recognition of these principles is suddenly pulled off. Now that recognition is made conscious and strengthened.

    I too was moved when I read the quote about the Dalai Lama taking the hatred of the Chinese and practicing giving back patience, tolerance, and compassion. I think that if the Dalai Lama could travel back to ancient Palestine and meet the real Jesus, they would discover, in the midst of theological differences, a deep sense of accord.
This reply was deleted.