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Lions Roar : March 2008
47 SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2008 and goes to bed each night as the leader of a people who are losing their country, and, increasingly, their culture. He faces the goliath of China and the confusing bureaucracy of India, and must navigate the byzantine relations between these two emerging giants. While highly respected now by liberals and conservatives in the West, he knows that the traditional Tibetan government he inherited was authoritarian, and at times corrupt and op- pressive. Ironically, it is quite possible that had Tibet remained independent, the Dalai Lama would not be celebrated as a great world leader, but as an antiquated theocrat. He knows that the toothpaste cannot go back in the tube: the Tibetan government of the future cannot be the Tibetan government of the past. It is not even certain what “Dalai Lama” will mean in the future, and how one will be picked. When it comes to resecuring the homeland, His Holiness’ middle way of nonviolence has come under fire from a seg- ment of Tibetans, particularly young people, who are restive and want to see more action. The Dalai Lama listens to the pleas of the impatient and takes them to heart, but he knows the stakes and the constraints. This is a man who looked into the eyes of Chairman Mao. That must have been sobering. As I watched him spread the gospel of peace and cooperation, I couldn’t forget that he is a national leader without an actual nation. How unsettling must that be? How groundless? Would you not become despondent, resentful, resigned? In his case, apparently not, because he is a politician who does much more than pay lip service to “spiritual values.” When he says, as he did at Constitution Hall, “Your enemy can teach you tolerance whereas your teacher and your parents cannot... an enemy is actually helpful—the best of friends, the best of teachers,” he means it. He exemplifies it. An Appetite for Inquiry: the Amateur Scientist To call someone an “amateur scientist” may be dubious, damn- ing with faint praise. But the Dalai Lama is an amateur in the etymological sense: one who loves. He loves science because he has the relentlessly inquiring mind that marks a real scientist. He acknowledges that he doesn’t have detailed training in any discipline of Western science—and doesn’t have the time to take up such training—but he deeply believes that Buddhism and science must talk to each other. As two great traditions of inquiry, they can help each other make important discoveries. The Dalai Lama’s engagement with science goes back to his early days in Tibet, when he fiddled with some of the few machines that made their way into the country. He loved to disassemble watches and clocks and put them back together, very much as he likes to disassemble the notion of time itself. Once in exile, and particu- larly as he made his way to Europe, he was struck by the influence of science on how people lived and how they thought. Even the TWENTY-THREE YEARS AGO, during a weeklong Zen retreat in Taiwan, I entered a depression so profound I wondered if I would ever emerge. It took nine months of intensive psycho- therapy to recover, and when I was done, I had left Taiwan, my fiancée, and my meditation practice. In the decades since, I’ve benefited from new talk thera- pies and medicines designed to short-circuit depression. And to my surprise, I’ve also found that meditation—gingerly re- started after years of abandonment—has played an essential role in my mind’s healing. I’m hardly alone in that discovery. A growing number of researchers and clinicians, many drawing from their own Buddhist practice, are exploring how meditation can be used to treat depression, anxiety, ADHD, drug and alcohol abuse, personality disorders, even sexual dysfunction. Happily for people like me, one of the first fruits of that re- search is a depression therapy that combines mindfulness medi- tation with the leading therapy for depressed patients. Called Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy, or MBCT, the treatment leans heavily on Jon Kabat-Zinn’s groundbreaking work using mindfulness meditation to reduce stress and pain in patients. Kabat-Zinn and the three researchers who co-developed MBCT—University of Toronto professor Zindel Segal, Oxford University professor Mark Williams, and retired U.K. Medi- cal Research Council scientist John Teasdale—have recently published a book for the general public called The Mindful- ness Way for Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Un- happiness. It offers a new path to patients who have suffered repeated depressive episodes and have resigned themselves to illness, medication, and hopelessness. “One of the messages of this book is that whatever arises in your life, no matter how awful, no matter how dark, is work- able,” Kabat-Zinn said in an interview. “Everything is biology, but that doesn’t mean biology cannot influence itself. Other mind states can work to assuage what comes from high levels of mental conditioning.” Depression, he concludes, “is not a life sentence.” This flies in the face of medical orthodoxy, which holds that patients who have suffered three or more incidents of major de- pression should stay on a maintenance dose of medication for the rest of their lives. Mindfulness of Mind The Dalai Lama advocates a Buddhist approach to a variety of mental health problems, including depression. MICHAEL STROUD reports on the growing evidence of meditation’s helpfulness. ➢ page 112 MAR 42-49.indd 47 MAR 42-49.indd 47 12/19/07 2:13:09 PM 12/19/07 2:13:09 PM