“…one of the things that’s least understood about the Dalai Lama is he’s not a dreamer, he’s not an optimist, he’s an absolute realist who believes in bringing an undeluded, empirical, scientific eye to the facts and problems of the world and just coming up with an objective secular answer. And yet, even in the midst of that tough-minded, undeluded glance, he always finds a place, obviously, for potential, which I think is his great word. And it seems strange to put Graham Greene, self-professed sinner, in the same sentence as a man famous for goodness and the Tibetans regard as the incarnation of a god of kindness. But I think that’s what Graham Greene was about, which is really seeing the world as it is but never excluding the possibility of faith and kindness and goodness.
And the Dalai Lama just put out six weeks ago a book called Beyond Religion. And one thing that surprises people is that when he comes to New York City, he tells people, as some of you may have heard, ‘please don’t become a Buddhist.’ Here is the most visible Buddhist in the world, saying don’t become a Buddhist, stay within your own traditions or your lack of traditions, where your roots are deepest and there is the least danger of misunderstanding. But even if you have no religion, you can still bring kindness and responsibility to the people around you, and that’s in fact your first obligation. And he has of late said that kindness and secular ethics are the water of life, religion is the tea. So it’s great to have tea, that’s a wonderful luxury, it gives savor and variety to life. But the essential is water, and to have something much more essential than religion, as he sees it, which is secular clarity about what to do with your day-to-day obligations. And that’s Graham Greene, kindness before doctrine, what you do more than what you believe.”
—Pico Iyer at LIVE on February 7, 2012
Iyer’s most recent book, The Man Within My Head, was a rumination on Graham Greene, and Iyer’s seemingly fateful decision to accept Greene as a chosen father-figure. Prior to that, Iyer spent about thirty years engaged in conversation with the Dalai Lama, and thus, wrote The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, which is an all-encompassing, intense look at the life and work of the current Dalai Lama.
Today is the Dalai Lama’s 77th Birthday.