The Good Heart: A Buddhist Perspective on the Teachings of Jesus
His Holiness the Dalai Lama Wisdom Publications: Boston, 1996.
207 pp., $24.00 (hardcover).


thegoodheart1In 1994, His Holiness the Dalai Lama took part in the john Main Seminar of the World Community of Religion as a commentator on the Christian Gospels. It was not the first time Buddhists and Christians had come together to discuss the relationship between their scriptures and contemplative practice, but the seminar was unusual in its depth of focus and in its role as a model for bona fide interfaith collaboration. As Robert Kiely put it, “When Scripture is read by someone with a good heart, it comes to life for all of us once again. That good heart, of course, belongs to the Dalai Lama, and The Good Heart, which Kiely edited, is a compelling record of His Holiness’s readings, commentaries, and interactions with others at the seminar.

The John Main seminars were instituted in 1984 to honor the life and work of this Irish Benedictine monk (1926-1982), who was first introduced to meditation by an Indian monk in Malaya, where Main served in the British Foreign Service. Main entered religious orders and dedicated his life to recalling other Christians to their heritage of contemplative prayer, especially the traditions of the Desert Fathers of the fourth through sixth centuries. The “Good Heart” seminar was in many respects the natural outgrowth of a 1980 meeting between the Dalai Lama and John Main at an interfaith event in Montreal. The Dalai Lama shared the speaker’s platform with Father Laurence Freeman, a Benedictine monk and former student, friend, and coworker of John Main, and Geshe Thupten Jinpa, the Dalai Lama’s chief translator since 1968 for the subjects of philosophy, science, and religion.


The Dalai Lama and Father Laurence Freeman.
The Dalai Lama and Father Laurence Freeman.

In a spiritual sense, The Good Heart is more highly charged than other recent works on Buddhist ­Christian dialogue, such as The Ground We Share by Robert Aitken Roshi and Brother David Steindl­Rast. Aitken and Steindl-Rast’s book records the reflections of two mature and articulate practitioners on their respective contemplative traditions. But because for Christians, Christ lives on through his   words in the Gospels, and because for Tibetan Buddhists, the Dalai Lama is the embodiment of Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, there was a heightened religious intensity to this encounter. The Dalai Lama’s attentive reading, for example, of the story of the encounter between Mary Magdalene and the risen Christ brought many of the participants to tears. “It would be hard to say exactly why,” writes Kiely. “Some said later that it was as if they were hearing the words for the first time, as though their tenderness and mystery and beauty had been taken for granted and were brought to life again, like a gift from an unexpected courier.”

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