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The significant people and schools of thought in Buddhism that have the most impact are those that challenge adherents to follow Buddhist teachings more closely. How accurate is this statement in relation to ONE significant person or school of thought, other than the Buddha.
The fourteenth Dalai Lama, also known as the Bodhisattva of Compassion, is one of the most significant religious leaders in the world and is also exceptionally important to Buddhism. He has been especially influential with regards to reinterpreting traditional Buddhist teachings so they are relevant in a more contemporary context and using them to deal with issues that have arisen and effect the Buddhist people.
The Dalai Lama became particularly important during the Chinese invasion of Tibet. Despite Dalai Lamas previously only being the spiritual leader of the country, when the Chinese invaded the Dalai Lama was installed as the Head of State. His Holiness preaches non-violence and passive resistance. He appealed to the US, India and also the UN for some level of protection for the Tibetan people, however no help arrived and so he had to ensure the safety of his people himself. He challenged the Tibetan people to closely follow the teaching of Ahimsa, even in this time of great hardship.
The Dalai Lama was then forced into exile in 1959 due to the suppression of the Tibetan uprising by the Chinese troops. However, despite his distance from his people, he remained involved in their hardships. In 1987 His Holiness proposed the Five Point Peace Plan for Tibet as the first step towards a peaceful solution between the Tibetans and the Chinese. He first requested that Tibet become a zone of Ahimsa and this would challenge not only the Chinese, but also the Tibetans to maintain this state of peace. He also requested that the Tibetan people be able to freely express their culture and religion and this would encourage the proliferation of the religion, as well as enabled the people to openly practice their faith.
The theocratic state His Holiness headed also challenged Buddhists to include their faith in all aspects of their lives. Through including the religion into the government it meant all state decisions were to be made based on the Buddhist teachings. This encouraged the religion to remain relevant and also meant more people were including their faith in their daily decisions. Through this system of government it also meant that the three Jewels of Buddhism could be included in daily life and the decisions for the state were made with the best intentions and followed the principles of Buddhism.
The Dalai Lama has also challenged adherents to accept the fate that is given to them and make the greatest use of their reincarnated form. As a young child he was unable to reject the position of ‘Dalai Lama’ however he has managed to utilise this position to the best advantage and has bettered the world through this. He has pushed for the bettering of the world for both religious and secular societies. His messages of peace, tolerance and the renunciation of the desires of anger and revenge have resonated with people globally.
Through his status as a Bodhisattva His Holiness has also shown that the helping of others to achieve enlightenment is an essential aspect of Buddhism. He has reinterpreted traditional scripture to make it easier for contemporary Buddhist followers to gain enlightenment. He has also published books to enable adherents to gain a deeper and more rounded knowledge of Buddhism and the finding of inner peace. His Holiness has also deferred reaching Nirvana so that he can assist other followers in their journey to enlightenment, as the Buddha did. Through his modelling of this he has challenged and encouraged others.
The Dalai Lama has also challenged contemporaries to be humble and follow the Buddhist practice of taking only what is needed. He is often quoted as saying “I am but a simple Buddhist monk” and it is from this that adherents are able to draw their own inspiration. Members of the Sangha and also the lay people are encouraged to only take what they need from the environment, from society and also from each other. There is to be no greed in Buddhism and through the humble ways of the Dalai Lama he has modelled this belief.
The Dalai Lama is a model for Buddhist globally. He follows Buddhist practices as well as encouraging others, adherents and non-adherents alike, to live peacefully and in a Buddhist fashion. It is through his modelling of the Buddhist teachings and practices that he has challenged adherents to follow these teachings more closely.