A few months ago, I had an intense conversation with a friend who is a U.S. Navy SEAL. I asked him whether or not he was ready to kill someone. His response was unequivocal—yes, he was ready. He was strongly motivated by the conviction that evil people with no regard for human life must themselves be killed.
Though I admired his bravery, sense of duty, and the depth of his patriotism, his eagerness to go to war still left me unconvinced. But in the face of his certainty, I could not yet articulate the questions and thoughts stirred up by our conversation.
BOOK REVIEW: BioGraphy: The 14th Dalai Lama, Illustrated by Tetsu Saiwai, Edited by Eiji Han Shimizu (Emotional Content, 2008).
I was reminded of this conversation again when reading The 14th Dalai Lama, the first book in the BioGraphic Novel series published by Emotional Content. This book is a manga, graphic adaptation of the 14th Dalai Lama’s life story, illustrated by Tetsu Saiwai. Reading about Tibet, the Tibetan struggle, and the Dalai Lama’s commitment to non-violence, I was struck by the contrast of his conviction and that of my friend in the Navy.An important question emerged for me: What is the role of positive psychology in a world at war, in a time of terrorism and violence? I found lines in the manga that began to resonate as answers.
Freezing in DharamsalaThis book was not my first exposure to the people and culture of Tibet. I celebrated Losar, the Tibetan New Year, in Dharamsala, India.On the first day of celebrations, I woke up before dawn with two friends, Gigi and Derrick, and we hiked up to a temple and huddled in the freezing cold. We had been in Dharamsala for two days and no amount of hot honey-ginger-lemon tea could thaw out my frozen bones and feet. We had spent the night huddling by the tiny space heater in our hostel room, and had not slept much due to the cold.
We were pretty miserable, but excited. During our cooking class the day before, while learning to make Tibetan momos (dumplings) our teacher said the Dalai Lama would be in Dharamsala for the start of Losar.
As the early morning hours went by, we were disappointed to hear the Dalai Lama would not make it back to Dharamsala that day, but we stayed to watch the start of the religious rituals. The richly colorful décor of the monastery, the sounding of the horns, the collective reverence of the people gathered to participate in the ritual purification and celebration were intoxicating. But after enjoying the butter tea and rice that was passed around, my legs were numb from kneeling and I was ready to move on with our trip.I had not known much about Dharamsala before Derrick suggested the locale on our backpacking tour of India. I wish I had read The 14th Dalai Lama before our trip, and known more about the amazing story of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people. Had I known then that as of 1970, more than 1.2 million Tibetan lives have been lost, and as many as 5,125 temples and monasteries have been destroyed, I might have thought less about the cold and my frozen feet, and more fully appreciated the significance of the traditional New Year festival, which could only be fully and freely celebrated according to tradition outside of Tibet.
I would have appreciated the importance of Dharamsala, as a bastion of the Tibetan people and culture, a nation threatened with extinction in its own homeland.
The Power of Positive Stories
My memories magnified my experience of The 14th Dalai Lama, a quick and highly-engaging read. The manga was produced by Mr. Eiji Han Shimizu, founder of Emotional Content, a network of independent manga and anime artists in Japan dedicated to creating and distributing media content that will inform, inspire, and empower others to generate positive actions in the world.
Shimizu states, “Manga has been a hugely powerful story telling vehicle in Japan, and we believe that by using this easy-to-read, accessible medium, we can effectively protest against human right violations, atrocities, and exploitation – rampant throughout the world – as well as spread and advocate the fundamental, precious values of altruism, compassion, philanthropy to people of all ages and walks of life.”
The 14th Dalai Lama is the first of a series planned to promote the positive messages from some of the world’s greatest spiritual leaders—so that we can learn from the lives of our own superheroes, more real than Superman, the Hulk, or Batman. The manga was so easy and enjoyable to read, yet moving and provocative. Its accessibility is a powerful force in spreading awareness of the modern history of Tibet and the doctrine of non-violence.
Positive Psychology and Non-Violence
The manga naturally touches on concepts in positive psychology like happiness, resilience, and optimism. For more than 50 years, the Dalai Lama has lived in exile, working to spread a message of love and compassion and regain the autonomy of Tibet. He claims that the hope that sustained the Tibetan people through great struggle is not born from armed conflict, “Because violence can only breed more violence and suffering, our struggle must remain non-violent and free of hatred.” Rather, the Dalai Lama states that Tibetans have maintained such resilience and optimism because “we have received so much love and compassion from people all around the world. Love and compassion foster hope” (pg. 201).
Before reading this, I could not convincingly argue against my Navy SEAL friend’s conviction that we must stand up to terrorists and fringe militants with armed force—to kill them before they kill us. I considered whether my innate repulsion to violence as a means to peace was naïve, especially juxtaposed against his readiness to die to protect innocent lives. I still admire his bravery and devotion, and that of all the other courageous men and women serving in the armed forces. I am still appreciative of the protection they provide American citizens.
However, I am finding my response, and love The 14th Dalai Lama, particularly for one quotation: “No matter how furious and aggressive we become, it will always be impossible to eradicate all our enemies. As long as we keep our internal predators inside our minds, anger and hatred, destroying today’s external predators does not mean much…because tomorrow you will have more predators. Hope cannot be born from anger or violence” (pg. 198).
This connects to the core of positive psychology, its focus on human strength, rather than deficiency. Positive psychology is also about the cultivation of values such as love and compassion. Some may disregard these values as naïve in an age of terrorism, but I believe they have never been more important. The role that positive psychology can play in a non-violent struggle for peace deserves our attention.
The 14th Dalai Lama leaves us with an important message: “Today the world is so interdependent. Acting with compassion to others will ultimately benefit your own well being. We, human beings, have an inborn gift to love and care about others. No complicated dogma or religious teachings are necessary to be able to love. Our own heart is our temple. Our kindness is our dogma. And our compassion will lead the world towards peace, generating hope for happiness” (pg. 204).
We can believe that violence is necessary to prevent violence, or we can commit time and energy to finding another way through non-violence. Perhaps positive psychology will help develop tools to support this change in perspective.
Watch for upcoming BioGraphic Novels about other real superheroes such as Mother Teresa, Che Guevara, Aung San Suu Kyi, Mahatma Gandhi, Anne Frank, and others. If you have suggestions for other real superheroes, let us know and we’ll pass the information on to the creators at Emotional Content LLC.
Britton, K. (2007). Social activism: What works? An article about Scott Sherman’s social activism approach. Dr. Sherman was the victim of human violence in college, and eschewed responding with violence.
Bio-“graphic” Novels of Real-Life Superheros: Interview with Eiji Han Shimizu. Science and Religion, December 2, 2008.