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(Book Review) BioGraphy: The 14th Dalai Lama

written by Dana Arakawa 14 December 2008

Dana Arakawa, MAPP '06, has a Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Hawaii. Before venturing into psychology, Dana graduated with honors from Georgetown University with a B.S. in International Economics, and spent a year in Buenos Aires, Argentina as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. Her research has appeared in the Gallup Management Journal and International Coaching Psychology Review, as well as in publications in Latin America. Full bio. Dana's articles are here.

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 Dharamsala


Giselle Nicholson, Dana Arakawa,
& Derrick Carpenter

This 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.


Dharamsala, India

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.

CeremonyThe 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.



Shimizu, Eiji Han (2008). BioGraphic Novel (Series 1): The 14th Dalai Lama

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.

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Hans Rippel 14 December 2008 - 8:49 pm

Hi Dana. Have you read a lot of mangas like this one? I’ve never really read a manga but I can see its appeal.
The Path of non-violence that the Dalai Lama advocated is certainly very admirable and something worth while trying to live up to. I think both war and terrorism are largely the product of structural violence and as long as institutions and governments don’t address them as such, progress in working towards a more peaceful and harmonious future will be minimal.
I wonder what the Dalai Lama’s position is in regard to self-defense in cases of direct violence, which is after all an acute threat to one’s safety and livelihood. I faintly remember something from my Buddhist courses that even then it is not the course of action to take but I might be wrong about this.

Christine Duvivier 14 December 2008 - 10:00 pm

Dana, thank you for the beautiful article and for bringing this book to my attention! The Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people are awe-inducing. I also found it elevating to read the quote you shared about love and compassion from people around the world strengthening the Tibetans’ optimism and resilience. What a great lesson.

Have you seen the movie “7 Years in Tibet?” Not a great film, but a good story. I also like “The Art of Happiness” written by the Dalai Lama and another author– in it he emphasizes compassion as the foundation for happiness.

Thank you for a delightful, inspiring article!


Cordelia 14 December 2008 - 10:47 pm

I found the story of the Dalai Lama and his people deeply moving and inspiring and I think it is a story that everyone should read.

I hope that this manga will be able to reach out across the world and educate ordinary people and children about the history of Tibet and the violence the people have suffered. I think this manga can teach us all that attacking violence with violence is not the answer. The Dalai Lama can be an inspiration to us all and teach us how to live in a peaceful world.

I hope to see this manga in schools and libraries, it has a great story in an interesting, unique format which every child should read, so we can inspire, inform and educate our children about what is really happening in the world and take greater steps to making a bigger difference.

Peter 15 December 2008 - 1:55 am

“What is the role of positive psychology in a world at war, in a time of terrorism and violence?”

I was thinking the very same thing yesterday and then I realized something that scared me: Positive Psychology role is to END WARS!

I remembered dr. Selligman’s new philosophy “Health is not the absence of illness, illness is the absence of health” and I realized that this inversion is the cure of the world.

Peace is not the absence of War! War is the absence of Peace! Our goal is not to stop wars but to promote Peace. Positive Psychology can do that!

waynej 15 December 2008 - 2:26 am

Peter, Selligmans new philosopy on health is a very old philosophy. It’s called wellness. I’ve been using the wellness versus illness model to explain the difference between positive psychology and traditional psychology for years.

Dave Shearon 15 December 2008 - 11:09 am

Dana, your backpacking trip through India sounds wonderful! Great experiences.

Yes, we still have war and criminal activity — and the mish-mash of the too known as “terrorism” — but, as Robert Wright points out in NonZero, not nearly at the levels it has existed througout pre-history. More people, and a higher percentage of the population, live in greater security that they will not be violently killed by another human being than at any previous time in history. And, yet, we still need those willing to control the actions of the few seeking to perpetrate violence, even through the use of deadly force. Had the police in Mumbai been trained and able to fire on the terrorists when they had the chance, the death toll would have been far lower. Of course, being prepared to act as necessary does not require the fuel of negative emotions — thus the zen aspect of martial arts.

HHDL 15 December 2008 - 6:17 pm

Here is more a video talking about this graphic novel.

Jeremy McCarthy 15 December 2008 - 6:36 pm

The lessons here are not unlike the teachings of Aikido which is a martial art that is 100% defense and no offense. One of the things I always appreciated about Aikido is that the first move always seems to be to put yourself where your opponent is and to face the way he/she is facing. Scott Sherman from the Transformative Action Institute recently spoke at the Positive Psychology Center and he teaches “Social Aikido” as a way to confront violence with peace (www.transformativeaction.org).

Dana, your article reads beautifully. Very poetic.

KevinT 15 December 2008 - 9:17 pm

Be careful of the politics and naivete here. If “we” prascticed non violence, those dirtbags in Mumbai would still be killing and torturing Jews, Christians and Hindus,rejoicing in the weakness of the dying non violent peoples.
There is evil in the world and there are very very evil people. That’s when I want the SEALS, not the Dalai Lamai.

Dana Arakawa 16 December 2008 - 4:59 am

Thank you everyone for your comments!

Hans, I had not read any mangas before this one, and I’m very much looking forward to the rest of the series Emotional Content is planning – I also would be curious to know the Dalai Lama’s position on self defense in direct combat…

Christine, I haven’t seen “7 years” yet – I did rent Kundun though, which was visually stunning and had some memorable lines for me, like when the D.L. says to a Chinese general, “You cannot liberate me. I can only liberate myself.”

Cordelia, I too would love to see the manga in schools in libraries, I think that Emotional Content has a wonderful mission to spread awareness of our “everyday superheroes” in a very accessible way.

Peter/waynej, the wellness vs. illness model as applied to pos psych and war is of great interest to me now, after reading the manga, thanks for making the link more explicit.

Dave, I couldn’t agree more with what you said about Non-Zero and especially “being prepared to act as necessary does not require the fuel of negative emotions — thus the zen aspect of martial arts.” We definitely do want people who are prepared to act and defend, and I think there’s a fine balance of mental/emotional preparation to be able to do that kind of work without malice and fueling more negativity.

Jeremy, I definitely think that we can learn a lot from the study of Aikido, thanks for making me aware of Social Aikido and the Transformative Action Institute.

KevinT, I appreciate your sentiments and definitely acknowledge that my opinions are not shared by everyone. However, re: naivete, I think of one of my favorite quotes by Einstein: “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” (Or some variation)

Editor K.H.B. 16 December 2008 - 9:54 am

For additional BioGraphic Novels in the works from Emotional Content LLC, check out the reference list above. If you have suggestions of additional ‘real superheroes,’ please post them here. Kathryn

waynej 16 December 2008 - 1:55 pm

Dana – I’m with you and Einstein. I’m a little uncomfortable with Dave ok’ing violence if its done without malice.

Hans Rippel 16 December 2008 - 2:19 pm

HHDL, thanks a lot for the video. It really adds to Dana’s preview of what the managa is all about.

Dave Shearon 16 December 2008 - 10:33 pm

Wayne, if your discomfort arises from a belief that I am saying that violence is ok if not done from negative emotions, then rest easy. If the idea that I might be ok with violence in some situations creates discomfor for you, I am sorry to cause distress, but that is what I think and fee. Positive psychology, appreciative inquiry, and non-zero are powerful, productive areas of human learning and action; they are not the totality of all productive responses.

My acquiesence to the need for violence is not contingent on the zen of the responder. Frankly, had the police in Mumbai shot the terrorists earlier in their homicidal spree, it would have been ok with me even if they acted out of rage or fear. Ditto for the passengers who foiled the goal of the terrorists on Flight 93. Violence is, in some situations, the best, most humane response. See, for example, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

I’m simply suggesting that those who place themselves in the position of having to perform violence in service to a higher good may be personally better off if they can reach some level of ability to enact such violence without the need to experience anger, hate, and fear. They may even be able to perform better. I have no idea the extent to which that is actually possible for any significant number of individuals in combat situations. I’m pretty sure I would not be able to pull it off.

Einstein was a brilliant physicist; his credentials as a political leader are more open to question. The quote attributed to him that “You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war,” pales in terms of political brilliance to the African proverb popularized by Theodore Rosevelt, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”

wayne jencke 17 December 2008 - 12:58 am

Dave, I can see where you are coming from but I would tend to agree with Einstein. Unscrupulous people will always argue the greater good clause.

By the way I think the term politiacl brillaince is probably an oxymoron.

Margaret 17 December 2008 - 9:21 am

Dana, thank you for sharing the book, your travels, and insights. I know of your other adventures and you are truly a world citizen and great ambassador for our country. After listening to Marty Seligman earlier this week on our MAPP call talk about his work with the US Army, I remain hopeful that he will be able to influence military leaders not only in better preparing soldiers for the post war experience. Mele Kalikimaka!

CE Brann 23 April 2009 - 11:31 pm

I’d love to see you try your “Positive Psychology on the Taliban and Al Queda.

Sorry! I’ll take your Seal friend every time.

michael 14 October 2009 - 1:01 am

Two observations: First, as a grad student in psychology with a degree in philosophy, I find the concept of interjecting religion and politics into psychology to be abhorrent. Although I find Buddhism more attractive than Christianity, it terrifies me that you happily equate a religious teaching or a political ideology with a school of psychology. Will you be as happy when someone claims that because the pro-life people want to avoid killing (fetuses) at all costs, positive psychology must be just as pro-life as it is anti-war?
Second, are you aware that the Dalai Lama is only alive and free because certain countries have strong enough militaries to offer him sanctuary? That without those countries to offer him protection, he would be dead or rotting in a Chinese prison? That he himself has sanctioned WWII and the Korean war? That without the Korean war (or some other later military intervention), the Chinese sphere of influence might well have expanded to the countries to which the Dalai Lama fled?

I would suggest that you have allowed your feelings to cloud your judgment. Do you want the Seal (and everyone else defending you) to be paralyzed by angst over hurting another, or do you want him to be able to perform his job and protect himself mentally by viewing his mission as right? If you disagree with a specific war, fine. But part of being able to kill in battle and remain psychologically sound is believing that you were justified. If you don’t believe in the military or self-defense, then you also disagree with the Dalai Lama himself. His views are far more cogent and nuanced than yours. Please don’t use him to justify hypocrisy. Military might will never bring about peace, but without it, the mechanisms which do will never be allowed to survive. Most people in the military don’t think war brings peace, merely that it allows peace to be brought about through diplomacy.
Please read the interview below, and then determine whether he thinks war (including WWII, one of the most brutal) may be justified

Dana 14 October 2009 - 11:58 am

Hi Michael,

Thank you for your interest in my article and your thoughtful observations. I would like to address some of the concerns that you raised.

First, this article was a book review and clearly was not an exhaustive thesis on the relationship between non-violence and positive psychology. It was a review that included much of my own personal experience in conversation and travels. Although the current editorial policy of PPND is to be “descriptive not prescriptive, including no content about politics,” this article naturally lent itself to relating the topic of the book, the Dalai Lama, to positive psychology.

I did claim that “the role that positive psychology can play in a non-violent struggle for peace deserves our attention.” I do not believe that this suggestion for “attention” to this possibility qualifies as “happily equat[ing] a religious teaching or a political ideology with a school of psychology.” Nowhere in this article do I suggest that all wars have been unjustified, or claim that positive psychology is somehow a doctrine of complete pacifism and non-violence. I am surprised that you are “terrified” by my mild suggestion that positive psychology, with its attention to human strength, can support a focus on peace and non-violence.

Furthermore, if my suggestion for simple “attention” to the connection between positive psychology and non-violence is an “abhorrent” interjection of religion and politics into psychology to you, then you might be interested in the fact that the US Army plans to require all of its soldiers to take emotional resilience training. See: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/18/health/18psych.html Is this equally abhorrent to you? Clearly, positive psychology is not “anti-war” and it is a stretch of my words to claim that I suggested it to be. Positive psychology is a “change in perspective,” from deficiency to strength, and this change has various applications. To suggest that I somehow claim that positive psychology is “anti-war,” which must then lend itself to being “pro-life” is an exaggeration, and I do challenge you to find where I make such a strong statement.

Second, in no way did I discount the support the Dalai Lama has received from countries with strong militaries. Again, this article was a book review infused with personal anecdote, not an exhaustive thesis with the space and depth to address all the nuances of this subject. To bring up the sanctuary received by the Dalai Lama was outside the scope of this article.

I have read the article that you suggested, and found it curious that you would interpret it to mean that the Dalai Lama sanctioned WWII and the Korean War. In the article, the Dalai Lama replied in regard to WWII and the Korean War, “As a result, more prosperity and democracy, freedom, these things. So sometimes… But then I think the difficult thing is when violence is started, eventually there’s always a danger the situation become out of control, chain reaction, chain violence like Vietnam. All those same motivations, same strategy, same goal, but fail. Therefore, I always believe right from the beginning, must avoid violence.” If you interpret him saying “so sometimes” to him “sanction[ing]” WWII and the Korean war (which I did not venture to discuss in my limited article), then how do you interpret him saying more forcefully “I always believe right from the beginning, must avoid violence”?

I do not deny that I allow my “feelings” to affect my thoughts, but I argue against your suggestion that I have allowed them to “cloud my judgment.” I did not suggest that I wanted my friend to be paralyzed by angst over hurting another, nor did I suggest that I don’t want him to be able to perform his job and protect himself mentally. I also did not say that I don’t believe in the military or self-defense.

What I did say, is that I appreciate the service of those in our military. I said that I enjoyed the book, and that I resonated with this quote from The 14th Dalai Lama, “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).

It is unfair to claim that my use of this quote is an attempt to use the Dalai Lama “to justify hypocrisy.” And yes, the views of the Dalai Lama are “far more cogent and nuanced” than the ones that I expressed in this short, anecdotal book review. This review was not meant (and I think, does not read) as a treatise on peace theory, so while I appreciate your interest and thoughts on my article, I believe that many of your arguments stemmed from an exaggeration of my words to more complicated issues they were not meant to address.



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