There are few people in the world that need no introduction to the majority of its roughly seven-point-six billion inhabitants– and the Dalai Lama is one of those people.
For the last half-century, the Dalai Lama has inspired millions of people all around the world to live with kindness and compassion, integral principles taught within the Tibetan Buddhist discipline he was raised in and, in part, represents.
Recently, his morning routine was chronicled by Pico Iyer, the author of The Open Road, a book about the Dalai Lama’s journey over the past three decades. As someone who has risen early for many years now and found great joy and benefit in a consistent morning routine, I was pretty surprised to hear he has such a structured morning routine and was inspired by his morning rituals.
“Every day as you wake up, think that I am fortunate to be alive. I have a precious human life, and I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand myself out to others; to achieve enlightenment for all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can.”
– His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama is said to rise as early as 3:00 A.M. when he’s not out travelling and lasts roughly six hours if you include his morning breakfast.
I know, at first, his morning routine might sound a bit extreme. Don’t let that discourage you. My purpose here isn’t to suggest you also wake up at the crack of dawn, but more that there are certain aspects of a morning routine, and things you can do with a morning routine, that are highly valuable.
Below are just a few of the lessons I learned from reading about the Dalai Lama’s morning routine:
1. Spend time every day developing the qualities which are most important to you
According to Dalai Lama’s official website:
When His Holiness is at home in Dharamsala, he wakes up at 3 am. After his morning shower, His Holiness begins the day with prayers, meditations and prostrations until 5 am.
There’s something very important here, which can be surmised by a combination of both the two quotes listed above. It’s an easy point to miss but one of the most significant lessons I learned from details of his morning routine.
So, what is it? Spend time every day developing the qualities which are most important to you. The Dalai Lama is someone who upholds one of the highest levels of moral conduct I’ve ever seen in a human being, and to see that a large portion of his morning routine (and the first portion of his morning routine) revolves entirely around developing qualities such as gratitude, compassion, and loving-kindness (a Buddhist principle which means essentially “love in action”) is a huge point that can’t be overlooked.
How does he do this? For those unfamiliar, Buddhist prostrations are a sort of bowing to all things and are an exercise meant to rid the practitioner of a separate sense of self (or the “ego”), an exercise that develops humility and a sense of perspective as well as gratitude. And his preferred form of meditation? A modified version of loving-kindness meditation, which helps him develop compassion and loving-kindness.
2. Everyone can find time to exercise (and it’s critically important)
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more and more aware of my physical fitness. What once rolled off of me like a drop of rain now sticks a little more noticeably in terms of sickness and physical conditions. And me being a writer, I tend to sit for long hours, further affecting my health. For that reason, I’ve made it a goal this year to optimize my physical fitness in various ways.
That’s why one of the things that surprised me the most was that the Dalai Lama exercises in the morning:
From 5 am His Holiness takes a short morning walk around the residential premises. If it is raining outside, His Holiness has a treadmill to use for his walk.
What’s more, it’s been said that he often jogs on his treadmill, an even more surprising feat considering his age.
Many of us make the excuse that we’re too busy to exercise, that we can’t get around to it. But here is an eighty-two-year-old man (yes, you read that right) with an incredibly busy schedule that’s waking up at three in the morning and jogging– rain or shine– and making it happen.
Health is one of our greatest gifts, but we often don’t realize that until it’s too late. Use this as a reminder that not only should you start now to begin taking better care of yourself physically (and why it’s so important) but to also remove any excuses you have that you’re too busy to do so.
3. The morning is a perfect time for deep reflection (and this gives a valuable sense of perspective)
The quiet of the morning has become a time of deep reflection for me. But I didn’t realize how powerful this could be until reading about the Dalai Lama and his morning routine.
Victor Chan, co-author, of The Wisdom of Forgiveness with the Dalai Lama, was invited to spend a day with His Holiness during the process of writing the book. In an article with Lion’s Roar, originally a letter he wrote to his two daughters, he detailed his experience and what he took from it. One of the things that was most significant to me was the amount of time he spent staring off in quiet reflection:
The deepest insight presented itself fleetingly when I was on the roof with His Holiness. Even now I glimpse only its sketchiest contours. I don’t expect that the two of you can relate to it easily at this time, but it is worth keeping at the back of your mind. It was on that roof that I got a brief sense of interdependence and its significance. The Dalai Lama was in a reflective state of mind, and he hardly spoke to me. But those few minutes in the chilly predawn touched me with unexpected intensity.
I intuited his powerful and very real connection to everything around him, a connection that transcends thought.
I’ve since started taking time to do this myself, almost as a meditative exercise but freer and without any particular objective, and it’s brought me great value (at any time of day, for that matter). You can try this for yourself in a moment of quiet.
From his morning meditation and prayer to physical exercise and keeping up with world events while eating his breakfast, the Dalai Lama plants seeds each morning that ripen into positive qualities that he takes with him each day. Use these lessons as positive motivation to begin your own nourishing morning routine.