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Tenzin Gyatso is known around the world as the Dalai Lama. He was in Washington, D.C., recently, and I could have gone to hear him speak.

One day I even had a free ticket in my hand, but I gave it back as I had already decided not to go.

I probably would have gone if I could have met him personally and said, “Hello, Dalai!” (This is probably an irreverent pun, but I am enough of a latent Quaker to dislike ranking people hierarchically, with some “properly” addressed only as Your Highness.)

My decision not to go was largely based on an examination of why I would go. It seemed that being able to “boast” later that I had seen and heard the Dalai Lama was the main reason for going.

So I decided just to watch to his July 9 talk on YouTube and read “A Human Approach to World Peace,” his essay first published in 1984.

To be honest, I am not very favorably impressed with what the Dalai Lama has to say. But I can see why he is quite popular in this country – and around the “developed” world.

His message is appealing to those who tend to believe that personal and societal happiness can be achieved by people thinking correctly and trying harder.

The Dalai Lama proclaims that “we must generate a good and kind heart, for without this, we can achieve neither universal happiness nor lasting world peace.” That may well be true, but how do we go about generating such a heart?

Traditional Buddhism emphasizes the “eightfold path,” but the Dalai Lama claims he is not trying to convert people to Buddhism. Still, he sees the basic human problem through Buddhist eyes.

He writes, “The great [religious] teachers wanted to lead their followers away from the paths of negative deeds caused by ignorance and to introduce them to paths of goodness.”

But according to the traditional Christian worldview, the human predicament is not rooted in ignorance; it is due to sin. And the solution is not enlightenment (a freeing from ignorance) but forgiveness and redemption linked to repentance.

Such a perspective, though, is becoming harder and harder to “sell” in our narcissistic culture. Many people seem to like the Dalai Lama’s ideas better; they would rather meditate than repent.

And they would rather seek to save themselves than to trust someone else to save them. The Dalai Lama acknowledges that some people “prefer Buddhism” because “everything depends upon your own actions.” That appeals to those who want to be master of their own fate.

But is there no need for a Savior? Do we humans only need a guide to show us the way to live?

Leroy Seat was a missionary to Japan from 1966-2004 and is both professor emeritus of Seinan Gakuin University and pastor emeritus of Fukuoka International Church. This column appeared previously on his blog

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