This book is crafted in a unique partnership between the Dalai Lama, leader of the world’s Tibetan Buddhists, and Patrick McDonnell, one of our most talented illustrators, who created the comic series Mutts and has worked with Eckhart Tolle and Daniel Ladinsky.
Heart to Heart begins poignantly, with cute illustrations showing scenes of not-cute realities: forests burning in Daintree Rainforest, Australia, where a koala bear runs for his life; and Sierra National Forest in the United States, a black bear hurrying away.
A couple pages later, we meet a panda bear in an unnamed bamboo forest on the Tibetan Plateau. He climbs down from his tree, looking sad, and slowly, for several pages, makes his way to Dharamasala, India, where he notices a single light on in the early morning hours. The panda knocks on the door and the Dalai Lama interrupts his meditation to answer. They bow to greet one another and the Dalai Lama says, “I welcome everyone as a friend.”
This rich book is full of ecological wisdom: “Our relationship with plants and nature is inextricably very old and very deep.”
It is also full of core Buddhist teachings and stories wrapped in adorable illustrations. For instance, the Dalai Lama explains, “Buddha was born as his mother leaned against a tree for support. He attained enlightenment seated beneath a tree, and passed away as trees stood witness overhead.” And, “They say, in the celestial realms the trees emanate the Buddha’s blessings.”
Most importantly, perhaps, for the millions of non-religious and multifaith readers of the Dalai Lama’s books and millions of Buddhists around the world who look to him as their primary teacher, there are stories in this book that have not appeared elsewhere. See the excerpt accompanying this review for an example.
There are also many species of birds and mammals, often unique to the Tibetan Plateau, described by the Dalai Lama and imaged in McDonnell’s art, which is not just cute, but beautiful.
An unillustrated message from the Dalai Lama, written in his usual succinct and direct prose at the back of the book, offers explanation about why he partnered in this unusual project. It begins, “Every day, around the world, we see the devastating consequences of our disregard for this precious plant. Mother Earth is teaching us a lesson in the need for universal responsibility.” In the next paragraph, he writes, “The noble panda in this book is an innocent bear who faces great challenges” and “unlike the panda and other animals, we can do something about them.”
This beautiful, valuable book concludes with a two-page prayer. On the bottom of one page is a praying lotus-sitting panda; on the bottom of the other, a similar Dalai Lama also with his eyes closed. These pages include these words:
“May I become at all times, both now and forever,
A protector for those without protection
A guide for those who have lost their way
A lamp for those without light.
“For as long as space endures,
And for as long as living beings remain,
Until then may I, too, abide
To dispel the misery of the world.”