When I read that the Dalai Lama was to speak at a conference, I noticed that his name was preceded by the letters “H.H.” I asked someone what those letters stood for, and I was told, “His Holiness.” It’s also the respectful title bestowed upon the Pope.

I began to wonder why the Dalai Lama and the Pope got to be His Holiness, and not the rest of us. To be sure, these spiritual leaders are very holy — but are they more holy than anyone else? Do the Dalai Lama or the Pope have any more God in them than the people who mop their floors? I imagine they would agree that we are all equally holy in the eyes of God.

I met a man who called everyone he met, “Buddha”. “How are you doing today, Buddha?” he would ask me. “Beautiful sunset, don’t you think, Buddha?” At first I felt jarred by his magnanimous appellation. Then I began to really like it. It felt better than “Dude”.

This month, the month of May, we celebrate Buddha’s birthday. Buddha was very holy. One of his students asked Buddha, “Are you the messiah?”

“No”, answered Buddha.

“Then are you a healer?”

“No”, Buddha replied.

“Then are you a teacher?” the student persisted.

“No, I am not a teacher.”

“Then what are you?” asked the student, exasperated.

“I am awake”, Buddha replied.

The goal of Buddhism, like any self-respecting spiritual path, is not to have titles or to make distinctions between degrees of holiness; it is to wake up. I love the famous Buddhist admonition, “If you see the Buddha on the road, kill him.” This means that if you try to single out the Buddha and confine him to one form at the expense of all others, you have severely missed the point, and you must do away with your concept that this is the Buddha and all else is not.

The story is told of a holy man who lived in a large house on top of a remote mountain. Over time, news of the holy man’s greatness spread throughout the land, and many seekers made their way over the mountains in hopes of having even a brief moment with this saintly being.

Each aspirant was greeted at the door by a servant, who ushered him or her into the house, and guided the visitor through several rooms. After a few minutes the servant and aspirant arrived at another door, which led out of the back of the house. The servant opened the door and indicated to the visitor that it was time to leave.

“But I was hoping to have even a few minutes with the holy man!” the aspirant would utter in frustration.

“You just did,” answered the holy man as he closed the door.

The insecure mind takes refuge in hierarchies of spirituality, seeking to segment the universe into levels of power and worth. The Spirit of Love, on the other hand, will have none of the hierarchy game; all is God, all is powerful, all is spiritual, and all is worthy. As the third Zen Patriarch Hsin Hsin Ming declared, “The great way is not difficult for those who have no preferences. Make the slightest distinction, however, and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.”

The “His Holiness” concept got me to thinking about other appellations of respect. Take “Your Honor”, the title attributed to judges. Certainly judges merit honor, but are the other people in the courtroom any less honorable? I suggest that judges address the criminals before them as “Your Honor” as well; perhaps this practice would bring forth the honor within them. Most criminals were not treated with respect as children; beginning now might call forth their innate integrity. A Course in Miracles tells us that all actions are either pure expressions of love or calls for love. Addressing criminals as “Your Honor” might begin to satisfy that call in a healthy way.

Then there is “Your Majesty”, “Your Grace”, and “Your Highness”, offered to royalty. Does that mean that everyone else is not majestic, graceful, or high? Hopefully not.

I’ve been thinking about what title I would like. I choose “Your Eminence”. I like that because it implies that I emanate. That is my goal: to emanate. To emanate life, light, and joy. I don’t care that much about being an Honor, Grace, Highness, or even Holiness; “Eminence” really makes my boat float.

So from now on, if you write, fax, email, or talk to me, I respectfully request that you address me as “Your Eminence”. And when it comes time for me to address you, I’ll do the same. Either we all emanate together, or none at all.

Okay, Buddha?

By Alan Cohen


  • Alan Cohen is the author of many popular inspirational books, including the best-selling Why Your Life Sucks and What You Can Do About It, the award-winning A Deep Breath of Life and his newest is the prosperity guide Relax into Wealth.

    Alan is an Empowering Caregivers featured expert, learn more about Alan

    Or visit his website at: alancohen.com.