No Fear, No Death: The Transformative Power of Compassion by Dr. Barry Kerzin

After losing his mother and then his wife, after a long struggle with cancer, Barry Kerzin, MD began searching for life’s deeper meaning. He discovered Buddhism, eventually becoming ordained as a Buddhist monk and serving as a personal physician to the 14th Dalai Lama. In “No Fear, No Death”, Dr. Kerzin shares what he has learned about Buddhist philosophy and the practice of compassion as a tool for cultivating happiness.

First, Dr. Kerzin differentiates between pleasure and happiness. He says pleasure is a sensory experience, so it does not last, whereas happiness is inner peace and calmness of mind and heart. The book describes how everyone wants to be happy. It says the more we can remember that we all share the same desire for happiness, the closer we will feel to others and the more our attitudes will shift from selfishness to concern for other people.

Dr. Kerzin also writes about emotional hygiene and the “cleansing of emotions.” The book explores the idea that harmful emotions destroy our inner peace. It suggests that to find inner peace, one must recognize destructive emotions (anger, jealousy, pride), and constructively transform them into their positive counterparts (tolerance, appreciation, humility). Dr. Kerzin gives a practical example of how to implement this. He says that when you feel angry with another person, think about why that person is not happy – do they have relationship problems; health problems; or economic problems, for example? Thinking about this will allow anger to dissolve and transform into tolerance or patience.

The book also explores the idea of cultivating compassion which, Dr. Kerzin says, involves generosity, honesty, forgiveness, patience, perseverance, and concentration. Generosity, he says, reduces our self-centered attitude and allows us to experience the joy of giving to others. He also writes about forgiveness. Forgiveness is not ignoring or forgetting, it is the freedom to let go of anger and resentment. Forgiveness comes more easily when we distinguish the person from the person’s actions, the book says. Another example of cultivating compassion is patience. Dr. Kerzin says patience restrains anger and allows us to have tolerance toward the person, yet still be opposed to the action.

“No Fear, No Death” provides a brief introduction into Buddhist insight and meditation, and touches upon the Buddhist philosophy of death and re-incarnation. It conveys the idea that when we recognize our inevitable death, this recognition stimulates us to do what is important now. It also demonstrates how meditation can help restrain our “monkey mind,” and instead help make the mind stable, clear and calm.

If you have an interest in learning more about Buddhist philosophy and meditation, this book provides practical ways to transform your thinking and cultivate compassion for others.

Angeline L. Ong-Su, MD
Family Medicine
Kaiser Permanente Panorama City Medical Center
Southern California Permanente Medical Group