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Lions Roar : March 2012
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2012 14 humans are going about things. But what is it that we lack? The fundamental problem, I believe, is that at every level we are giv- ing too much attention to the external, material aspects of life while neglecting moral ethics and inner values. By inner values I mean the qualities that we all appreci- ate in others, and toward which we all have a natural instinct, bequeathed by our biological nature as animals that survive and thrive only in an environment of concern, affection, and warm-heartedness—or in a single word, compassion. The essence of compassion is a desire to alleviate the suffering of others and to promote their well-being. This is the spiritual principle from which all other positive inner values emerge. We all appreciate in others the inner qualities of kindness, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, and generosity, and in the same way we are all averse to displays of greed, malice, hatred, and bigotry. So actively promoting the positive inner qualities of the human heart that arise from our core disposition toward compassion, and learning to combat our more destructive propensities, will be appreciated by all. And the first beneficiaries of such a strengthening of our inner values will, no doubt, be ourselves. Our inner lives are something we ignore at our own peril, and many of the greatest problems we face in today’s world are the result of such neglect. So what are we to do? Where are we to turn for help? Science, for all the benefits it has brought to our external world, has not yet provided scientific grounding for the development of the foundations of personal integrity — the basic inner human val- ues that we appreciate in others and would do well to promote in ourselves. Perhaps then we should seek inner values from reli- gion, as people have done for millennia? Certainly religion has helped millions of people in the past, helps millions today, and will continue to help millions in the future. But for all its benefits in offering moral guidance and meaning in life, in today’s secular world religion alone is no longer adequate as a basis for ethics. One reason for this is that many people in the world no longer follow any particular religion. Another reason is that, as the peo- ples of the world become ever more closely interconnected in an age of globalization and in multicultural societies, ethics based on any one religion would only appeal to some of us; it would not be meaningful for all. In the past, when peoples lived in rela- tive isolation from one another—as we Tibetans lived quite hap- pily for many centuries behind our wall of mountains—the fact that groups pursued their own religiously based approaches to ethics posed no difficulties. Today, however, any religion-based answer to the problem of our neglect of inner values can never be universal, and so will be inadequate. What we need today is an approach to ethics which makes no recourse to religion and can be equally acceptable to those with faith and those without: a secular ethics. This statement may seem strange coming from someone who from a very early age has lived as a monk in robes. Yet I see no contradiction here. My faith enjoins me to strive for the welfare and benefit of all sentient beings, and reaching out beyond my own tradition, to those of other religions and those of none, is entirely in keeping with this. I am confident that it is both possible and worthwhile to attempt a new secular approach to universal ethics. My confi- dence comes from my conviction that all of us, all human beings, are basically inclined or disposed toward what we perceive to be good. Whatever we do, we do because we think it will be of some benefit. At the same time, we all appreciate the kindness of oth- ers. We are all, by nature, oriented toward the basic human val- ues of love and compassion. We all prefer the love of others to their hatred. We all prefer others’ generosity to their meanness. And who among us does not prefer tolerance, respect, and for- giveness of our failings to bigotry, disrespect, and resentment? In view of this, I am of the firm opinion that we have within our grasp a way, and a means, to ground inner values without contradicting any religion and yet, crucially, without depending on religion. I should make it clear that my intention is not to dictate moral values. Doing that would be of no benefit. To try to impose moral principles from outside, to impose them, as it were, by command, can never be effective. Instead, I call for each of us to come to our own understanding of the importance of inner values. For it is these inner values which are the source of both an ethically harmonious world and the individual peace of mind, confidence, and happiness we all seek. Of course, all the world’s major religions, with their emphasis on love, compas- sion, patience, tolerance, and forgiveness, can and do promote inner values. But the reality of the world today is that grounding ethics in religion is no longer adequate. This is why I believe the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics that is beyond religion. Members of my generation belong to the twentieth century, which has already gone past. During that century, we humans experimented with many kinds of things, including large-scale war. As a result of the terrible suffering this caused, we have, I feel, become a little more mature, a little wiser. In that century we also achieved a great deal in terms of material progress. But in so doing we created social inequity and environmental degradation, both of which we now have to deal with. It is now down to the youth of today to make a better world than the one which has been bequeathed to them. Much rests upon their shoulders. Given this fact, and also the truth that effective societal change can only come about through the efforts of individuals, a key part of our strategy for dealing with these problems must be the education of the next generation. This is one reason why, during my travels, I always try to reach out to young people and spend some time with them. My hope and wish is that, one day, formal education will pay attention to what I call education of the heart. Adapted from Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World, by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. © 2011 by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Reprinted by permis- sion of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.