The Dalai Lama on Secular Ethics


“We must make every effort to build this century as the century of compassion,” said His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama today in Atlanta, Georgia. In his role as Presidential Distinguished Professor at Emory University, he is visiting for a series of programs and campus events on responsible citizenship, ethics, and education.

At The Arena at Gwinnett Center today, he presented a talk on secular ethics. I was unable to attend in person, but Emory University graciously hosted a live webcast of the events of the day. I am so glad I was able to watch his talk, and am still absorbing it. I wish I had been able to view all of the events of the day, but am thankful for what I could enjoy.

His presence is profoundly joyful, and his well-known sense of humor delighted all throughout the program. Such wisdom, grace, and peaceful energy exudes from this quietly powerful man, that I long to seek it out more and more- and wish for it in more leaders around the world.

The following is a brief summary of the notes I took during the talk

Beginning the talk with a discussion of the 20th century, he spoke of humanity, and human history and of the tragedies of war and violence in his lifetime. From the Sino-Japanese War, to World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and up through current crises today including Syria. In the 20th century over 200 million people were killed through violence. Many leaders have the idea that in order to win, there must be violence, but he spoke of this violence as a symptom of past mistakes and past negligence.

The key to building the 21st century as the century of compassion is to keep others as part of humanity. In dividing the “we” and the “they”, we provide the basis of violence. And the only way to solve this problem is through dialogue. We must respect others and their interests to create meaningful dialogue.

“This century, should be century of dialogue.” To do this, he said we need to reduce our extreme self-centered attitudes. This is the path to peace.

We are equipped at an early age from our mother, to have compassion. The love and affection we are given plants the seed for us to be compassionate throughout our lifetime. If there is abuse, you obtain a sense of insecurity, and distrust. He spoke further of the levels of compassion and how, through knowledge we have the ability to have compassion, even in difficult circumstances. It is also important to develop a sense of “Oneness” with humanity. Destruction of your neighbor is destruction of yourself. So the question lingers…How do we do this on a global level?

Faith? Major religions can provide compassion, but the reality is, there are over one billion “non-believers”, and around six billion “believers” of many faiths. But there is corruption, there is danger, and even devotees can, and do, get exploited. His Holiness knows that there will never be a universal religion, so what next?

Through REASONING. This is the way to promote compassion. We all have the common experience of family, of friendship. Using common sense, we know that when we enter a place where we feel loved, we feel warm, friendly, happy. This is based on trust.

Through education, we can build firm conviction. And to change humanity, we need a combination of individually being able to keep peace of mind, no matter the situation, and then connect with family and friends through dialogue. This changes the world, one person at a time.

In the generation of the 21st century, it is not sufficient just to complain. We have the intelligence to try to find the way the solve our problems. We must think more seriously–most of our unhappy events, notwithstanding natural disasters, are human made.

Action is more important than faith.” For meaningful action to take place, we need vision. We need enthusiasm. And in secular ethics, we use common sense and scientific findings (including the biological basis of compassion) to bring people together regardless of faith, for that is the key to a more compassionate century. Through mindfulness, and cultivating the sense of “Oneness” of all humanity, it is possible.

Recent diplomatic acts such as the agreement of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria to allow the destruction of his chemical weapons arsenal may be a step in the direction of dialogue over violence. Though the civil war rages on through this, action is taking place. Positive action to rid the world of devastating weapons of mass destruction.

The possibilities of dialogue are endless. As more and more people can get educated around the world, and dare I say “enlightened”, in the pure essence of understanding the value and necessity of compassion to provide the conditions of happiness, we will see more peace.

I thank His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama for his gift today. In deep appreciation of his life’s work, and the understanding of his call, I am motivated now, more than ever, to pass on his message of peace and compassion.

Only peace, only love~

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