Sunday, March 22, 2009

Ethics for a New Millennium

Ethics for a New Millennium
© 1999 Tenzin Gyatso (the XIV Dalai Lama)
237 pages

Every so often I encounter an author who I find to be delightful, and the Dalai Lama is one of them. I was somewhat dubious about reading this, as An Open Heart was something of a let-down -- lacking the personality of The Art of Happiness -- but Ethics for a New Millennium is just as enjoyable as The Art of Happiness, and perhaps more so. Ethics is a frank address to the reader: the "bookishness" of An Open Heart is nowhere to be found. Some of this book repeats The Art of Happiness. He begins by claiming that all human beings want to be happy, and that the cultivation of it amounts to spirituality. He sees the world at the turn of the millennium suffering from diseases of cultural environment: just as "third world" countries suffer from disease and immense poverty, "first world" countries suffer from loneliness and distress. The nature of our societies has removed us from the human contact that we depend on for happiness:

It is possible today to be far more independent of others than ever before. But with these developments, there has arisen a sense that my future is not dependent on my neighbor but rather on my job, or at most, my employer. This in turn encourages us to suppose that because others are not important for my happiness, their happiness is not important to me.


We are increasingly unable, he says, to express affection or communication with our fellows. This is further agitated by the "contemporary rhetoric of growth and ecnomic development which greatly reinforces people's tendency toward competitiveness and envy." He calls for a spiritual evolution. His spirituality is not one of ritual and doctrine, however: it is concerned with the qualities of the human spirit: love, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, contentment, responsibility, and harmony. He believes that all these are wrapped in compassion and that the practicing of them leads to happiness. I cannot disagree, as his spirituality is the very same I worked out for myself. It is the "grand religion" I have begun to suspect behind the words of people as varied as Epictetus, Robert Ingersoll, Anne Frank, Zelig Pliskin, and the Dalai Lama: the religion of human happiness.

He does not simply repeat what he said in The Art of Happiness, however. The Dalai Lama explores the practical aspects of this spirituality in our individual lives and as it relates to society. He comments on crime, education, economics, and religion. This commentary is somewhat lacking in that I do not have the book with me or my notes, so I cannot look at the table of contents and organize my thoughts to convey to you everything he says. What I can say is that I enjoyed this book immensely. This is pure human spirituality, completely bereft of forced belief and doctrine. It was an excellent read -- quite edifying.

There is no need for temple or church, for mosque or synagogue, no need for complicated philosophy, doctrine, or dogma. Our own heart, our own mind, is the temple. The doctrine is compassion. Love for others and respect for their rights and dignity, no matter what or who they are: ultimately these are all we need. So long as we practiced these in our daily lives, [...] there is no doubt we will be happy.

1 comment:

  1. This vein of the Dahli Lama's "doctrine" is exactly what leads me to call myself a "spritual" person.

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