Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Ethics for the New Millenium

Posted by nliakos on May 6, 2013

by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama (Riverhead Books, 1999)

The fifteen chapters of this book are neatly divided into three sections of five chapters each, followed by “An Appeal.”  The first section, “The Foundation of Ethics,” is about the universal quest for happiness/flight from suffering. The author claims that he has “No Magic, No Mystery,” no special ability to solve the world’s problems; but he calls for a spiritual (not a religious) revolution. He leads the reader through an explanation of what he means by spirituality: love, compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, contentment, a sense of responsibility, and a sense of harmony. All these things can bring happiness, both to oneself and to others. It is the placing of others’ welfare and happiness above our own that will paradoxically bring us happiness.

The second section, “Ethics and the Individual,” discusses the ethics of restraint, virtue, compassion, and suffering, and explains the need for discernment, or “adjusting the ideal of non-harming to the context.” Ethical precepts can guide us to form good habits, so that when we need to make a decision quickly, we will be more likely to make the right (most compassionate) choice.

The third and final section, “Ethics and Society,” discusses “Universal Responsibility,” “Levels of Commitment,” “Ethics in Society,” “Peace and Disarmament,” and “The Role of Religion in Modern Society.” By universal responsibility, he means that everyone should be concerned about everyone (and everything) else, so that when we see an opportunity to benefit others, we will use it; for their interest is also our interest. He chides those who become rich on the backs of the poor and gently observes, “the lifestyles of the rich are often absurdly complicated. . . .  I do not see how living like this adds anything to anyone’s comfort. As human beings we have only one stomach. There is a limit to the amount we can eat. . . .” One after another, he tackles the great issues of the day: the environment, education, the media, economics, politics, war, nuclear weapons, religious strife–and quietly, modestly suggests that we can all do better if we only respect one another and have compassion for one another.

The final few pages appeal to us to use our time well, because there is no second chance. We should live responsibly and compassionately–and this is what will make us happiest anyway. “This, then, is my true religion, my simple faith” he writes. “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 who or what they are: ultimately these are all we need. So long as we practice these in our daily lives, then no matter if we are learned or unlearned, whether we believe in Buddha or God, or follow some other religions or none at all, as long as we have compassion for others and conduct ourselves with restraint out of a sense of responsibility, there is no doubt we will be happy.”

Good advice.

Tomorrow, I have the good fortune to have a ticket to hear His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama deliver the Sadat Lecture for Peace at the University of Maryland. I plan to go a few hours early to try to get a good seat. If you don’t have a ticket, you can go to and click on the link to listen to the event streamed live over the Internet.

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