Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Ethics for the New Millenium

Posted by nliakos on February 28, 2016

by His Holiness the Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso) (Riverhead Books, 1999; ISBN 1-57322-025-6)

I confess at the outset that reading this kind of book is difficult for me. It reminds me of the introductory philosophy course that I took as a freshman in college. I want to understand, but I am fundamentally a lazy thinker. I prefer to read fiction, or non-fiction that relays facts: science, history, and the like. And so although I purchased this book back in 2000 or so and even began to read it (I found my own notes in the margins in many chapters, although I had no memory of having read them before), I apparently gave up before I finished it and replaced it on the shelf.

Anyway, this time, I finished it. Did any of it sink in? Will I remember it? That’s hard to say. Did I understand it? Yes, I think so. The Dalai Lama writes very simply (almost simplistically); his style is conversational and direct. There’s a lot of repetition because he offers one main piece of advice, and that is that “compassion, patience, tolerance, humility, forgiveness, and so on” are the route to both personal happiness and eventual world peace. Despite all the terrible things that happen in the world, despite the wars and the cruelty and the suffering, he remains optimistic; he points out the progress, and he advocates that each one of us strive to lead a meaningful life, and that we have kindness and compassion for others.

Since the book was published in 1999, the Dalai Lama has retired from political life (in 2111), and I had the good fortune to hear him speak in person at the University of Maryland (in 2013). The so-called Islamic State has come into being, demonstrating a completely ruthless lack of compassion for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Donald Trump is campaigning to become the Republican Party’s candidate for the presidency of the United States, vowing to deport 11,000,000 people, to erect a wall all along the U.S.-Mexico border, to bar Muslims from entering the U.S. and to use “waterboarding or worse” to interrogate suspected terrorists. What does the Dalai Lama think of all this? I wonder. I suspect, however, that he has somehow found compassion in his heart for both the jihadists and Donald Trump, because that is who he is.

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