Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World

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“This book 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 confidence comes from my ...

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Overview

“This book 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 confidence comes from my conviction that all of us, all human beings, are basically inclined or disposed toward what we perceive to be good. . . . 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.”

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this concise book packed with ideas, His Holiness the Dalai Lama (Toward a True Kinship of Faiths) continues his case for a universal ethics rooted in compassion. He argues that religion with its diversity can never provide an ethics for everyone in today’s interconnected global society, and he then makes a strong statement for adopting a “secular ethics.” Identifying the primary societal problem as “giving too much attention to the external material aspects of life while neglecting moral ethics and inner values,” His Holiness locates the initial responsibility for change in the individual; the book’s second half includes practical approaches for “ethical mindfulness” based on Buddhist mind training, such as counteracting destructive emotions, cultivating positive virtues, and meditation. Continuing his longstanding interest in the empirical bases for Buddhist findings, the Dalai Lama supports some of his observations through science. The book’s impressive scope in a short span also includes discussions of human nature, interdependence, justice, forgiveness, philanthropy, and the challenges society faces today. This wise, humane book, an original work rather than a collection of talks, is an incisive statement of His Holiness’s thinking on ways to bring peace to a suffering world. (Dec. 6)
From the Publisher
"An impressive guide for teaching religious tolerance and respect to readers of all ages."
Kirkus Reviews

"This wise, humane book , an original work rather than a collection of talks, is an incisive statement of His Holiness’s thinking on ways to bring peace to a suffering world . "
Publishers Weekly

Library Journal
In this kind of sequel to his Ethics for the New Millennium, the Dalai Lama delineates some of our global challenges and suggests a nonreligious yet ethical mode of thinking that might help us. Although the note of exhaustion has been sounded—the Dalai Lama has spoken of retirement and begins this book by saying "I am an old man now"—his nonreligious ethics still have a strong and perhaps welcome Buddhist flavor. VERDICT The Dalai Lama's gentle and sensible messages of focus, peace, and mindfulness may not be heeded in a divided world but will be very welcome to seekers of all faiths. [See Prepub Alert, 5/16/11.]
Kirkus Reviews
The Dalai Lama (A Profound Mind: Cultivating Wisdom in Everyday Life, 2011, etc.) proposes an ethical approach to a happier existence that transcends religion. While discussing the breakdown of organized religion, His Holiness acknowledges that "although humans can manage without religion, they cannot manage without inner values." He begins by discussing his views in a secular manner: "I offer my thoughts not as a Buddhist, nor as a religious believer, but simply as one human being among nearly seven billion others, who cares about the fate of humanity and wants to do something to safeguard and improve its future." He successfully utilizes anecdotes about life experiences and observations that help deepen the meaning of his insights. His sincerity is often engaging and reveals his own limitations, such as when he writes of a mother who stayed loyally awake all night on an airplane to soothe her children before confessing he could never be equally patient. In the second half, the author focuses on how to integrate his beliefs into everyday life. He thoroughly discusses obstacles that can get in the way and how to overcome them through emotional awareness. He warns that "ignoring or suppressing emotion can actually aggravate the problem and make them intensify, at which point, like a swollen river bursting its banks, they will find expression in all kinds of unexpected negative thoughts and behavior." An impressive guide for teaching religious tolerance and respect to readers of all ages.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547636351
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 12/6/2011
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Tenzin Gyatso , His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, is the spiritual and temporal leader of the Tibetan people. His tireless efforts on behalf of human rights and world peace have brought him international recognition. He is the recipient of the Raoul Wallenberg Congressional Human Rights Award, the Albert Schweitzer Award, the Congressional Gold Medal, and the Nobel Peace Prize.

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Read an Excerpt

INTRODUCTION

I am an old man now. I was born in 1935 in a small village in northeastern Tibet. For reasons beyond my control, I have lived most of my adult life as a stateless refugee in India, which has been my second home for over fifty years. I often joke that I am India’s longest-staying guest. In common with other people of my age, I have witnessed many of the dramatic events that have shaped the world we live in. Since the late 1960s, I have also traveled a great deal, and have had the honor to meet people from many different backgrounds: not just presidents and prime ministers, kings and queens, and leaders from all the world’s great religious traditions, but also a great number of ordinary people from all walks of life. 

  Looking back over the past decades, I find many reasons to rejoice. Through advances in medical science, deadly diseases have been eradicated. Millions of people have been lifted from poverty and have gained access to modern education and health care. We have a universal declaration of human rights, and awareness of the importance of such rights has grown tremendously. As a result, the ideals of freedom and democracy have spread around the world, and there is increasing recognition of the oneness of humanity. There is also growing awareness of the importance of a healthy environment. In very many ways, the last half-century or so has been one of progress and positive change.

  At the same time, despite tremendous advances in so many fields, there is still great suffering, and humanity continues to face enormous difficulties and problems. While in the more affluent parts of the world people enjoy lifestyles of high consumption, there remain countless millions whose basic needs are not met. With the end of the Cold War, the threat of global nuclear destruction has receded, but many continue to endure the sufferings and tragedy of armed conflict. In many areas, too, people are having to deal with environmental problems and, with these, threats to their livelihood and worse. At the same time, many others are struggling to get by in the face of inequality, corruption, and injustice.

  These problems are not limited to the developing world. In the richer countries, too, there are many difficulties, including widespread social problems: alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic violence, family breakdown. People are worried about their children, about their education and what the world holds in store for them. Now, too, we have to recognize the possibility that human activity is damaging our planet beyond a point of no return, a threat which creates further fear. And all the pressures of modern life bring with them stress, anxiety, depression, and, increasingly, loneliness. As a result, everywhere I go, people are complaining. Even I find myself complaining from time to time!

  It is clear that something is seriously lacking in the way we humans are going about things. But what is it that we lack? The fundamental problem, I believe, is that at every level we are giving 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 appreciate 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 warmheartedness—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.

  Not long ago I visited Orissa, a region in eastern India. The poverty in this part of the country, especially among tribal people, has recently led to growing conflict and insurgency. I met with a member of parliament from the region and discussed these issues. From him I gathered that there are a number legal mechanisms and well-funded government projects already in place aimed at protecting the rights of tribal people and even giving them material assistance. The problem, he said, was that the funds provided by the government were not reaching those they were intended to help. When such projects are subverted by corruption, inefficiency, and irresponsibility on the part of those charged with implementing them, they become worthless.

  This example shows very clearly that even when a system is sound, its effectiveness depends on the way it is used. Ultimately, any system, any set of laws or procedures, can only be as effective as the individuals responsible for its implementation. If, owing to failures of personal integrity, a good system is misused, it can easily become a source of harm rather than a source of benefit. This is a general truth which applies to all fields of human activity, even religion. Though religion certainly has the potential to help people lead meaningful and happy lives, it too, when misused, can become a source of conflict and division. Similarly, in the fields of commerce and finance, the systems themselves may be sound, but if the people using them are unscrupulous and driven by self-serving greed, the benefits of those systems will be undermined. Unfortunately, we see this happening in many kinds of human activities: even in international sports, where corruption threatens the very notion of fair play.

  Of course, many discerning people are aware of these problems and are working sincerely to redress them from within their own areas of expertise. Politicians, civil servants, lawyers, educators, environmentalists, activists, and so on—people from all sides are already engaged in this effort. This is very good so far as it goes, but the fact is, we will never solve our problems simply by instituting new laws and regulations. Ultimately, the source of our problems lies at the level of the individual. If people lack moral values and integrity, no system of laws and regulations will be adequate. So long as people give priority to material values, then injustice, inequity, intolerance, and greed—all the outward manifestations of neglect of inner values—will persist.

  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 values that we appreciate in others and would do well to promote in ourselves. Perhaps we should seek inner values from religion, 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 peoples of the world become ever more closely interconnected in an age of globalization and in multicultural societies, ethics based in any one religion would only appeal to some of us; it would not be meaningful for all. In the past, when peoples lived in relative isolation from one another—as we Tibetans lived quite happily 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 confidence 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 others. We are all, by nature, oriented toward the basic human values 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 forgiveness 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. The development and practice of this new system of ethics is what I propose to elaborate in the course of this book. It is my hope that doing so will help to promote understanding of the need for ethical awareness and inner values in this age of excessive materialism.

  At the outset 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, compassion, 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.

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Table of Contents

CONTENTS Acknowledgments v Introduction ix

Part I:
A NEW SYSTEM OF SECULAR ETHICS
 1. Rethinking Secularism 3
 2. Our Common Humanity 21
 3. The Quest for Happiness 31
 4. Compassion, the Foundation of Well-Being 41
 5. Compassion and the Question of Justice 57
 6. The Role of Discernment 73
 7. Ethics in Our Shared World 83

Part II:
EDUCATING THE HEART THROUGH TRAINING THE MIND
 8. Ethical Mindfulness in Everyday Life 103
 9. Dealing with Destructive Emotions 113
 10. Cultivating Key Inner Values 137
 11. Meditation as Mental Cultivation 155

Afterword 185

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Customer Reviews

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 25 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 6, 2012

    Extraordinarily thought-provoking.

    His Holiness tends to be a little wordy, but is the epitome of humility and grace. His philosophy of ethics truly does transcend religion and speaks to the essential sameness of human beings: we are all complex organisms pursuing happiness and avoiding suffering. And the more we help ONE ANOTHER understand and attain those goals, the better of humanity is as a whole.

    12 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2012

    A must read for everyone!!!

    The Dalai Lama writes with such common sence and understanding. The world would certainly be a much better place if everyone would follow his teaching. It reaches across all nations and people. I want to read more.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 22, 2012

    rip off

    Only 128 pages

    3 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 16, 2012

    great book about all religons and science,no one religon talked about more then the other.... keeps mre reading

    awsome, informed non biased..... recommend to anyone

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 26, 2012

    A book all can love.

    This book really made me look at what we all offer to the world. We are all connected yet often people feel so isolated. His point of getting religion out of ethics discussions is well taken and certainly makes more sense to me than anything else I've read on the subject.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 22, 2012

    A musst read.

    Very insightful & recommended. Check it out.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 22, 2012

    Clear, Concise, Easy to Understand

    His Holiness the Dalai Lama presents a very simple philosophy; a way for all people of every religion, race, and ethnicity to live peaceably together in the World. If only we have the courage to take it into our hearts and live by it. One person at a time . . . let it begin with me.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 12, 2012

    Verry good book

    A short read but packed full from start to finish this book is a must read for anyone interested in ethics.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 24, 2012

    Highly recommend

    A very insightful expression of the Dalai Lama's philosophy on the ethics of mankind respective of relidious affiliation.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 14, 2013

    Required reading for humans

    The Dalai Lama will contiinue to preach respect all life for as long as he lives

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