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Ethics for the New Millennium

Ethics for the New Millennium

by Dalai Lama


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Don't miss His Holiness the Dalai Lama's classic book, The Art of Happiness, or his newest, The Book of Joy, named one of Oprah's Favorite Things. 

In a difficult, uncertain time, it takes a person of great courage, such as the Dalai Lama, to give us hope. Regardless of the violence and cynicism we see on television and read about in the news, there is an argument to be made for basic human goodness. The number of people who spend their lives engaged in violence and dishonesty is tiny compared to the vast majority who would wish others only well. According to the Dalai Lama, our survival has depended and will continue to depend on our basic goodness. Ethics for the New Millennium presents a moral system based on universal rather than religious principles. Its ultimate goal is happiness for every individual, irrespective of religious beliefs. Though he himself a practicing Buddhist, the Dalai Lama's teachings and the moral compass that guides him can lead each and every one of us—Muslim, Christian, Jew, Buddhist, or atheist—to a happier, more fulfilling life.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781573228831
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/01/2001
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 415,423
Product dimensions: 8.22(w) x 10.92(h) x 0.72(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About 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 Wallenberg Award (conferred by the U.S. Congressional Human Rights Foundation), the Albert Schweitzer Award, and the Nobel Peace Prize.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Modern Society and the Quest
for Human Happiness

I am a comparative newcomer to the modern world. Although I fled my homeland as long ago as 1959, and although my life since then as a refugee in India has brought me into much closer contact with contemporary society, my formative years were spent largely cut off from the realities of the twentieth century. This was partly due to my appointment as Dalai Lama: I became a monk at a very early age. It also reflects the fact that we Tibetans had chosen—mistakenly, in my view—to remain isolated behind the high mountain ranges which separate our country from the rest of the world. Today, however, I travel a great deal, and it is my good fortune continuously to be meeting new people.

    Moreover, individuals from all walks of life come to see me. Quite a lot—especially those who make the effort to travel to the Indian hill-station at Dharamsala where I live in exile—arrive seeking something. Among these are people who have suffered greatly: some have lost parents and children; some have friends or family who committed suicide; are sick with cancer and with AIDS-related illnesses. Then, of course, there are fellow Tibetans with their own tales of hardship and suffering. Unfortunately, many have unrealistic expectations, supposing that I have healing powers or that I can give some sort of blessing. But I am only an ordinary human being. The best I can do is try to help them by sharing in their suffering.

    For my part, meeting innumerable others from all over theworld and from every walk of life reminds me of our basic sameness as human beings. Indeed, the more I see of the world, the clearer it becomes that no matter what our situation, whether we are rich or poor, educated or not, of one race, gender, religion or another, we all desire to be happy and to avoid suffering. Our every intended action, in a sense our whole life—how we choose to live it within the context of the limitations imposed by our circumstances—can be seen as our answer to the great question which confronts us all: "How am I to be happy?"

    We are sustained in this great quest for happiness, it seems to me, by hope. We know, even if we do not admit it, that there can be no guarantee of a better, happier life than the one we are leading today. As an old Tibetan proverb puts it, The next life or tomorrow—we can never be certain which will come first. But we hope to go on living. We hope that through this or that action we can bring about happiness. Everything we do, not only as individuals but also at the level of society, can be seen in terms of this fundamental aspiration. Indeed, it is one shared by all sentient beings. The desire or inclination to be happy and to avoid suffering knows no boundaries. It is in our nature. As such, it needs no justification and is validated by the simple fact that we naturally and correctly want this.

    And this is precisely what we see in countries both rich and poor. Everywhere, by all means imaginable, people are striving to improve their lives. Yet strangely, my impression is that those living in the materially developed countries, for all their industry, are in some ways less satisfied, are less happy, and to some extent suffer more than those living in the least developed countries. Indeed, if we compare the rich with the poor, it often seems that those with nothing are, in fact, the least anxious, though they are plagued with physical pains and suffering. As for the rich, while a few know how to use their wealth intelligently—that is to say, not in luxurious living but by sharing it with the needy—many do not. They are so caught up with the idea of acquiring still more that they make no room for anything else in their lives. In their absorption, they actually lose the dream of happiness, which riches were to have provided. As a result, they are constantly tormented, torn between doubt about what might happen and the hope of gaining more, and plagued with mental and emotional suffering—even though outwardly they may appear to be leading entirely successful and comfortable lives. This is suggested both by the high degree and by the disturbing prevalence among the populations of the materially developed countries of anxiety, discontent, frustration, uncertainty, and depression. Moreover, this inner suffering is clearly connected with growing confusion as to what constitutes morality and what its foundations are.

    I am often reminded of this paradox when I go abroad. It frequently happens that when I arrive in a new country, at first everything seems very pleasant, very beautiful. Everybody I meet is very friendly. There is nothing to complain about. But then, day by day as I listen, I hear people's problems, their concerns and worries. Below the surface, so many feel uneasy and dissatisfied with their lives. They experience feelings of isolation; then follows depression. The result is the troubled atmosphere which is such a feature of the developed world.

    At first, this surprised me. Although I never imagined that material wealth alone could ever overcome suffering, looking at the developed world from Tibet, a country materially always very poor, I must admit that I thought wealth would have gone further toward reducing suffering than is actually the case. I expected that with physical hardship much reduced, as it is for the majority living in the industrially developed countries, happiness would be much easier to achieve than for those living under more severe conditions. Instead, the extraordinary advancements of science and technology seem to have achieved little more than numerical improvement. In many cases, progress has meant hardly anything more than greater numbers of opulent houses in more cities, with more cars driving between them. Certainly there has been a reduction in some types of suffering, including especially certain illnesses. But it seems to me that there has been no overall reduction.

    Saying this, I remember well an occasion on one of my early trips to the West. I was the guest of a very wealthy family who lived in a large, well-appointed house. Everyone was very charming and polite. There were servants to cater to one's every need, and I began to think that here, perhaps, was proof positive that wealth could be a source of happiness. My hosts definitely had an air of relaxed confidence. But when I saw in the bathroom, through a cupboard door which was slightly open, an array of tranquilizers and sleeping pills, I was reminded forcefully that there is often a big gap between outward appearances and inner reality.

    This paradox whereby inner—or we could say psychological and emotional—suffering is so often found amid material wealth is readily apparent throughout much of the West. Indeed, it is so pervasive that we might wonder whether there is something in Western culture which predisposes people living there to such kinds of suffering? This I doubt. So many factors are involved. Clearly, material development itself has a role to play. But we can also cite the increasing urbanization of modern society, where high concentrations of people live in close proximity to one another. In this context, consider that in place of our dependence on one another for support, today, wherever possible, we tend to rely on machines and services. Whereas formerly, farmers would call in all their family members to help with the harvest, today they simply telephone a contractor. We find modern living organized so that it demands the least possible direct dependence on others. The more or less universal ambition seems to be for everyone to own their own house, their own car, their own computer, and so on in order to be as independent as possible. This is natural and understandable. We can also point to the increasing autonomy that people enjoy as a result of advances in science and technology. In fact, 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 have, in my view, created a society in which people find it harder and harder to show one another basic affection. In place of the sense of community and belonging, which we find such a reassuring feature of less wealthy (and generally rural) societies, we find a high degree of loneliness and alienation. Despite the fact that millions live in close proximity to one another, it seems that many people, especially among the old, have no one to talk to but their pets. Modern industrial society often strikes me as being like a huge self-propelled machine. Instead of human beings in charge, each individual is a tiny, insignificant component with no choice but to move when the machine moves.

    All this is compounded by the contemporary rhetoric of growth and economic development which greatly reinforces people's tendency toward competitiveness and envy. And with this comes the perceived need to keep up appearances—itself a major source of problems, tension, and unhappiness. Yet the psychological and emotional suffering we find so prevalent in the West is less likely to reflect a cultural shortcoming than an underlying human tendency. Indeed, I have noticed that similar forms of inner suffering are evident outside the West. In some parts of Southeast Asia, it is observable that as prosperity has increased, traditional belief systems have begun to lose their influence over people. The result is that we find a broadly similar manifestation of unease as that established in the West. This suggests that the potential exists in us all, and in the same way that physical disease reflects its environment, so it is with psychological and emotional suffering: it arises within the context of particular circumstances. Thus, in the southern, undeveloped, or "Third World" countries we find ailments broadly confined to that part of the world, such as those arising from poor sanitation. By contrast, in urban industrial societies, we see illnesses manifest in ways that are consistent with that environment. So instead of water-borne diseases, we find stress-related disease. All this implies that there are strong reasons for supposing a link between our disproportionate emphasis on external progress and the unhappiness, the anxiety, and the lack of contentment of modern society.

    This may sound like a very gloomy assessment. But unless we acknowledge the extent and character of our problems, we will not be able even to begin to deal with them.

    Clearly, a major reason for modern society's devotion to material progress is the very success of science and technology. Now the wonderful thing about these forms of human endeavor is that they bring immediate satisfaction. They're unlike prayer, the results of which are, for the most part, invisible—if indeed prayer works at all. And we are impressed by results. What could be more normal? Unfortunately, this devotion encourages us to suppose that the keys to happiness are material well-being on the one hand and the power conferred by knowledge on the other. And while it is obvious to anyone who gives this mature thought that the former cannot bring us happiness by itself, it is perhaps less apparent that the latter cannot. But the fact is, knowledge alone cannot provide the happiness that springs from inner development, that is not reliant on external factors. Indeed, though our very detailed and specific knowledge of external phenomena is an immense achievement, the urge to reduce, to narrow down in pursuit of it, far from bringing us happiness, can actually be dangerous. It can cause us to lose touch with the wider reality of human experience and, in particular, our dependence on others.

    We need also to recognize what happens when we rely too much on the external achievements of science. For example, as the influence of religion declines, there is mounting confusion with respect to the problem of how best we are to conduct ourselves in life. In the past, religion and ethics were closely intertwined. Now, many people, believing that science has "disproven" religion, make the further assumption that because there appears to be no final evidence for any spiritual authority, morality itself must be a matter of individual preference. And whereas in the past, scientists and philosophers felt a pressing need to find solid foundations on which to establish immutable laws and absolute truths, nowadays this kind of research is held to be futile. As a result, we see a complete reversal, heading toward the opposite extreme, where ultimately nothing exists any longer, where reality itself is called into question. This can only lead to chaos.

    In saying this, I do not mean to criticize scientific endeavor. I have learned a great deal from my encounters with scientists, and I see no obstacle to engaging in dialogue with them even when their perspective is one of radical materialism. Indeed, for as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by the insights of science. As a boy, there was a time when I was rather more interested in learning about the mechanics of an old film projector I found in the storerooms of the summer residence of the Dalai Lama than in my religious and scholastic studies. My concern is rather that we are apt to overlook the limitations of science. In replacing religion as the final source of knowledge in popular estimation, science begins to look a bit like another religion itself. With this comes a similar danger on the part of some of its adherents of blind faith in its principles and, correspondingly, to intolerance of alternative views. That this supplanting of religion has taken place is not surprising, however, given science's extraordinary achievements. Who could fail to be impressed at our ability to land people on the moon? Yet the fact remains that if, for example, we were to go to a nuclear physicist and say, "I am facing a moral dilemma, what should I do?" he or she could only shake their head and suggest we look elsewhere for an answer. Generally speaking, a scientist is in no better position than a lawyer in this respect. For while both science and the law can help us forecast the likely consequence of our actions, neither can tell us how we ought to act in a moral sense. Moreover, we need to recognize the limits of scientific inquiry itself. For example, though we have been aware of human consciousness for millennia, and though it has been the subject of investigation throughout history, despite scientists' best efforts they still do not understand what it actually is, or why it exists, how it functions, or what is its essential nature. Neither can science tell us what the substantial cause of consciousness is, nor what its effects are. Of course, consciousness belongs to that category of phenomena without form, substance, or color. It is not susceptible to investigation by external means. But this does not mean such things do not exist, merely that science cannot find them.

    Should we, therefore, abandon scientific inquiry on the grounds that it has failed us? Certainly not. Nor do I mean to suggest that the goal of prosperity for all is invalid. Because of our nature, bodily and physical experience play a dominant role in our lives. The achievements of science and technology clearly reflect our desire to attain a better, more comfortable existence. This is very good. Who could fail to applaud many of the advances of modern medicine?

    At the same time, I think it is genuinely true that members of certain traditional, rural communities do enjoy greater harmony and tranquility than those settled in our modern cities. For example, in the Spiti area of northern India, it remains the custom for locals not to lock their houses when they go out. It is expected that a visitor who finds the house empty would go in and help themselves to a meal while waiting for the family to return. The same obtained in Tibet in former times. This is not to say that there is no crime in such places. As in the case of pre-occupation Tibet, such things did of course happen occasionally. But when they did, people would raise their eyebrows in surprise. It was a rare and unusual event. By contrast, in some modern cities, if a day goes by without a murder, it is a remarkable event. With urbanization has come disharmony.

    We must be careful not to idealize old ways of life, however. The high level of cooperation we find in undeveloped rural communities may be based more on necessity than on goodwill. People recognize it as an alternative to greater hardship. And the contentment we perceive may actually have more to do with ignorance. These people may not realize or imagine that any other way of life is possible. If they did, very likely they would embrace it eagerly. The challenge we face is therefore to find some means of enjoying the same degree of harmony and tranquility as those more traditional communities while benefiting fully from the material developments of the world as we find it at the dawn of a new millennium. To say otherwise is to imply that these communities should not even try to improve their standard of living. Yet, I am quite certain that, for example, the majority of Tibet's nomads would be very glad to have the latest thermal clothing for winter, smokeless fuel to cook with, the benefits of modern medicine, and a portable television in their tents. And I, for one, would not wish to deny them these.

    Modern society, with all its benefits and defects, has emerged within the context of innumerable causes and conditions. To suppose that merely by abandoning material progress we could overcome all our problems would be shortsighted. That would be to ignore their underlying causes. Besides, there is still much in the modern world to be optimistic about.

    There are countless people in the most developed countries who are active in their concern for others. Nearer home, I think of the enormous kindness we Tibetan refugees have been shown by those whose personal resources were also quite limited. For example, our children have benefited immeasurably from the selfless contribution of their Indian teachers, many of whom have been compelled to live under difficult conditions far away from their homes. On a wider scale, we might also consider the growing appreciation of fundamental human rights all over the world. This represents a very positive development in my view. The way in which the international community generally responds to natural disasters with immediate aid is also a wonderful feature of the modern world. Increasing recognition that we cannot forever continue to mistreat our natural environment without facing serious consequences is likewise a cause for hope. Moreover, I believe that, thanks largely to modern communications, people are probably more accepting of diversity now. And standards of literacy and education throughout the world are in general higher than ever before. Such positive developments I take to be an indication of what we humans are capable of.

    Recently, I had the opportunity to meet the Queen Mother in England. She has been a familiar figure to me throughout my life, so this gave me great pleasure. But what was particularly encouraging was to hear her opinion, as a woman as old as the twentieth century itself, that people have become much more aware of others than when she was young. In those days, she said, people were interested mainly in their own countries whereas today there is much more concern for the inhabitants of other countries. When I asked her whether she was optimistic about the future, she replied in the affirmative without hesitation.

    It is, of course, true that we can point to an abundance of severely negative trends within modern society. There is no reason to doubt the escalation in murder, violence, and rape cases year by year. In addition, we hear constantly of abusive and exploitative relationships both in the home and within the wider community, of growing numbers of young people addicted to drugs and alcohol, and of how the high proportion of marriages ending in divorce is affecting children today. Not even our own small refugee community has escaped the impact of some these developments. Whereas, for example, suicide was almost unheard of in Tibetan society, lately there have been one or two tragic incidents of this kind, even within our exile community. Likewise, whereas drug addiction among young Tibetans certainly did not exist a generation ago, we now have a few cases—mostly, it must be said, in those places where they are exposed to the modern urban lifestyle.

    Yet, unlike the sufferings of sickness, old age, and death, none of these problems is by nature inevitable. Nor are they due to any lack of knowledge. When we think carefully, we see that they are all ethical problems. They each reflect our understanding of what is right and wrong, of what is positive and what is negative, of what is appropriate and what is inappropriate. But beyond this we can point to something more fundamental: a neglect of what I call our inner dimension.

    What do I mean by this? According to my understanding, our overemphasis on material gain reflects an underlying assumption that what it can buy can, by itself alone, provide us with all the satisfaction we require. Yet by nature, the satisfaction material gain can provide us with will be limited to the level of the senses. If it were true that we human beings were no different from animals, this would be fine. However, given the complexity of our species—in particular, the fact of our having thoughts and emotions as well as imaginative and critical faculties—it is obvious that our needs transcend the merely sensual. The prevalence of anxiety, stress, confusion, uncertainty, and depression among those whose basic needs have been met is a clear indication of this. Our problems, both those we experience externally—such as wars, crime, and violence—and those we experience internally—our emotional and psychological sufferings—cannot be solved until we address this underlying neglect. That is why the great movements of the last hundred years and more—democracy, liberalism, socialism—have all failed to deliver the universal benefits they were supposed to provide, despite many wonderful ideas. A revolution is called for, certainly. But not a political, an economic, or even a technical revolution. We have had enough experience of these during the past century to know that a purely external approach will not suffice. What I propose is a spiritual revolution.

Table of Contents

Ethics for the New MilleniumPreface

I. The Foundation of Ethics
Chapter 1: Modern Society and the Quest for Human Happiness
Chapter 2: No Magic, No Mystery
Chapter 3: Dependent Origination and the Nature of Reality
Chapter 4: Redefining the Goal
Chapter 5: The Supreme Emotion

II. Ethics and the Individual
Chapter 6: The Ethic of Restraint
Chapter 7: The Ethic of Virtue
Chapter 8: The Ethic of Compassion
Chapter 9: Ethics and Suffering
Chapter 10: The Need for Discernment

III. Ethics and Society
Chapter 11: Universal Responsibility
Chapter 12: Levels of Commitment
Chapter 13: Ethics in Society
Chapter 14: Peace and Disarmament
Chapter 15: The Role of Religion in Modern Society
Chapter 16: An Appeal

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Ethics for the New Millennium is good stuff about having the right stuff...After the Me Generation and decades of cynicism, the Dalai Lama’s optimism and courage may be just what the 21st century needs."—The San Diego Union-Tribune

"The Dalai Lama, in this spiritually instructive and morally creative book, gently leads readers to envision and strive to build...a new world wherein every sunrise promises increasing concord and peace."—Los Angeles Times

"The Dalai Lama illustrates his argument with examples from his extraordinary life, showing the same humility and gentle self-deprecation that make him such a popular speaker and spiritual leader."—San Francisco Chronicle

"Like any good teacher, he understands that ethical matters are individual matters, that an ethical society is only the sum of its ethical citizens. We must repair our own hearts and actions, then work with our family, our neighborhood, our city, our state and nation, and on to the interrelated world...This book offers help, instruction and inspiration along the way. Its lessons can, just maybe, change your life."—The Washington Post

"Ethics for the New Millennium not only points to a valuable goal, it also urges us to take the first step in the direction of right action. The Dalai Lama does not merely preach compassion—he is compassionate, and his book is a generous gift to a very needful world." —Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

"Although claiming to be only a simple human being, he is known the world over as a tireless worker for peace, a great spiritual teacher, and a man with a gift for conveying great truths in a manner accessible to all. His combination of genuine warmth, infectious sense of humor, penetrating intellect, and disarming humility have won him many friends and admirers throughout the world."—Senator Claiborne Pell

"As his Holiness himself says, very little in this book is original. But his message is so often neglected that is sounds very fresh indeed. Simple but not simplistic."—Kirkus Reviews

"On paper...the Dalai Lama is a living incarnation of a Buddha, the hierarch of a government in exile, and a doctor of metaphysics. Yet the single most extraordinary thing about him may simply be his sturdy, unassuming humanity."—Pico Iyer

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