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Ethics for a new Millenium

A lecture by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to professors and students at the Law Faculty of Ljubljana, Slovenia / July 5, 2002
Indeed, I feel a great honour to have this opportunity to interact with students, because I believe the future of the world much depends on the present. Therefore students are supposed to make preparations for the future. In this period, perhaps more contact with different people, different cultures, might be of some help. Therefore I feel very happy to have this opportunity.
In spite of my long name, which is a traditional belief, practically I'm just another human being, just like you. We are same, mentally or emotionally or even physically basically we are same. Whatever kinds of emotions are there in your mind, I also have the same. Some of my emotions really create troubles in my mind, so as you, same. And also sometimes those emotions, which create troubles in my mind, equally have counter forces within my own mind. So I think the realization that comes naturally is, since I don't want troubles, therefore I will make more effort to strengthen those counter forces to the troublemaker emotions.
Here perhaps, I can tell you some of my experiences.
At the beginning I would like to tell you about my basic belief. All human beings are same. We all have the same desire for good, desire for happiness, desire for overcoming problems and Suffering. Important: we all have the same right to overcome problems, suffering.
I believe the main demarcation between human beings and other mammals is human intelligence. Other mammals also have the same desire for happy days and happy life and desire for overcoming problems. But we have the intelligence, the human brain, and that makes the difference between human beings and other mammals.
Of course the entire humanity now recognizes that the human brain is so important. Right from the beginning, everywhere they are putting a lot of effort and paying a lot of attention to education. So in this body is the learning center.
I think some kind of universal recognition is that the human brain is something really marvellous and very important to develop. Now some critics to modern education system is that they pay sufficient attention to brain development, but sometimes they don't adequately pay attention to the development of warm heart.
Obviously in the West, in Europe, almost a thousand years ago a separate education institution started. At that time and also through many centuries, what the brain development is concerned, it has been taken care of by this separate education institution. But as far as morality or warm-heartedness is concerned, the church, and also the family were taking care of it.
In modern times the influence of religion declined and also the family values declined; to some extent also the environmental situation makes differences. It seems in modern times there 's much negligence about the moral ethics side or the warm-heartedness side.
Also for example, the recent events on this planet, like events in your neighbourhood, you see - one day you are close friends, and the next day you become so called enemies and kill each other.
Then look at September 11. Look at that event - using a civilian plane full of fuel, because it was a long-distance flight, and full of passengers, using it as explosive. That's really unimaginable, unthinkable. Actually on that very day, in the early morning, when I heard about that event, I couldn't believe it. Only after I listened to the BBC and later saw it on television, then I thought: "Oh, such horrible things happened!" I think a very clear indication, in order to carry out that kind of destructive work, is that they prepared it if not for one year, but at least for a few months. I think they really investigated various points. A dull person can't plan that kind of thing, only a very very brilliant mind can make that kind of plan. Then without the modern technology, again that can't happen.
So with the combination of modern technology and sophisticated human mind, guided by human negative emotions, such unthinkable disasters can happen. That shows us that it's not sufficient just to take interest about modern technology and to have the information or knowledge in our mind. That alone is not sufficient. And also the development of human intelligence itself is not a guaranty for a better life, for a constructive life.
So the education, or the development of the brain must be balanced with the sense of responsibility, usually I call it the sense of global responsibility, which is here very much related to the sense of Compassion. If you have the sense of compassion, sense of caring for others, sense of respecting others, then such destructive work won't happen. Modern technology and human intelligence then could be constructive. Therefore I think, we really need to look more at our inner human values and to put more emphasis on the development or promotion of these human values.
On many occasions, mainly in Western Europe and also in America, I'm often telling people, especially to education institutions, I always emphasize that we need the education plus the sense of moral ethics. -These two must go together.
When we talk about moral ethics, some people ask whether moral ethics must be based on religious faith or not. I found that there are two opinions - some friends of mine say that moral ethics must be based on religious faith, but some say it's not necessary. I belong to the other category.
Moral ethics or what I call with another word basic human good qualities: the sense of sharing with one another, sense of caring for one another, affection to one another - these are the basic human values, human good qualities. These help to bring harmony. These emotions or senses bring harmony, friendship, and a happy life, therefore we can call them human values.
After all, we human beings are social animals. Our very existence entirely depends on other fellow human beings, on the environment, and also on other sentient beings. So at least the other fellow human beings are the foundation of one's own good future. Under that circumstances close relations, friendly relations with other fellow human beings are essential. If you have close relations with other fellow human beings, wherever you go, you always find friends, smiles, and affection.
Affection cannot be showed by machines, we need human affection. You could be a billionaire, have a lot of money there, but money, gold, diamond rings never show human affection, these have no ability to show human affection. Some animals can show us genuine affection when we show them our warm heart, they respond very nicely. But one priceless diamond ring, if we show a smile, there will be no response, nothing.
Therefore in order to have happy days and happy weeks and months, on the family level or on community level, affection, the sense of caring for one another, is the key factor. We call them human values, because they help us, they are something useful for us.
Although anger, hatred, and jealousy are also part of the human mind, part of our emotions, we do not consider them as human values, because these are the destroyers of our friendships, destroyers of our smiles. I think with a hatred motivation an artificial smile is sometimes possible, but a genuine smile never comes out of hatred. So our friendship can't be on the basis of hatred, on the basis of jealousy, on the basis of too much arrogance. Therefore these are not human values. Although they are part of our nature, they are not human good qualities.
Now we can see that these emotions, including negative and positive, are part of our life, part of our mind. From childhood on these are obviously with us, but religious faith only comes later. I think in my own case, even before people recognized me as a Dalai Lama, when I was just a helpless small baby, my mother showed me kindness and affection. Maybe from my father's side less. Also my elder sister is often telling me that when I was born I had one eye closed and one eye open. So my elder sister actually opened my other eye, the one that was closed, and she's often telling me: "I opened your eye!"
So certainly, right from the beginning, human affection surrounded me, and because of this the development of my brain and other things happened more or less properly. I'm quite sure, when I was growing up, when I was a small child, if at that time the atmosphere was cold, lacking human affection, then today my very nature could be a little different. Therefore, these human values, human affections, from my childhood on are very much relevant, very much there. Also if other people, including my mother, showed affection, then my response towards them was also more smiles, some kind of feeling of intimacy.
So the human affection was very much there at that time, but religious faith, in my case Buddhist faith, even if I had these Buddhist monk's robes, in my mind Buddhist faith was not much there. I think I reached Lhasa when I was seven years old, and I got ordained as a novice monk, but inside there was nothing. Then I started serious Buddhist studies and receiving teachings, but still I considered it just like something that I'm compelled to do, without much enthusiasm, without much interest. At that time, at thirteen, fourteen years, my only interest was to play. So in that age I was not serious about religious faith, but when I was fifteen, sixteen years of age, then eventually came a more genuine interest about Buddhist faith and more enthusiasm to study and like that.
This clearly shows the relevance of human values right from the beginning, they are very important, but religious faith comes later, so it's entirely different. Although various religious traditions talk about or consider the importance of these human values, it seems to me that various religious traditions are actually strengthening human values. So that's why I think there's almost a universal recognition that these human values are important and useful.
Therefore at different times within the last 3000 or 4000 years of human history, different religious traditions, different faiths eventually came to shape with philosophy, and they all recognized that these human values are positive and important. Therefore you can see that each tradition is talking about these human values, such as the message of love, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, Self-discipline, contentment, and humility. All religious traditions talk about these things, so there's some kind of universal recognition.
The real essential message of all traditions is the same, in spite of different philosophies, different traditions, and different ceremonies. Therefore I feel that religion is simply strengthening or supporting the human values, but basically the human values and religious faith are separate.
So it becomes clear, human values and religious faith are different.
Obviously we noticed that there are people, who dedicate their life for others, there are many records there. In former socialist, communist countries, there are people, whether it is due to indoctrination or not, in any case, some are really willing to sacrifice their own life for the benefit of the communities. Among the Chinese I found some, they are really determined to serve the interest of the larger community. This is just one example, without any religious faith these human values are very much alive. This is a very clear indication.
So the point is that we need human values, but we do not necessarily need religious faith, even without religious faith we can be good human beings.
There is another problem, if we touch the religious faith. "What religion?" is the next question that comes. As I mentioned earlier, within the last 3 to 4000 years so many different traditions or religions developed. The message of all of them is same, but in the way of approach, in the philosophical aspect, there are big differences, somehow fundamental differences.
One example is, there are theistic traditions, such as Christianity, Islam, Judaism, many Hindus... Then there are non-theistic traditions such as Jainism, Buddhism, and also some ancient Indian thoughts; they have no concept of creator. So there are fundamental differences.
I think from the viewpoint of a theistic philosophy or tradition, these non-theistic traditions are not religions. So some people call Buddhism atheism; Buddhism is a kind of atheism. Therefore usually, in order to make a distinction between Buddhism and other atheists, I call them radical atheists, like communists. As far as Buddhism is concerned, generally speaking is also atheism, but not radical, we accept deeper values, meditations, and we also accept limitless lives. Therefore Buddhism is a kind of spirituality, but we don't believe in a central absolute power, a creator. So from that viewpoint we are atheists, we are same like communists. Communists and Buddhists are same. So if you feel that communists are dangerous, then Buddhists are also dangerous.
So it's difficult if you make a close relation between moral ethics and religious faith, if you think they should go together, then the work for the promotion of human values must be linked with a religious faith. Then you might ask: "Which religious faith?" And complication is there. We cannot have one world-religion. I feel each religion has its own beauty, its own uniqueness.
Within theistic religions the concept of god is, I think, a very powerful concept. This central power, absolute god, a creator, who creates everything, so there's more genuine faith to that concept. For example in everyday life, if a believer faces some problem, including illness or finally death, if you have a very strong faith, "my illness", "my death" appear difficult, unwanted, but they are god's creations, so therefore there must be some meaning. That way of thinking reduces your own pains, difficulties. Then, I'm often telling people: "If you have strong faith to god, creator, then what's god's wish?" It is happiness for all creatures. So if you really love god, you must demonstrate the genuineness of your faith and show love towards fellow human beings. That's the genuine message of Christianity, that's my feeling, it might be wrong, but this is my view. So the real faith is love to fellow human beings, that's love to god, that's the message. That's its beauty.
Buddhism also has certain uniqueness. Each major religious tradition has its own uniqueness, its own message and good things. After all, within the last few thousand years, why did these different traditions happen? Because among the humanity there are different mental dispositions and different environments, therefore different traditions happened accordingly. I do not think that one religion could satisfy everybody, but a variety of religions can satisfy a variety of people. There are already different traditions there, and that is very positive, very important and we must keep different traditions.
So making one world-religion is nonsense, it is better to keep these different traditions. Therefore the forefathers of Indian independence, like Mahatma Gandhi, because in reality there are so many different traditions, they decided India's constitution according to secularism. Secularism does not mean denying religion, not like your previous boss - to ban religion or to put restrictions on religion, not that way. But it means freedom for everybody, whether one has a religion or not. If one has a religion, what religion is entirely up to the individual. There's no connection with the state, the state respects all religions, that's secularism. I think because of that reality the idea of secularism happened.
So now, I describe human values as secular ethics. If you have a religion - good, if not - good, no problem, but these basic human values must be recognized as one of the important factors for a happy life and a happy society. So my main effort is to promote secular ethics. Between various education bodies we need, I hope and I wish, some discussions, some seminars about the importance of human values in modern society.
I heard in this young nation, newly independent small nation of around 2 million people, particularly this morning when I met the mayor, the Rector was also there, I asked what's the crime rate, and they said that the crime rate comparatively to others is very low, and that’s really good news. More prosperity, good education, a very beautiful country, less crime within the human society, very friendly, more peaceful - that's wonderful. So that's what we need, after all we are same human beings, we all live on the same planet.
Now particularly in modern times, with the so called globalization, everything is interconnected, so it is very essential to have the sense of oneness of humanity. That I think is very essential.
So we need human values, and in order to have sufficient strength of human values, we need effort. It's not sufficient to say "These human values are part of our life, so they are already there!" That's a mistake. We must make effort on the basis of awareness on two sides, one is with awareness deliberately trying to increase these positive human minds, or emotions, such as sense of compassion, tolerance, community, sense of responsibility and also the sense of self-discipline. Self-discipline not like in the previous communist states, where everything was under control, one must obey what the state says, what the party says. Not that way, that's discipline imposed from outside, and that’s totally wrong. But with discipline here I mean discipline out of awareness.
If I have some trouble in the stomach, then when I choose food, although my tongue prefers this one, but then I think: "Oh, although this is good for my tongue, it is bad for my stomach!" Therefore in spite of the desire of my tongue, I consider a peaceful stomach more important than just a few minutes of taste, so I don't touch that. That's self-discipline, out of awareness, for my own interest. So now, what's the use of anger, fighting, alcohol, too much smoking? Eventually it ruins my own body, it ruins my own health. So out of awareness of that reality, in spite of some desire - discipline. That's discipline out of awareness. So we need a sense of discipline. These are human values and we must deliberately strengthen them out of awareness and investigation.
A helpful reason, also according to modern physicians: now they begin to realize that the peace of mind is a very crucial factor for good health, isn't it? How to develop the peace of mind? Not through prayers, not through just meditation: sometimes so-called meditation is just to close your eyes and think about nothing, just like that. Like that I think the pigeons also meditate very well, they remain like that; and some rabbits also - "Oh, very good meditation!"
So the real meditation is to analyze - long-term interest, short-term interest, interest of myself, interest of others. That's meditation, to analyze. Scientists are actually doing meditation, analytical meditation, and that's the way to change our mind. Scientists do analytical meditation mainly on external matters, spiritual meditation is to analyze within our own mind, and particularly the emotions. Analyze, what emotion is destructive, what emotion is good, constructive. So the peace of mind comes not through prayer, or through simple meditation, but through analytical meditation.
The real destroyers of our peace of mind are anger, hatred, jealousy, fear, on the other side the foundation of peace of mind is inner strength, self-confidence, and that is brought by with altruism, affection, compassion. Compassion opens us, opens our mind, then you see that the others are also part of myself, and that reduces the sense of fear, sense of distress. So, get more inner strength, and as a result, more peace of mind. Therefore out of awareness deliberately strengthen these good qualities of mind, and on the opposite side deliberately try to minimize anger, hatred… That's the proper way of transforming our emotions.
One example is knowledge. When we are born, we have very limited knowledge. But nobody says: "That’s part of our nature, so leave it!" Nobody says that, isn't it? Through years and years of effort, then eventually you become like Rector, like these great professors. Through effort, through learning you get more knowledge, isn't it? I think when our hair is becoming lesser and lesser, our wisdom is becoming greater and greater.
So it is similar with emotions, from the negative emotions' side, and from the positive emotions' side, through effort they can change, they will change. That's the way of promotion of secular human ethics.
That's about my talk. Thank you! Now some questions!
Q: As I understand Buddhism, the basic idea is that people are unhappy, because they want things they cannot get. So the answer of Buddhism is to control your ambitions. Without ambitions there is no progress, so how do we get both, progress and contentment?
A: All religions talk about the importance of contentment. From the Buddhist viewpoint, in the field of those things, which we can develop infinitely, we should not have any contentment, we should progress further and further, and develop them further and further. In those things, which themselves have limitations, it is better to have contentment.
Further elaboration - material, for example money, or even fame, they have limitations, so in such fields it is better to have contentment: "Yes, I have enough money, OK!" If you go further, expand, get more money, more money, eventually there's limitation. After all, our life also has a limitation, generally speaking maximum 100 years. So money is only for this life, for this physical body, it has nothing to do with our emotions, nothing to do with our mind. So in those fields, where there is limitation, it is better to have contentment. If there's more discontentment, there's more desire, more effort, then a slight hindrance comes - disappointment.
Then from the Buddhist point of view, mental qualities such as compassion can be developed infinitely, not only in this life, but life after life. So there you should not have contentment, because in reality you can develop them infinitely. And wisdom also. So those things, which are related to our mind, mental qualities, they have scope like space, limitless.
Ambitions of mental qualities should not have contentment; physical things have limitations, so in the matter, in the physical field ambitions, it is better to have contentment. Clear!
Q: You mentioned two negative phenomena in your speech. One was crime, one was the example of 11th September. Now I wonder, how should we view those negative things in our lives, how should we react to them?
A: Your question is not very clear. What should be our reaction to September 11? (and to crime in general…)
We must oppose! To the sense of responsibility, sense of community, the crime brings more discomfort, more fear, so we have to eliminate it, or at least we have to work to minimize it. That's why we are talking about the importance and promotion of human values. Why? If everything was good, than this kind of effort would not be needed.
There are so many problems on the family level, on the individual level. For example, on the individual level there are frustrations - one wanted to get something more but didn't get it, then he got too much mental unrest and frustration, then he is relying on alcohol, also relying on drugs, and in the worst case, commits suicide.
Killing is mainly done out of hatred, stealing or gangster crime is mainly, generally speaking, done out of desire and no respect of others' rights. So everything, you see, depends on motivation.
The demarcation of violence and non-violence - we can't judge on superficial appearances. One example, out of desire to cheat someone, to exploit the other, to fool the other, one uses a nice word, an artificial smile, some gift (like gift for happy birthday or Christmas), but his real motivation is to try to exploit, try to cheat. Then that act of a nice word, both physical and verbal action is violence. On the other hand, some teachers, professors, out of a sense of concern, sense of caring, use little harsh words, some disciplinary words. They look a little aggressive, but because this action is done out of concern, out of helping them, protecting their long-term interest, so essentially it is non-violence.
Therefore all these terrorist acts, these criminal acts on the international level, or national level, or community level, or family level, these are unwanted, and these must be eliminated, must be minimized. Clear!
Q: Do you see some hope for your country, for Tibet with all the troubles under the Chinese system?
A: Oh, yes! If you look at the Tibetan situation locally, then it looks almost hopeless. A lot of damage is done to the environment and there are a lot of cultural changes. Usually I describe that intentionally or unintentionally some kind of cultural genocide is taking place. Actually the policy in Tibet is the rule of terror, and you have also experienced these things.
If you look locally, then things are very difficult, almost hopeless, but the Tibet issue is very much related to the development of China proper. Now, look at the People's Republic of China, as a whole it is in the process of changing. Today's China compared to twenty, thirty years ago, is much changed, so it will change. It is China's own interest, they have to go along the global trend, that is to respect the human rights, to respect religious freedom, and to have the rule of law, freedom of speech, and freedom of media.
There are two Chinese reporters here, most welcome! What we need is freedom of your media, that’s important. Everything is censored, controlled by the government, just one-sided information is given to the Chinese public, that’s very sad, very very sad.
One example is my own case, I'm never demanding independence, I think I repeated a thousand times that I'm not seeking independence, I'm seeking genuine autonomy. Sometimes I'm jokingly telling the audience that I have one Mantra, which is: "I'm not seeking independence, I'm not seeking independence, I'm not seeking independence …", and the Chinese government's mantra is: "Tibet is part of China, Tibet is part of China…" The reputation of this mantra is that up to now it does not seem much effective, from both sides.
Therefore the global trend is open society. Look at the Soviet Union, the whole Eastern Europe including yourself was under its influence, under its control. You see, when the Berlin wall was there, some communist leaders expressed that this wall will remain for 700, if not 1000 years. But things changed, not with nuclear weapons, but by people themselves. We are human beings, and we have the desire for individual freedom by birth, so no state can stop that. That’s the reality, that’s why the Soviet Union changed.
In the Chinese case also, now in the communist party time is changing, they really work hard to change suitably according to existing circumstances. Therefore, China is in the process of changing. It is the Chinese own interest, sooner or later they have to go according to the global trend. Therefore, judging from that level, for the own interest of the People's Republic of China, they have to solve this problem, the Tibetan issue, realistically.
So, judging from that, it's hopeful, very very hopeful.
Q: Should we see animals and plants as equal to humans?
A: Plants, that’s something different. Like vegetables, when we bite them, there's no sign of pain on the vegetable or fruit, isn't it? Although, I think we must respect all forms of life. That means, too much exploitation of natural resources without limit, I think that’s a kind of violence. To use the natural resources for our minimal requirements, that of course is something different. If we believe in God, then God created these things, if not, they were created through evolution and they are the supporters of our life.
But then the beings are not only alive, but they experience cognitive power, and with that they feel pain and pleasure. So according to Buddhism and also Jainism, they belong to the same category - sentient beings. They all have the same desire, as I mentioned earlier, the same rights. Therefore we must respect animal rights.
Q: Slovenia is a Catholic country. Which values do you see as worthy to be kept in the society and also on the University?
A: As I mentioned earlier, all religions emphasize the importance of love, compassion, and forgiveness. I think the Gospel clearly mentioned: If someone hits you here, show the other side. This is the practice of tolerance, it's very clear. Then also contentment, if you visit some Catholic monasteries or nunneries, the life there is very simple, with great devotion to their own practice, their own faith. These are indications, that Catholicism considers the importance of human values.
I think whether an individual accepts religion or not, that’s up to the individual. But once you accept any religion as your own religion, then you should look at your own religious tradition more seriously and practice as much as you can in daily life. The mistake usually is that when you attend the Sunday church, then, as I mentioned earlier, you remain with eyes closed for a few moments, then you get some peace of mind at that moment, but when you carry on with your daily work outside the church, then that faith is no longer relevant. That’s a mistake.
Religion is something like medicine, when you're ill medicine is required. So similarly, in church there's no problem, there are no troublemakers, therefore your mind is quite peaceful. In any case, when your real life is involved, say, some unfriendly person approaches you and you have the tendency to have some negative feelings, at that moment you should remember: "Oh, Jesus told us to have tolerance, to respect others and to show love and compassion towards all fellow human beings!" Remember that, and then act accordingly. Then, if you have some desire to tell a lie, then remember: "Oh, I'm a follower of Jesus Christ, a follower of Christianity, I should not tell a lie!" So that’s the way. When the illness comes, you should take the medicine, similarly, when the trouble due to emotions is about to happen, then remember your faith and try to minimize that negative emotion. That’s the practice.
Usually I have the view it is much easier and logical to follow one's own tradition. So for example people from this country are traditionally Catholics, therefore it is safer and better to keep one's own tradition. There are also some people, who seem to be taking interest about Buddhism. Generally speaking, changing religion is a very serious matter, therefore you should be very very careful. Of course, once you really feel or find that your own tradition is no longer effective for yourself, and at the same time you don't want to be a radical atheist, but you want to be a more modern atheist, then it's OK. If you think very carefully, and then find that the Buddhist approach is more suitable, more effective, more acceptable according to your own mental dispositions, then it's OK. 


Words of Wisdom

"When there is no anger inside, there is no enemy outside."
- Lama Zopa Rinpoche

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