Ethics for the New Millennium


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The Dalai Lama bases his exquisitely argued cry for a new look at society on the radical notion that human beings are "originally pure" and presents a persuasive examination of man's fundamental nature. His moral system is founded on universal principles and can lead persons of any religion to a happier, more fulfilling life. (World Religions)

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Mar 31, 2018

A Call To Spiritual Awakening

This book, "Ethics for the New Millennium" was written at the time of the change from the 20th to the 21st Century. The Dalai Lama used the change to the new Millennium as a call to ethical and spiritual reflection and to an awakening to a new, informed inner life.

The book is eloquent and compelling. The Dalai Lama's command of English is somewhat limited, and the text undoubtedly underwent substantial editing. But the sincerity and power of the book shines through, as does the Dalai Lama's modesty. It is something of a rarity for a book to sound the call to spiritual renewal while refusing to proselytize or to promote a specific creed.

The Dalai Lama promises repeatedly that his book is concerned with ethics and spirituality rather than with Buddhist beliefs. There is nothing in this book, for example, that even suggests the reader take up a meditation practice. Although there is a substantial treatment of the difficult Buddhist teaching of Dependent Origination, the Dalai Lama makes good on his word. The book can be read and appreciated by people who are secular -- without a religious faith -- and by those who are committed to a faith tradition other than Buddhism.

The Dalai Lama's basic message here, I think, is that all people strive to be happy. In the West, we tend to equate the pursuit of happiness with materialistic success. This goes part of the way to happiness but has difficulties in terms of the anxiety, competitiveness, and insensitiveness to ourselves and others that it creates. The Dalai Lama's answer, in common with much religious and spiritual writing, is to look inward. What is important is how the Dalai Lama elaborates his teaching in this book.

The Dalai Lama insists that spiritual renewal requires a commitment to ethical behavior. There are two levels to this. The first, more basic level, is to act in a way that doesn't bring harm. This is a seemingly simple teaching, but one difficult to put in practice in specific situations. The second level is to aim to be other-directed rather than self-directed in one's actions. This means acting with patience, generosity, compassion, nonviolence, empathy, thought for the other person, rather than for oneself. For the Dalai Lama this second level underlies all spirituality and religious traditions and is more fundamental than any metaphysical or faith issues. People can disagree on the latter or not hold any religious position at all.

After developing the foundations of what he sees as ethical and spiritual behavior, the Dalai Lama offers suggestions for the individual's redirection of him or herself in terms of restraint, virtue, compassion, and the relief of suffering. Again, I was struck by the modesty of the teaching and by the Dalai Lama's claim that spiritual redirection can be independent of the individual's commitment or lack of commitment to a religious creed. The Dalai Lama emphasizes at one point that "we are not talking about Buddahood here" but rather about how any individual can aim for ethical and spiritual redirection.

A chapter in the final section of the book discusses "the role of religion in modern society." The Dalai Lama explains his own commitment to Tibetan Buddhism but insists again that such commitment is unnecessary for the individual to redirect energy to the ethical/spiritual life. In fact, in this book the Dalai Lama discourages religious conversion but urges the reader to remain in his or her own faith and work within it. He maintains that all religions teach the same basic ethical and spiritual precepts while their metaphysical or faith commitments differ. He offers a plea that people from different faith traditions learn that they can learn much from each other while maintaining their own belief system. He reiterates that people shouldn't force themselves to have a religion at all if they are committed to a secular worldview.

There is a great deal of wisdom and simplicity in this book. It may be valuable to those who want to consider redirecting or better understanding themselves.

Robin Friedman

Tom W

Jan 20, 2014

Good nick and very thought provoking. Always worth reading

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