MARCH 2000 NEWS
ETHICS SHOULD GROW OUT OF COMMON SENSE
Svenska Dagbladet, Sweden, February 27, 2000
Common guidelines. New ethical issues put forward by gene technology - this has been the main theme on our page, "Heart & Soul" for the last weeks. But the entire mankind is facing the need of common guidelines, says the Dalai Lama in a book on global ethics. And there, he is not advocating any specific religion as a basis for these guidelines. Man can still be ethical, claims the Dalai Lama, who is expected to Sweden in May.
Mankind needs common ethics. But this can not be based on political ideas, or economical visions and, above all, it can not be built on philosophical speculations or a religious minimum acceptable standard. No, global ethics should grow out of common sense and everyday logics, which can be perceived and tested by everybody.
This is what one of the maybe most influential religious leaders in the world, the Dalai Lama, is explaining in his book, "Ethics for the New Millennium", which is to be published by Egmont Richter's publishing company soon before the Dalai Lama's visit to Sweden in May.
According to the Dalai Lama, new global ethics can not be formed around moral rules or intellectual speculations as to what is good and evil, right and wrong. Such rules are impossible to set up. What is right in one situation might be wrong on another occasion. What is good in the life of one human being leads to negative consequences in the life of someone else.
Therefore, ethics must be based on a few, self-evident truths with immediate consequences for our daily life.
Although the Dalai Lama writes that his ideas are not an attempt to spread Buddhist ethics, many of the basic concepts in Buddhism can be traced in his way of reasoning. This it not strange when considering his life and fate. But his goal is not to missionize. What he presents is a "spiritual reorientation" - not a "new religious revolution". -It is even doubtful if religion is the best starting point for the creation of new ethics today, writes he.
Increasing numbers of the citizens of the world choose to live without any close ties to religion, an so, new ethics must be created from other premises. Moreover, writes he, it is obvious that you do not need to be religious in order to lead a good and ethical life. Just as religion is no vaccination against evil.
Neither does the Dalai Lama advocate idealism. Trying to convince the rich that they have to share with the poor because it is morally right does not lead to any long-term changes, according to his view.
The same applies to rules. Of course, we human beings can certainly agree on a few common humanistic commandments which should be followed, and he gives examples from Buddhist ones: You should not kill, you should not lie, you should not steal, you should not assuage yourself with drugs, and you should lead a responsible sexual life. But this is not enough either. Taken by themselves, rules given to people from outside could make them abstain from certain actions, but ethics is much more than that.
Nevertheless we have to try to agree on some guidelines, says the Dalai Lama. We can no longer live in the notion of being separate and autonomous individuals. We are inseparably connected. What one human being does on his/her spot on earth affects by necessity the life and possibilities of all others.
And here is the starting point of the Dalai Lama's attempt to create global ethics.
Human beings, writes he, have two things in common (and here, those readers familiar with Buddhism can recognize what Buddha postulated 2600 years ago) - they want to avoid suffering and they are striving for happiness. And to be happy, says the Dalai Lama, is a human right.
The problem is only that the attempts of one individual to exercise his/her rights are running the risk of limiting those of others. My happiness becomes other people's unhappiness. My path away from my own suffering is causing suffering to others. And this, in the long run, will affect my own possibilities to reach happiness.
From this point of view, being ethical in relation to others is the only way to reach one's own happiness.
The Dalai Lama tries to prove, with examples out of everyday life, science, and in a global perspective, that this is true.
Man feels good when doing well - this is the Dalai Lama's simple presumption. That's the way man is constructed. Good actions not only put you in a good mood, they also induce the formation of good, healing hormones and useful chemical reactions in the body. Aggression and suspicion will poison and destroy the ill tempered, mentally and physically.
Globally and ecologically it is impossible to poison the Earth without an impact on all of us. A destructive policy will always destroy its creator in the long run.
According the Dalai Lama's definition, this means that good ethics consists in striving for your own physical and mental happiness without limiting the possibilities of any other human being(or, in Buddhist perspective, sentient being) to do the same.
But to do so, one must understand what gives lasting happiness to a human being, and also develop one's ability to enter into other people's situations and to assess one's own actions in relation to the consequences for other people. You must, writes the Dalai Lama, think, think, think.
The fact that man is happier when his fundamental needs are satisfied, writes the Dalai Lama, is beyond all doubt. But equally obvious is the fact that material resources exceeding this basic level do not automatically increase the satisfaction. It almost seems, writes he, to be the other way around.
The self-hatred he has seen in Europe and the US, he has never seen elsewhere. Not even the hardships that the exiled Tibetans went through, made them try to solve their problems by hurting themselves. On the contrary, he is surprised over how much joy there is in the shattered exile Tibetan community.
From this, says the Dalai Lama, the conclusion can be drawn that man's attitude to what he sees and experiences, is what determines the way he looks upon his own situation and his ability to create happiness for himself and for others. What make us rich is our inner resources.
In order to achieve a new attitude and thus be able to lead an ethically good life, one should, according to the Dalai Lama, realize some fundamental facts as well as practise what the Tibetans term "lo" (consciousness, feeling, and emotions) and "kun-long" (motivation).
Firstly, it is a matter of realizing the complexity of life and the interdependence of everything. Forget all simple answers, exhorts the Dalai Lama. In human relations there is nothing like black and white. Life is infinitely complex. The only possible approach is humbleness. Also, do not believe that you are a satellite with definite borders. An arm is not a human being, neither is the brain or the heart. Nothing of what man is, defines him.
The same applies to man's position in society. What is a mother without children, a boss without employees, a rich man without the poor. Man, as well as everything else existing, is only in relation to something else. Actually, writes the Dalai Lama, nothing exists but relations.
From this way of looking upon reality, one can then try to reduce one's angry, automatic defense reactions. If everything is connected and complex, it is not as easy to get angry with the merest trifle. In the same way it is easier to feel compassion and love towards those around you when seeing how similar we all are, and how much we depend on each other.
Here, religions can also be of use, says the Dalai Lama. For thousands of years they have developed techniques with the purpose of increasing compassion in man. But, frankly speaking, Mr. Dalai Lama - look around! Is man really an ethical being?
Yes, absolutely, claims the man who was driven out of his own country. The capacity to love is inborn and deeply rooted. It starts as soon as the child is born, maybe even earlier. The newborn is directly seeking contact with his mother, and his mother gives willingly of her love as well as her body. This is the basis, and it is universal, writes he in his book. Because in spite of hardship, most people are daily striving to get and to give love. It is clearly seen in man's universal loathing for war and violence.
But certainly, all of us do also have the capacity of becoming murderers. Nevertheless, people like Hitler, Mao and Stalin are still exceptions, fruits of a specific historical situation. The normal thing is mankind's not-discussed everyday actions of love towards each other.
And should a person, due to various circumstances, be unable to strive for good actions, the Dalai Lama offers a light-version of his global ethics:
- Try at least to avoid doing harm.
WTN-L World Tibet Network News