Further quotations from the Dalai Lama:
Concern for others’ well-being.
There is much confusion, as often among religious believers as among non-believers, concerning what spiritual practice actually consists in. The unifying characteristics of the qualities I have described as ‘spiritual’, may be said to be some level of concern for others’ well-being. In Tibetan we speak of shen-pen kyi-sem, meaning ‘the thought to be of help to others’. And when we think about them, we see that each of the qualities noted is defined by an implicit concern for the well-being of others.
Moreover, the one who is compassionate, loving, patient, tolerant, forgiving, and so on to some extent recognises the potential impact of their actions on others and orders their conduct accordingly. Thus spiritual practice involves acting out of concern for others’ well-being.
It also entails transforming ourselves so that we become more readily disposed to do so. To speak of spiritual practice in any terms other than these is meaningless.
My call for a spiritual revolution is therefore not a call for a religious revolution. Nor is it a reference to a way of life that is somehow otherworldly, still less to something magical or mysterious. Rather, it is a call for a radical reorientation away from our habitual preoccupation with self. It is a call for a turn toward the wider community of human beings with whom we are connected, and for conduct which recognises others’ interests alongside our own.
Some may object that a revolution of spirit is hardly adequate to solve the variety and magnitude of problems we face in the modern world. However, given that each problem could certainly be solved by people being more loving and compassionate toward one another – however improbable this may seem – they can also be characterised as spiritual problems susceptible to a spiritual solution.
This is not to say that all we need do is cultivate spiritual values and these problems will automatically disappear. On the contrary, each of them needs a specific solution. But we find that when this spiritual dimension is neglected, we have no hope of achieving a lasting solution.
Bad news is a fact of life. Events can be divided into two broad categories: those which have principally natural causes – earthquakes, droughts, floods and the like – and those which are of human origin. Wars, crime, violence of every sort, corruption, poverty, deception, fraud, social, political and economic injustice are each the consequence of negative human behaviour.
And who is responsible for such behaviour? We are. There is not a single class or sector of society that does not contribute to our daily diet of unhappy news. Fortunately, unlike natural disasters, about which we can do little or nothing, these human problems can be overcome because they are all essentially ethical problems.
Where ethical restraint is lacking, there can be no hope of overcoming problems like those of rising crime. What then is the relationship between spirituality and ethical practice? Since love, compassion, etc, by definition presume some level of concern for others’ well-being, they also presume ethical restraint. We cannot be loving and compassionate unless at the same time we curb our own harmful impulses and desires.
Religious belief is no guarantee of moral integrity. Looking at the history of our species, we see that among the major troublemakers – those who visited violence, brutality and destruction on their fellow human beings – there have been many who professed religious faith, often loudly. Religion can help us establish basic ethical principles. Yet we can still talk about ethics and morality without having recourse to religion.
We must be able to show that violence towards others is wrong. And yet we must find some way of doing so which avoids the extremes of crude absolutism on the one hand, and of trivial relativism on the other. Ordinary common sense should tell us that establishing binding ethical principles is possible when we take as our starting point the observation that we all desire happiness and wish to avoid suffering. We have no means of discriminating between right and wrong if we do not take into account others’ feelings, others’ suffering.
One of the things which determines whether an act is ethical or not is its effect on others’ experience or expectation of happiness. An act which harms or does violence to this is potentially an unethical act.
Emotions and motivation.
When an individual’s overall state of heart and mind is wholesome, it follows that our actions themselves will be (ethically) wholesome.
The individual’s overall state of heart and mind (or motivation) in the moment of action is the key to determining its ethical content, and this point is easily understood when we consider how our actions are affected when we are gripped with powerful negative thoughts and emotions such as hatred and anger. In that moment our mind and heart are in turmoil.
Not only does this cause us to lose our sense of proportion and perspective, but we also lose sight of the likely impact of our actions on others. Indeed, we can become so distracted that we ignore the question of others, and of their right to happiness, altogether. Our actions under such circumstances – that is to say our deeds, words, thoughts, omissions and desires – will almost certainly be injurious to others’ happiness. And this in spite of what our long-term intentions towards others may be or whether our actions are consciously intended or not. The less calm we are, the more likely we are to react negatively with harsh words, and the more certain we are to say or do things which later we regret bitterly, especially if we feel deeply for that person.
When the driving force for our actions is wholesome, our actions will tend automatically to contribute to others’ well-being. They will thus automatically be ethical. Further, the more this is our habitual state, the less likely we are to react badly when provoked. And even when we do lose our temper, any outburst will be free of any sense of malice or hatred. The aim of spiritual and, therefore, ethical practice is thus to transform and perfect the individual’s kun long [spirit, disposition, motivation]. This is how we become better human beings. [Spiritual intelligence]
I trust that I have made it clear that a spiritual revolution entails an ethical revolution.
Ancient Wisdom, Modern World – Ethics for the New Millenium.
The Dalai Lama
. . . . . .
The greatest achievement is selflessness.
The greatest worth is self-mastery.
The greatest quality is seeking to serve others.
The greatest precept is continual awareness.
The greatest medicine is the emptiness of everything.
The greatest action is not conforming with the world’s ways.
The greatest magic is transmuting the passions.
The greatest generosity is non-attachment.
The greatest goodness is a peaceful mind.
The greatest patience is humility.
The greatest effort is not concerned with results.
The greatest meditation is a mind that lets go.
The greatest wisdom is seeing through appearances.
Atisha (11th century Tibetan Buddhist master)
- More Thoughts on Emotional Intelligence (3diassociates.wordpress.com)