The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, noted Buddhist spiritual guide, is one of the most widely-respected voices today for global peace and interfaith understanding. In this book, he makes a passionate appeal to the world for peace at a time of serious and seemingly constantly-multiplying conflicts.
The peace that the Dalai Lama calls for is rooted in a secular ethics that he regards as of universal applicability, beyond particular religions. He points that violence has been routinely committed in the name of religion down the centuries and that religion has often been used for bolstering sectional political or economic interests. Hence, he suggests a form of ethics beyond religion, which can be helpful to atheists and agnostics too, besides religious believers. It would be based on values which do not contradict any religion but which also do not depend on any particular religion. Being rooted in our common humanity may enable this secular ethics to gain greater cross-cultural and cross-religious acceptance and thus serve as an acceptable basis for relationships between diverse communities. In this regard, the Dalai Lama harkens to what he calls “our fundamental human spirituality”, which he defines as “the affinity we humans have for love, benevolence, and affection—no matter what religion we belong to.” Another basic value here is empathy, which is, he says, the basis of human coexistence.
In practical terms, the secular ethics that the Dalai Lama recommends as a necessary ingredient for peaceful relations between communities and countries in our times requires us to focus and build on what unites us rather than what sets us apart. Noting that “humanity is all one big family”, he remarks that “we are still focussing far too much on our differences and our commonalities.”
Recognising our common humanness despite and beyond our religious or national differences is essential for global peace. This consciousness can enable us to think globally about the future of the whole world and also deal with crises that affect the whole planet (and not just with those that concern the social groups we might identify with). “Whether we want to or not, we must live together”, the Dalai Lama tells us. “Living together as brothers and sisters is the only way to peace, compassion, mindfulness, and more justice.”
This global awareness must impel people from different religious and national backgrounds to transform the way we relate to each other—moving from competition to cooperation. In this regard, the Dalai Lama says, ‘The most important question we can ask for a better world is “How can we serve each other?”’
Thinking and acting globally also works for our own benefit. Altruism makes us happier, he reminds us. “If all seven billion humans first considered what unites them and not what divides them, they would have less stress and less anger”, he remarks.
The process of working for global peace must start with the individual, the Dalai Lama rightly indicates. In this regard, he quotes the well-known saying: “Be the change that you want to see in the world.” The primary cause of violence, he points out, are negative emotions. These need to be overcome by inculcating a positive state of mind. Instead of criticising others, the Dalai Lama advises, we should strive to change ourselves.
Educating young people for peace is a basic component of the Dalai Lama’s approach to global peace-building. This requires a major change in understanding what education is or ought to be. Educational systems, the Dalai Lama says, should educate not only the brain but also the heart. They should place greater emphasis on strengthening human abilities such as warm-heartedness, the sense of oneness of humanity and love. In this regard, the Dalai Lama rightly notes, “At present our educational systems are mainly oriented towards material values and training one’s understanding”. He suggests that “We should place greater emphasis on inner values.” “Compassion and love have been neglected far too much in education”, he points out, adding, “We can and must change that now.”
In this regard the Dalai Lama talks of education of the heart—a form of social, emotional, and ethical learning—nurturing children in values such as love, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance and peace. This education is necessary, he says, at all levels of formal education, from kindergarten to higher schooling and universities and it must be a worldwide initiative.
Along with the inner transformation that is essential for us to become peace-loving individuals, the Dalai Lama recommends strategies for peace-building at a broader level. These include promoting dialogue as means of conflict resolution, which rules out war as a way to deal with differences. The Dalai Lama notes that “The idea that problems can be solved with violence and weapons is a disastrous delusion. With rare exceptions, violence always leads to more violence. In our interconnected world, war is an anachronism that contradicts reason and ethics.” He rightly explains, “Violent methods are outdated.”
For those yearning for peace in a badly bruised world and seeking to contribute in their own ways to help make the world a more harmonious place, this book is a precious gem.