Dalai Lama discusses secular ethics

The Tibetan religious leader was in Prague for Forum 2000

The Dalai Lama gave a public talk on the topic of secular ethics at Prague's Lucerna ballroom Oct. 19. It followed his appearance a day earlier at panel at Forum 2000, an annual meeting of politicians and thinkers.

The Dalai Lama also met with some four dozen Czech politicians at Kolowrat Palace. Forum 2000 head Jan Klepal started the public talk by thanking the politicians who had the courage to meet the Dalai Lama in the current political climate.

The Dalai Lama began his talk by mentioning that Czechoslovakia was once a big arms producer, and wondering how many people's lives were diminished but the bullets made there. “But the past is the past,” he said.

“Under the leadership of the late Václav Havel I think your nation firmly stands on principle, moral principle,” he said adding he appreciates the firm support for Tibetan issues. He expressed his thanks not only for the millions of Tibetan people, but also for the people of the planet who love nonviolence.

His main commitment is promoting human values in order to create a happy world, he said. Money matters are important, but what is most important is peace of mind. Compassion is the ultimate source of peace of mind. Scientific findings show that the basic human nature is to be compassionate. “That is hopeful sign,” he said, adding that if the basic nature was anger there would be no hope. “There is real hope. With hope you must make effort continuously,” he said.

His second commitment was to promoting religious harmony, as all religions have messages of love in common. His third commitment was to promoting Tibet. He reminded people that he totally retired from politics in 2011. He spends much of his efforts on environmental issues and preserving Tibetan culture and language.

After his opening comments he took questions from the audience for the next two hours. People are not angry, he maintains. The first few years of a baby's life are filled with love. “Anger comes later,” he said. He got back to his position that science maintains we are compassionate, but asked then why are there so many troubles. “In many parts of he world like Syria and Iraq right now a human being is being killed by another human being,” he said. The problem comes after childhood with training of the mind. “There is too much nationalism. Too much egoism,” he said. This creates a distinction of us and them. “That is a shortsighted, narrow-minded view,” he said. “We can remove that through education and awareness. The current education system is not adequate,” he said, as it is too oriented in material value. “Many countries now realize material development alone will not bring happiness,” he said.

We need to find ways to include ethics and compassion in secular education. The current system does not pay attention to inner values. The system he envisions is not based on faith but on scientific findings, common experience and common values, and it would cover all 7 billion human beings. He also said that the concept of secularism needs to respect all religions and well as nonbelievers.

In terms of politics, he praised the European Union for breaking down nationalistic animosity between neighboring countries. France and Germany used to look on each other as enemies but since the development of the EU they no longer do. “I am hoping the European spirit will expand in Africa, in Northern Africa, Southern Africa and eventually one African Union. Then Latin America, one union. Of course, [it is] not easy, but we should keep in our minds certain visions,” he said. People's thinking in the 21st century seems to be more based on reason than emotion, which is a good sign, he added. Education and awareness can help to create a oneness of humanity.

As far as the environment was concerned, the Dalai Lama was enthusiastic about solar energy. “It is almost limitless. We do not yet fully use solar energy,” he said, calling for more planning and a common effort. He wants the European Union to become a leader in solar energy and to be an example for the rest of the world. He would like a future Forum 2000 to include scientists to discuss the topic.

He was positive about the overall condition of Europe, and also the US and Japan. People tend to complain and complain, but they need to look at conditions in other countries and see how fortunate they are. Modern people have too much sense of competition and too much desire, and a lack of knowledge on how to deal with these difficulties mentally. He brought this back to his idea that education needs to contain universal ethics from kindergarten up to the university level. Future generations would then have happier and more peaceful societies, but this will take time and effort.

The suicide rate in rural areas is lower than in big cities, due to the sense of community. Trust and friendship are the basis of community, he said. The suicide rate is down, he added, and if everyone was worried all the time it would be up.

He mentioned that political corruption was a cancer on society, but not all politicians were corrupt.

“Just a few days ago I met the president of Slovakia [Andrej Kiska]. I think he is almost like your father, President Havel. Men of truth, men of principle. There are such people. And President Obama, I also think is a man of truth, man of principle, wonderful. So, not all politicians [are bad],” he said. Later he added that despite some drawbacks, America is the leading nation of the free world. “Your ancestors really considered the importance of liberty, freedom, democracy, these are wonderful principals,” he said. Current American life is too much in the easy way, though. “I think American students are lacking knowledge of the outside situation. Americans should learn more about outside countries and how difficult it is, and then compared to that I think America is very good,” he said.

Things are changing in politics, he said, as politicians now address the concept of compassion, which they did not do in the past, although the economy still remains the main concern of governments.

He concluded by saying that he hoped to return to Forum 2000 soon, if he is invited. After leaving Prague he will go to Italy.

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