Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World

Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World


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“A book that brings people together on the firm grounds of shared values, reminding us why the Dalai Lama is still one of the most important religious figures in the world.” —Huffington Post, “Best Religious Books of 2011”

Ten years ago, in the best-selling Ethics for a New Millennium, His Holiness the Dalai Lama first proposed an approach to ethics based on universal rather than religious principles. With Beyond Relgion, he returns to the conversation at his most outspoken, elaborating and deepening his vision for the nonreligious way—a path to lead an ethical, happy, and spiritual life. Transcending the religion wars, he outlines a system of ethics for our shared world, one that makes a stirring appeal for a deep appreciation of our common humanity, offering us all a road map for improving human life on individual, community, and global levels.

“Cogent and fresh . . . This ethical vision is needed as we face the global challenges of technological progress, peace, environmental destruction, greed, science, and educating future generations.” —Spirtuality & Practice

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780547844282
Publisher: HMH Books
Publication date: 11/06/2012
Pages: 188
Sales rank: 103,552
Product dimensions: 5.44(w) x 7.82(h) x 0.54(d)

About the Author

TENZIN GYATSO, His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, is the spiritual and temporal leader of the Tibetan people. His tireless efforts on behalf of human rights and world peace have earned him international recognition, including the Nobel Peace Prize.

Read an Excerpt


I am an old man now. I was born in 1935 in a small village in northeastern Tibet. For reasons beyond my control, I have lived most of my adult life as a stateless refugee in India, which has been my second home for over fifty years. I often joke that I am India’s longest-staying guest. In common with other people of my age, I have witnessed many of the dramatic events that have shaped the world we live in. Since the late 1960s, I have also traveled a great deal, and have had the honor to meet people from many different backgrounds: not just presidents and prime ministers, kings and queens, and leaders from all the world’s great religious traditions, but also a great number of ordinary people from all walks of life.
  Looking back over the past decades, I find many reasons to rejoice. Through advances in medical science, deadly diseases have been eradicated. Millions of people have been lifted from poverty and have gained access to modern education and health care. We have a universal declaration of human rights, and awareness of the importance of such rights has grown tremendously. As a result, the ideals of freedom and democracy have spread around the world, and there is increasing recognition of the oneness of humanity. There is also growing awareness of the importance of a healthy environment. In very many ways, the last half-century or so has been one of progress and positive change.
  At the same time, despite tremendous advances in so many fields, there is still great suffering, and humanity continues to face enormous difficulties and problems. While in the more affluent parts of the world people enjoy lifestyles of high consumption, there remain countless millions whose basic needs are not met. With the end of the Cold War, the threat of global nuclear destruction has receded, but many continue to endure the sufferings and tragedy of armed conflict. In many areas, too, people are having to deal with environmental problems and, with these, threats to their livelihood and worse. At the same time, many others are struggling to get by in the face of inequality, corruption, and injustice.
  These problems are not limited to the developing world. In the richer countries, too, there are many difficulties, including widespread social problems: alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic violence, family breakdown. People are worried about their children, about their education and what the world holds in store for them. Now, too, we have to recognize the possibility that human activity is damaging our planet beyond a point of no return, a threat which creates further fear. And all the pressures of modern life bring with them stress, anxiety, depression, and, increasingly, loneliness. As a result, everywhere I go, people are complaining. Even I find myself complaining from time to time!
  It is clear that something is seriously lacking in the way we humans are going about things. But what is it that we lack? The fundamental problem, I believe, is that at every level we are giving too much attention to the external material aspects of life while neglecting moral ethics and inner values.
  By inner values I mean the qualities that we all appreciate in others, and toward which we all have a natural instinct, bequeathed by our biological nature as animals that survive and thrive only in an environment of concern, affection, and warmheartedness—or in a single word, compassion. The essence of compassion is a desire to alleviate the suffering of others and to promote their well-being. This is the spiritual principle from which all other positive inner values emerge. We all appreciate in others the inner qualities of kindness, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, and generosity, and in the same way we are all averse to displays of greed, malice, hatred, and bigotry. So actively promoting the positive inner qualities of the human heart that arise from our core disposition toward compassion, and learning to combat our more destructive propensities, will be appreciated by all. And the first beneficiaries of such a strengthening of our inner values will, no doubt, be ourselves. Our inner lives are something we ignore at our own peril, and many of the greatest problems we face in today’s world are the result of such neglect.
  Not long ago I visited Orissa, a region in eastern India. The poverty in this part of the country, especially among tribal people, has recently led to growing conflict and insurgency. I met with a member of parliament from the region and discussed these issues. From him I gathered that there are a number legal mechanisms and well-funded government projects already in place aimed at protecting the rights of tribal people and even giving them material assistance. The problem, he said, was that the funds provided by the government were not reaching those they were intended to help. When such projects are subverted by corruption, inefficiency, and irresponsibility on the part of those charged with implementing them, they become worthless.
  This example shows very clearly that even when a system is sound, its effectiveness depends on the way it is used. Ultimately, any system, any set of laws or procedures, can only be as effective as the individuals responsible for its implementation. If, owing to failures of personal integrity, a good system is misused, it can easily become a source of harm rather than a source of benefit. This is a general truth which applies to all fields of human activity, even religion. Though religion certainly has the potential to help people lead meaningful and happy lives, it too, when misused, can become a source of conflict and division. Similarly, in the fields of commerce and finance, the systems themselves may be sound, but if the people using them are unscrupulous and driven by self-serving greed, the benefits of those systems will be undermined. Unfortunately, we see this happening in many kinds of human activities: even in international sports, where corruption threatens the very notion of fair play.
  Of course, many discerning people are aware of these problems and are working sincerely to redress them from within their own areas of expertise. Politicians, civil servants, lawyers, educators, environmentalists, activists, and so on—people from all sides are already engaged in this effort. This is very good so far as it goes, but the fact is, we will never solve our problems simply by instituting new laws and regulations. Ultimately, the source of our problems lies at the level of the individual. If people lack moral values and integrity, no system of laws and regulations will be adequate. So long as people give priority to material values, then injustice, inequity, intolerance, and greed—all the outward manifestations of neglect of inner values—will persist.
  So what are we to do? Where are we to turn for help? Science, for all the benefits it has brought to our external world, has not yet provided scientific grounding for the development of the foundations of personal integrity—the basic inner human values that we appreciate in others and would do well to promote in ourselves. Perhaps we should seek inner values from religion, as people have done for millennia? Certainly religion has helped millions of people in the past, helps millions today, and will continue to help millions in the future. But for all its benefits in offering moral guidance and meaning in life, in today’s secular world religion alone is no longer adequate as a basis for ethics. One reason for this is that many people in the world no longer follow any particular religion. Another reason is that, as the peoples of the world become ever more closely interconnected in an age of globalization and in multicultural societies, ethics based in any one religion would only appeal to some of us; it would not be meaningful for all. In the past, when peoples lived in relative isolation from one another—as we Tibetans lived quite happily for many centuries behind our wall of mountains—the fact that groups pursued their own religiously based approaches to ethics posed no difficulties. Today, however, any religion-based answer to the problem of our neglect of inner values can never be universal, and so will be inadequate. What we need today is an approach to ethics which makes no recourse to religion and can be equally acceptable to those with faith and those without: a secular ethics.
  This statement may seem strange coming from someone who from a very early age has lived as a monk in robes. Yet I see no contradiction here. My faith enjoins me to strive for the welfare and benefit of all sentient beings, and reaching out beyond my own tradition, to those of other religions and those of none, is entirely in keeping with this.
  I am confident that it is both possible and worthwhile to attempt a new secular approach to universal ethics. My confidence comes from my conviction that all of us, all human beings, are basically inclined or disposed toward what we perceive to be good. Whatever we do, we do because we think it will be of some benefit. At the same time, we all appreciate the kindness of others. We are all, by nature, oriented toward the basic human values of love and compassion. We all prefer the love of others to their hatred. We all prefer others’ generosity to their meanness. And who among us does not prefer tolerance, respect, and forgiveness of our failings to bigotry, disrespect, and resentment?
  In view of this, I am of the firm opinion that we have within our grasp a way, and a means, to ground inner values without contradicting any religion and yet, crucially, without depending on religion. The development and practice of this new system of ethics is what I propose to elaborate in the course of this book. It is my hope that doing so will help to promote understanding of the need for ethical awareness and inner values in this age of excessive materialism.
  At the outset I should make it clear that my intention is not to dictate moral values. Doing that would be of no benefit. To try to impose moral principles from outside, to impose them, as it were, by command, can never be effective. Instead, I call for each of us to come to our own understanding of the importance of inner values. For it is these inner values which are the source of both an ethically harmonious world and the individual peace of mind, confidence, and happiness we all seek. Of course, all the world’s major religions, with their emphasis on love, compassion, patience, tolerance, and forgiveness, can and do promote inner values. But the reality of the world today is that grounding ethics in religion is no longer adequate. This is why I believe the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics that is beyond religion.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments v
Introduction ix

Part I:
 1. Rethinking Secularism 3
 2. Our Common Humanity 21
 3. The Quest for Happiness 31
 4. Compassion, the Foundation of Well-Being 41
 5. Compassion and the Question of Justice 57
 6. The Role of Discernment 73
 7. Ethics in Our Shared World 83

Part II:
 8. Ethical Mindfulness in Everyday Life 103
 9. Dealing with Destructive Emotions 113
 10. Cultivating Key Inner Values 137
 11. Meditation as Mental Cultivation 155

Afterword 185

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Beyond Religion 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 35 reviews.
Virago59 More than 1 year ago
His Holiness tends to be a little wordy, but is the epitome of humility and grace. His philosophy of ethics truly does transcend religion and speaks to the essential sameness of human beings: we are all complex organisms pursuing happiness and avoiding suffering. And the more we help ONE ANOTHER understand and attain those goals, the better of humanity is as a whole.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Dalai Lama writes with such common sence and understanding. The world would certainly be a much better place if everyone would follow his teaching. It reaches across all nations and people. I want to read more.
Deesigner More than 1 year ago
This book really made me look at what we all offer to the world. We are all connected yet often people feel so isolated. His point of getting religion out of ethics discussions is well taken and certainly makes more sense to me than anything else I've read on the subject.
Rock_Chalk_Nellie More than 1 year ago
His Holiness the Dalai Lama presents a very simple philosophy; a way for all people of every religion, race, and ethnicity to live peaceably together in the World. If only we have the courage to take it into our hearts and live by it. One person at a time . . . let it begin with me.
hideva More than 1 year ago
Very insightful & recommended. Check it out.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A short read but packed full from start to finish this book is a must read for anyone interested in ethics.
jason77 More than 1 year ago
awsome, informed non biased..... recommend to anyone
frellingtralk on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
His Holiness uses this book, Beyond Religion, to further three basic premises. First, one does not have to be religious to be ethical. Second, one does not have to be religious in order to practice meditation. Third, meditation fosters the clarity and self-discipline that are necessary in order to live an ethical life. He goes on to argue that meditation should be included as part of formal ethical training in public schools because modern school systems are no longer tied to religious institutions, and so do not inculcate their students into a set of religious norms. Even if they did no single religion is a good fit for all 7 billion people alive today. The result is that, absent formal ethical training, people are adopting consumer capitalism as their default ethical system. This has dire implications for the health of the global ecology and for our ability to relate to one another compassionately. The first half of the book is spent making the case for the existence of and need for secular ethics. The second half is an introduction to meditation practice and an explanation of its benefits for the individual and for society. Both are written simply and warmly, which is amazing considering the complexity of the topic and the delicacy with which the subject must be handled. Ultimately, I found this book to be a very engaging paradox. Here is a man whose public identity is inseparable with a non-theistic religion making the case to both atheists and theists that for the good of the species mindfulness meditation should be included in public education. Skeptical atheists will likely question the value of listening to a person whose formal title is "His Holiness" and dogmatic theists will likely object to the notion of an ethical system outside of revelation. If they can get past these preconceptions and actually pick up the book they will find it to be a very unassuming, cogent and charming attempt at addressing how to deal with the breathtaking greed that seems so characteristic of our age. No matter what your preferred cosmology, I strongly encourage you to engage with this book. Even if your conclusions wind up differing from the author's you'll be richer for the encounter.
Bidwell-Glaze on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book, Beyond Religion, speaks from the Eastern values and words causing me to re-think the words; secular to include those who have faith; and mental to include the heart; and so many other definitions. I am grateful for the way the author defines the words he uses the first time he does so, in a way that causes me to think, and not to feel condescended to. I had not considered the ideal of compassion being the foundation for my own happiness, although it made me happy to be able to help others. This book gave me the tools to help me create in myself the kind of person I want to be.
kurvanas on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a very nice, brief collection from His Holiness that is best summed up by paraphrasing from the book itself: People cannot live without the dignity we all deserve as humans. Though technically a furtherance of his seminal work Ethics for a New Millennium, it is a stand alone, crystal-clear guidebook for embracing the post-religious world.This is a succinct, gentle reminder that simple empathy and compassion go a long way towards healing all that ails the world. The book tunes out the white-noise of our hectic lives. It cuts through confusion. The lesson is easy. Despite the ever-turning wheel of material/technological/political change, simple guidelines for simply improving life are easy to follow.Of course the sticking to them is the hard part. But this book is full of reminders about how to stay on the path. One of my favorite (and I think most important) prompts was his call to always educate future generations. It is our responsibility and should be our chief priority. This book is a good start in teaching "ethics for a whole world."
streamsong on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In the first half of this book, the Dalai Lama puts forth a very interesting discussion of secular ethics. He believes that externally-imposed, religion-based ethics are on the wane. Instead, he suggests that people need to adopt a system of internal ethics based on our recognition of each other¿s humanity. Once we recognize that all humans desire love and the absence of suffering, we can connect to each other on this most basic human level and formulate a system of ethics based upon compassion. He demonstrates how such a system includes not only compassion, but justice.The second half of the book is a series of mindfulness meditation exercises designed to help people focus on their emotions and be able to tap into their compassion. This section is very basic. The meditation exercises are, of course, based on Buddhist exercises, but given the book¿s theme of `Beyond Religion¿ they are explained in secular terms. I found the Dalai Lama¿s philosophy of ethics to be very interesting especially given my strictly Judeo-Christian ethics background. There was much to consider, and I¿m sure I¿ll be re-reading and referring to this section of the book. The second section, including the mindfulness exercises did not have much new material if you have other experience with meditation practice, but would be useful to newcomers.The Dalai Lama states that he has taught secular ethics worldwide and has written this book in response to questions of how to teach these concepts. I can see this book being especially useful for teachers wanting to introduce secular ethics and mindfulness exercises into their classroomsThe entire book is highly readable with a beautifully clear style that really connects the reader with the Dalai Lama¿s vision of a better society through the personal growth of individuals.
gwoodrow on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Really amazing. Most of the other reviews on here already hit the nail on the head in terms of the specifics of content, so I'll just add my brief $0.02. If you've read a lot of HHDL's previous writings you won't find a whole lot of very new thoughts. However, if you're looking for somewhere gentle to start then this is the book to go for. It's shorter and more succinct that some of his other works while also conveying many of the core messages well.
seidchen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
'Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World' has sprung from what seems to be H.H. the Dalai Lama's commitment to fostering compassion as widely as possible--in this instance, beyond Buddhists and even individuals who identify as religious. Written in a straightforward, colloquial voice with characteristic good humor, this book opens in its first half a broad discussion of secular ethics grounded in human nature. The second half offers advice--some a bit abstract, but some direct and pragmatic--on building or sustaining a regular practice of compassion. I worry a bit that assuming this must be done through formal meditation practices may be too far outside the norm for many who haven't decided to cultivate mindfulness, but the broad, embracing vision of this book is likely to interest many individuals from a variety of backgrounds.
susiebrooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Without a doubt the best book written by the Dalai Lama, so far. I really didn't want to finish Beyond Religion and now that I have, I feel the need to read it again. I recognise that I have a tremendous lack of tolerance for religion and those who profess to be devoutly anything. This book came into my life at a very good time and I highly recommend it. I can not imagine anyone not benefiting from what His Holiness has to share. His acceptance is inspiring.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a very practical book on developing secular ethics. Yes it is based in Buddhist tradition however the scope of the book is much Beyond Buddhism. It was an enjoyable reading and gave me many things to think about.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
All of our personal feelings originate within our minds. We experience daily sensations, emotions, reactions, creative ideas, strong opinions, and destructive thoughts. We experience religious doctrines and principles but must adapt them within ourselves. This involves mental exercising that should involve training and practice. This is the topic and goal of this book. The topics are presented well and mind training is carefully described. It then is put into the reader's hands to train and practice.
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WeeZee1935 More than 1 year ago
A very insightful expression of the Dalai Lama's philosophy on the ethics of mankind respective of relidious affiliation.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago