A 21st Century Ideal

Dalai Lama

“No matter what part of the world we come from, we are all basically the same human beings. We all seek happiness and try to avoid suffering. We have the same basic human needs and concerns. All of us human beings want freedom and the right to determine our own destiny as individuals and as peoples. That is human nature. The great changes that are taking place everywhere in the world, from Eastern Europe to Africa, are a clear indication of this.”

— The Dalai Lama

What an extraordinarily civilized, uncommonly compassionate and profoundly humanistic individual the Dalai Lama is! With his clearly articulated preference for the well-being of humans and other sentient beings over dogma and tradition, he represents an ideal for other 21st century spiritual leaders to emulate.

It’s remarkable indeed to hear a religious leader express complete solidarity with secularists and humanists. Consider this statement of his:

“If you have religious faith, that’s wonderful. If you have no interest in it, that’s okay! Secular ethics are the most important.”

And this one:

“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 am increasingly convinced that the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics beyond religion altogether.”

For us secular humanists, this is a most welcome sentiment. Many of us are quite dismayed to see persistent evidence of the delusion that human beings are incapable of ethics and morality without religion. As I’ve pointed out in previous posts, human morality predates all extant religions and philosophies, and is rooted in the reciprocity our species requires for survival. In fact, rudimentary forms of such ethics can even be observed in the behavior of other primate species.

Secular humanism is associated with what are known as “consequentialist” ethics. By this we mean that ethical and moral decisions should be made based on the consequences those decisions have for the well-being of humans and other living beings, regardless of whether or not they are perceived by some to please a deity. Whenever religious traditions (or secular ideologies, for that matter) conflict with human happiness, we insist that they be abandoned. Examples abound: Crusades and Jihad, ritual genital mutilation, homophobia, racism, misogyny — all of these essentially anti-human life stances are advocated by relatively small, but highly vocal, numbers of various religions. In solidarity with the Dalai Lama and other enlightened spiritual teachers, we recommend that civil society tame these impulses in its citizens. For example, if someone interprets a Bronze Age religious text as a mandate for tribalism and warfare, second-class citizenship for women or homophobic public policy, that individual must be overruled by the society in which (s)he lives.

I leave you with another compassionate, humanity-affirming quote from the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader:

“I am sure that many people share my concern about the present worldwide moral crisis and will join in my appeal to…help make our societies more compassionate, just, and equitable. I do not speak as a Buddhist or even as a Tibetan. Nor do I speak as an expert on international politics (though I unavoidably comment on these matters). Rather, I speak simply as a human being, as an upholder of the humanitarian values that are the bedrock not only of Mahayana Buddhism but of all the great world religions. From this perspective I share with you my personal outlook that:

1. Universal humanitarianism is essential to solve global problems;

2. Compassion is the pillar of world peace;

3. All world religions are already for world peace in this way, as are all humanitarians of whatever ideology;

4. Each individual has a universal responsibility to shape institutions to serve human needs.”

This is precisely the kind of spiritual nourishment the 21st century world needs. I hope that world leaders both religious and secular will follow the Dalai Lama’s lead in  growing numbers.

Best regards,


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