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Lost in the daily headlines surrounding the events in China, Tibet and the Olympic Games is the Dalai Lama’s message of compassion. He has been in Seattle these past few days to speak about this message at the Seeds of Compassion conference.
This local broadcast gives a flavor of the goals of the conference:
Full disclosure here – I am not a Buddhist. I am a Christian, and an avid admirer of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his philosophy of nonviolence. It was this admiration of King that drew me to become interested in the Dalai Lama and the recent events in Tibet.
I started researching the Dalai Lama’s views regarding world peace – as at this time given recent events it seems particularly relevant what his personal views are – and was struck by how similar they are to the observations King made on the state of our world.
Science and technology, though capable of creating immeasurable material comfort, cannot replace the age-old spiritual and humanitarian values that have largely shaped world civilization, in all its national forms, as we know it today. No one can deny the unprecedented material benefit of science and technology, but our basic human problems remain; we are still faced with the same, if not more, suffering, fear, and tension. Thus it is only logical to try to strike a balance between material developments on the one hand and the development of spiritual, human values on the other. In order to bring about this great adjustment, we need to revive our humanitarian values.
Compare this with King’s comments on science and technology:
Through our scientific genius we have made of this world a neighborhood. Now through our moral and spiritual development, we must make of it a brotherhood. In a real sense we must learn to live together as brothers or we will perish together as fools.
And then there is the central question of how to re-order our thinking away from a world that pursues violence in the name of materialism.
The Dalai Lama:
According to Buddhist psychology, most of our troubles are due to our passionate desire for and attachment to things that we misapprehend as enduring entities. The pursuit of the objects of our desire and attachment involves the use of aggression and competitiveness as supposedly efficacious instruments. These mental processes easily translate into actions, breeding belligerence as an obvious effect. Such processes have been going on in the human mind since time immemorial, but their execution has become more effective under modern conditions. What can we do to control and regulate these ‘poisons’ – delusion, greed, and aggression? For it is these poisons that are behind almost every trouble in the world.
As one brought up in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, I feel that love and compassion are the moral fabric of world peace. Let me first define what I mean by compassion. When you have pity or compassion for a very poor person, you are showing sympathy because he or she is poor; your compassion is based on altruistic considerations. On the other hand, love towards your wife, your husband, your children, or a close friend is usually based on attachment. When your attachment changes, your kindness also changes; it may disappear. This is not true love. Real love is not based on attachment, but on altruism. In this case your compassion will remain as a humane response to suffering as long as beings continue to suffer.
This type of compassion is what we must strive to cultivate in ourselves, and we must develop it from a limited amount to the limitless. Undiscriminating, spontaneous, and unlimited compassion for all sentient beings is obviously not the usual love that one has for friends or family, which is alloyed with ignorance, desire, and attachment. The kind of love we should advocate is this wider love that you can have even for someone who has done harm to you: your enemy.
When we take into account a longer perspective, the fact that all wish to gain happiness and avoid suffering, and keep in mind our relative unimportance in relation to countless others, we can conclude that it is worthwhile to share our possessions with others. When you train in this sort of outlook, a true sense of compassion – a true sense of love and respect for others – becomes possible. Individual happiness ceases to be a conscious self-seeking effort; it becomes an automatic and far superior by-product of the whole process of loving and serving others.
Martin Luther King, Jr.:
I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.
A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America and say: “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.
A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into veins of people normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
There are still further similarities – too many to comfortably cover in one short blog posting that is meant for quick digestion and provocative thought.
But this raises an interesting question. Here are two men, from two very different societies, two different religions, who reach the same conclusion. One could look back at Gandhi and see that he also reached these conclusions. One could look further back secularly at Thoreau, and then religiously at Buddha, and Jesus, and see the same similarites.
All of these different individuals, all speaking to us in different ways at different times.
Why don’t we listen?
What is it about us, as a people, that makes us all collectively nod our heads and then move on, feeling that having sat through the lecture we can comfortably check off that internal box on our check list of What I Need To Do To Be A Good Person?
And why is it that when personal sacrifice is required to put these lofty ideals into practice our first impulse is to demonize, and denounce, and fill the world with as much invective as our souls can muster? Why do we need to make so much noise to drown out the truth of these simple messages?
I don’t think I’ll ever get to the bottom of these questions. But I think they need to be asked as part of our endeavor to move our society forward.
Please keep all sides of this conflict in your thoughts, prayers and meditations.
I’ll leave you with this: