9 Week Study Course for
"Ethics For the New Millennium"

By His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Study Guide Week Seven
• Chapter 12
• Chapter 13

Chapter 12 - Levels of Commitment

Key Concepts
The Dalai Lama notes that for those who agree with his perspective that universal responsibility is fundamental to both personal happiness and the creation of a better world, it is essential to begin to employ compassion in our everyday lives, to put principles into practice. But how much is required? What level of commitment is needed to bring enough compassion into one’s life?

Start where we are.
The Dalai Lama suggests that no one needs to radically change their life situation and adopt an entirely new way of life. We need not abandon our current work to live a peasant life like Gandhi or even to become a doctor, teacher or monk if this is not already our work. Each of us can begin with our current life situation and begin to bring more compassion into our every day living. We can start where we are, and do as much as we can.

The Dalai Lama notes that this requires doing our work with the intention to benefit others, and to live our principles. We can do this in small ways, such as turning off a dripping faucet or helping someone who needs assistance getting on the subway. Or, we can do it in large ways; if we realize that our work can cause harm to others then we may choose to change our work out of a sense of responsibility. In living our life, have the courage to be the responsible, honest politician, the businessman who considers the waste produced by their production facilities, the lawyer who fights for justice, the plumber who installs low- flow toilets, the Muslim who respects Jews (and vice versa!)

Voluntary and in moderation.
Whatever we do for others, whatever sacrifices we make, should be voluntary and with a conscious understanding of the benefit of such action. The Dalai Lama strongly encourages those with wealth to view their resources as a tremendous opportunity to help others; sharing their wealth to alleviate suffering. At the same time, everyone cannot and should not divest themselves of all their belongings or live the life of a monk; rather we should move from where we are with moderation.

He notes that he owns several expensive time pieces that he could sell and build huts for the poor, but he has not yet chosen to do this. In sharing this story from his own life, the Dalai Lama shows how we can each start from our current life situation and make the changes we are able to in the moment, and how we can have compassion for ourselves as we recognize where our principles and actions are not yet aligned.

We don’t need to try to become infinitely compassionate in one day or one week or one year; we take the steps we can, moving forward in moderation.


Discussion Questions
1. What are your thoughts about the Dalai Lama’s view that different people may bring differing levels of commitment – that each person can start from where they are and do what is possible in moderation, rather than there being an absolute level of commitment required of all beings?

2. When you think about the work you do in the world, can you see ways that it can be done in service of others? How would your work or your attitude toward it change if you focused on doing it in service?

3. For many of us, the gap between how we act and how we want to act can sometimes induce feelings of guilt. How do you see the Dalai Lama’s perspective on the levels of commitment in relation to the concept of guilt?


Practice Exercises
1. In thinking about your life situation, are there ways you can imagine to live with more compassion and universal responsibility? What would constitute “what you can do” at this point in your life to live more compassionately? If you wish, choose a specific way and put this into practice for a period of time.


Chapter 13 - Ethics in Society

Key Concepts
If we are committed to the ideal of concern for others, it follows that this commitment should inform social and political policies. Otherwise, our policies are likely to harm instead of serve humanity as a whole. The Dalai Lama suggests six areas be addressed: education, the media, our natural environment, politics and economics, peace and disarmament, and inter-religious harmony.

In this chapter and the following two chapters, the Dalai Lama expresses his personal views on what might be done. He invites us to use these personal views to spark our own thoughts about how to align our social and political policies with our personal commitment to ethical conduct, universal responsibility, and compassion.

Education. The general, modern educational system neglects the discussion of ethical matters largely because a) it was developed in a time when religious institutions were highly influential throughout society and b) human and ethical values are generally held to fall within the scope of religion. As the influence of religion has declined, the schools have not filled the gap. Thus we are bringing up children to have knowledge without compassion.

The Dalai Lama suggests we:
• Show children that their actions have a universal dimension and build on their natural feelings of empathy so they come to have a sense of responsibility to others.
• See to it our behavior as parents and teachers is principled, disciplined and compassionate, since children learn from actions, not words.
• Frame the important social issues, not as belonging only to the sphere of religion, but as a matter of our continued survival.
• Eliminate from our schools’ curricula any tendency toward presenting others in a negative light. Take care that love of country, religion and culture do not develop into narrow minded nationalism, or religious bigotry.

Media. The media has an influence over individuals never imagined 100 years ago. This confers a great responsibility on not only all who work in media, but also on all who, as individuals, watch, read and listen. The Dalai Lama’s key points include:

• Investigative reporting is an important service, assuming the investigator doesn’t act from improper motives, is impartial and respects others’ rights.
• Sex and violence are enjoyed by the viewing public and motivated by commercial interests. The concern is whether the effect is ethically wholesome or if it leads to indifference, hardening of the heart and lack of empathy. The constant repetition of sex and violence tends to create the impression that human nature is essentially negative, while the opposite is true. To be ethically responsible the media needs to reflect this simple fact.
• While regulation of the media is clearly necessary, the only true discipline comes from within. This implies a responsibility to educate our children so they may be more disciplined and compassionate when they become involved in the media.

Natural environment. The natural world is our home and therefore it is our own best interest to look after it. The Dalai Lama suggests:
• We develop methods of manufacture that do not destroy nature.
• We recognize the universal dimension of the actions we take as individuals and, based on this, exercise restraint. Individuals in the industrially developed nations have a particular responsibility to change their lifestyle.
• Education and the media must both play a role here. The Dalai Lama uses the environmental degradation now occurring in Tibet as an example, and notes the efforts of the Tibetan government in exile to introduce children to their responsibilities as residents of this fragile planet.

Politics and economics. The Dalai Lama suggests a continuation of current political and economic policies will result in the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. He suggests:

• Politicians are a product of their societies, so if we want less corrupt politicians, we must practice ethical discipline in our own lives.
• Competition be conducted with a spirit of generosity.
• The more each of us develops our compassionate nature, the more commercial enterprise will come to reflect basic human values.
• Ethical concepts are gaining ground in international relations. Words like reconciliation, non-violence and compassion are becoming stock phrases among politicians. Collectively we are giving more weight to justice and truth.
• The more interdependent our economic relationships become, the more interdependent our political relationships must become. Alliances comprising hundreds of millions of people are increasingly transcending geographical, cultural and ethnic divisions. At the same time regional communities united in trade, social policy, and security arrangements can consist of a multiplicity of autonomous ethnic, cultural, and religious groups. The challenge of the new millennium is to find ways for better inter-community cooperation, wherein human diversity is acknowledged and the rights of all respected.


Discussion Questions
1. As you look around your community and nation, what political and social polices do you see that you would say are inconsistent with compassion and concern for others?

2. Reflecting on your experience in the education system as a child or parent, what concerns do you have about the cultivation of knowledge without compassion? What reasons do you find for hope?

3. What reaction do you have to the Dalai Lama’s suggestions? What other actions do you see to take?

4. How do you take personal responsibility to reconcile your value of compassion and ethical conduct with your consumption of media?

5. What has helped society make progress in our stewardship of the natural environment over the last 30 years? What needs doing now and how can you translate that into individual action?

6. What do you feel and think as you read the Dalai Lama’s thoughts on what are the needed and hopeful directions in politics and economics?

Practice Exercises

1. Choose one of these arenas for concerted ethical discipline and develop a plan of action in your daily life. Whatever your level of commitment, walk the talk over the next month.

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