“I promote this type of secularism” says the 14th Dalai Lama, winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, “to be a kind person who does not harm others regardless of profound religious differences.” I find much to commend in the Dalai Lama’s recent article, on How To Become A Buddhist In Today’s World. He correctly identifies, for example, three main hindrances to religious faith today: communism, science, and consumerism/materialism. As his statement above shows, he is most concerned with ethical behavior, kindness, and lack of harm to others.
Communism continues its war against religion. He shows how in his own native Tibet, Communism controls the religious and educational institutions, teaching that Buddhism is “old-fashioned.” In this gentle way, he blames the Chinese government for oppressing his people and for oppressing his fellow Buddhists. But he is correct in laying the blame to Communism, the underlying (anti)religious belief system officially espoused by the government.
Although science has greatly expanded our knowledge of the physical world, it’s purview is limited to that physical world. “Scientists largely examine only what can be measured with scientific instruments,” says the Dalai Lama, “limiting the scope of their investigations and their understanding of the universe.” But the mind, and I would add the spirit, the intangible and unmeasurable may in the end be at least as important. The Dalai Lama says he has met with some scientists who may be open to such understanding, giving him “reason for optimism.”
The big danger in consumerism/materialism, says the Dalai Lama is loss of kindness. “Religious values such as kindness,” he says, “generosity and honesty get lost in the rush to make more money and have more and ‘better’ possessions.” Instead of immediate gratification in consumerism, religion teaches delayed gratification. Instead of accumulation of things to make us happy in consumerism, religion teaches peace of mind. One of his more famous quotes: “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”
Why Be Ethical?
Counseling against peer pressure, blind faith, or tradition, he concludes his article with an appeal to reason. “Continue to investigate and reflect on what you discover.” What the Dalai Lama doesn’t answer, however, is “Why be ethical?” In ancient Israel, ethical behavior was based on the character of Israel’s God. “You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy,” God says to Moses (Leviticus 19:2 RSV). The following verses link this holiness with honoring father and mother, keeping the sabbath, and avoidance of idolatry: “Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves molten gods: I am the Lord your God” (v. 4). Because God’s character is righteous, he expects righteous behavior from his people.
Why Be Kind?
I would also ask, “Why be kind?” In the Old Testament, God’s character determined how the Israelites also treated their neighbor. In that same chapter, Leviticus 19, God says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord” (v. 18). In the New Testament, along with love, peace, and joy, the Holy Spirit produces the gift of kindness (Galatians 5:22). In Christian understanding, kindness has a very specific motivation: “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32 RSV). Because of God’s kindness toward me in the mercy of Jesus Christ, forgiving my sins, I must show kindness toward others, forgiving them.
Although the Dalai Lama’s injunctions help many people today, his instructions fail to provide sufficient motivation for the moral, ethical, and kind behavior he desires. We therefore need to look deeper into the religious motivation in order to find sufficient motivation to “Be kind whenever possible.”
[Source: The Dalai Lama, “How To Become A Buddhist In Today’s World,” Wall Street Journal, July 6, 2017 online. Picture: commons.wickimedia.org]