A serious look at the Dalai Lama?

dalai lamaI wasn’t sure what to make of the media coverage surrounding the Dalai Lama’s visit to the nation’s capitol. Here The Washington Post has him speaking on the hot button issue that is science, which from a man in his position as a worldwide religious leader, is not only a great way for the Dalai Lama to break into the headlines, but also an interesting cultural twist. Here’s what he had to say:

His talk focused on how he developed his interest in science as a boy in Tibet, within a closed and isolated society, and on his view that morality and compassion are central to science. He pointed out in his prepared text, for instance, that although the atom bomb was great science, it created great moral problems.

“It is no longer adequate to adopt the view that our responsibility as a society is to simply further scientific knowledge and enhance technological power and that the choice of what to do with this knowledge and power should be left in the hands of the individual,” he said.

“By invoking fundamental ethical principles, I am not advocating a fusion of religious ethics and scientific inquiry. Rather, I am speaking of what I call ‘secular ethics’ that embrace the key ethical principles, such as compassion, tolerance, a sense of caring, consideration of others, and the responsible use of knowledge and power — principles that transcend the barriers between religious believers and nonbelievers, and followers of this religion or that religion,” he said.

Here in The San Diego Union-Tribune, the Dalai Lama discussed a “convergence of religion and science” in Palo Alto, Calif. Here’s a snippet:

Instead of a conflict between faith and science, this was a virtual love fest.

William Mobley, director of the Neuroscience Institute, put the conference together because he said both neuroscience and Buddhism strive to alleviate suffering.

“Both pursue knowledge about the brain and mind,” he said. “They just go about it differently. I think we have something to learn from each other.”

The Dalai Lama, one of the most ardent supporters of science among religious leaders, often says that if science proves facts that conflict with Buddhist understanding, then Buddhism must change accordingly.

The mainstream media love this guy. He can speak their language and understands what hot-button issues to steer around and what issues to declare he is firmly for or against. Here’s to the first mainstream journalist who will take a critical look at exactly what the Dalai Lama is teaching.

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  • http://blogs.salon.com/0003494/ Bartholomew

    You’re forgetting Christopher Hitchens’s famous hatchet-job.

    (A rebuttal from anthropologist Brian J Given appears here)

  • The Mighty Thor

    The Lama speaks with fork-ed tongue or great cognitive dissonance, affirming on the one hand the priority and precedence of ethics/morality/religion-lite over science and on the other hand the priority and precedence of science over religion.

  • Stephen A.

    Not that Mr. Hitchens and I are on the same page religiously, but in the cited “hatchet-job”, he writes:

    “…the widely and lazily held belief that “Oriental” religion is different from other faiths: less dogmatic, more contemplative, more …transcendental. This blissful, thoughtless exceptionalism has been conveyed to the West through a succession of mediums and narratives…

    “The greatest triumph that modern PR can offer is the transcendent success of having your words and actions judged by your reputation, rather than the other way about. The “spiritual leader” of Tibet has enjoyed this unassailable status for some time now, becoming a byword and synonym for saintly and ethereal values. Why this doesn’t put people on their guard I’ll never know.”

    Amen. Or is it, “OHMmmmmmm”?

    The reverence with which this person and his (Westernized) religion has been treated in the media is astounding, and both bear critical examination – as much as Christianity gets.

    In fact, All-Things-Eastern are seen in films, TV and the news media as “spiritual” and authentic, while Christians and their 2000-year-old traditions are generally portrayed as “weird” and mocked. How predictable, but how strange, nonetheless.

  • http://blogs.salon.com/0003494/ Bartholomew

    I’ll have to go and lie down, I actually agree with Stephen A on something – try asking a New Ager about caste. Although for a satirical view of eastern religion in the west there is The Guru, a comedy which has Jimi Mistry as a bogus Hindu spiritual leader spouting platitudes he’s learnt from a porn actress…

  • Harris

    Although he’s not quite critical, Dave Engber at Slate this morning is certainly skeptical (http://www.slate.com/id/2130455).

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  • http://carelesshand.net Jinzang

    Here’s to the first mainstream journalist who will take a critical look at exactly what the Dalai Lama is teaching.

    Obviously, what the Dalai Lama is teach is Buddhism. I wouldn’t expect to find a well done critical article on Buddhism or any other religion in a newspaper. It’s just not the appropriate forum. Nor is your typical reporter qualified to write it.

    OHMmmmmmm

    Ohm is the unit of electrical resistance. Om is the mantra.

    In fact, All-Things-Eastern are seen in films, TV and the news media as “spiritual” and authentic, while Christians and their 2000-year-old traditions are generally portrayed as “weird” and mocked.

    You’ve got a short memory. Eastern religion used to be portrayed as weird and flakey and vaguely cultish. I’ve seen Christians mocked in the media, but not Christianity. There is a difference. Frankly, some have deserved it.

  • http://agrumer.livejournal.com/ Avram

    And nowadays, Eastern religion is portrayed as something that gives you amazing kung-fu powers.

  • http://torsrants.blogspot.com Tor

    As a Buddhist, I am often amazed by the non-Buddhists or New-Agers who adore the Dalai Lama to the point that they stick “Free Tibet” on their bumpers. Like a state run by a religious regime would be any better than a state run by communists.

    Peace,

    Tor

  • francis

    I’d prefer a “free Tibet” where neither party rules. Would be better for the Tibetians and better for the Dalai Lama too, as it’d save him a lot of trouble.

  • http://www.nhreligion.com Stephen A.

    “Eastern religion used to be portrayed as weird and flakey and vaguely cultish. I’ve seen Christians mocked in the media, but not Christianity. There is a difference. Frankly, some have deserved it.”

    In the “old days” (80s?) that was true. But now, Eastern Religion is very often portrayed in popular culture as a perfectly legitimate and honorable choice, while Christianity is sometimes viewed as just… “odd.” Example: When a Buddhist nun died on “ER,” you would have thought God herself was dying, or at least a saint. In contrast, how many nutty, unhinged Fundies have appeared on TV? Hundreds.

    (And do some deserve to be ridiculed. Sure. But let’s be fair, and equally critical, especially in dramas.)

    I’m amused also by the primarily British documentaries that run in the U.S. on TLC and other channels. Travelogues of Asia breathlessly describe the rituals and lifestyles of monks, without a hint of disrespect. But when they tour the U.S., it turns all cheeky and snarky, and if religion is discussed at all it’s mentioned in passing, or wacky Fundie snake-handling preachers are highlighted, for “local color.”

    Even funnier are historical docus that talk about the Aztecs and Incas. Canibalism and ritual murder are discussed reverently(!) as if they were simply a cultural distinctive, like colorful garments. They sure don’t talk about the Inquisition that way, though. Both should be seen critically, but that invariably is not the case.

  • Jean Louise

    I love right-wing conspiracies. Even though it is absolutely the most domination religion in america, Christians, perhaps in order to identify with some conception of Jesus that they have long abandoned, make themselves out to be martyrs. Perhaps the reason that Eastern religions are not as criticized, has to deal more with the notion of liberty, specifically religious liberty. Eastern religions are not trying to impose thier religious views on the public. The same cannot be said of Christians in America.

  • Stephen A.

    Jean Louise: Christians are trying to “impose their religious views on the public?”

    You mean their fight for the right to publicly speak out about and express their faith, rather than be muzzled and punished for doing so, or fighting the loud secular calls that they be forced to take their religion underground and practice it only behind closed doors in their own homes?

    These don’t sound like examples of “imposing” their views on others.

  • Riding Shotgun

    “I am speaking of what I call ‘secular ethics’ that embrace the key ethical principles, such as compassion, tolerance, a sense of caring, consideration of others, and the responsible use of knowledge and power”

    How could he say something like that? What an awful, left-wing, irresponsible belief system. That this man is put on a pedestal while Christian leaders such as Pat Robertson, who told an entire town they’re going to Hell, are lambasted by the popular media, is a real travesty.

  • http://www.religion-spirituality.org/ Religion-Spirituality.org

    The Dalai Lama’s outlook here is traditional Chinese philosophy.

    I’m reminded of the story of an inventor who approached the emperor of China and told him about his flying machine and how great it was to fly over the countryside and the great wall of China. He felt everyone should be able to experience flying as he had.

    The emperor was impressed by the invention but reminded the man that not everyone would use it with such pure intentions. They could easily drop bombs on the great wall.

  • kleini

    “I am speaking of what I call ‘secular ethics’ that embrace the key ethical principles, such as compassion, tolerance, a sense of caring, consideration of others, and the responsible use of knowledge and power”

    How could he say something like that? What an awful, left-wing, irresponsible belief system. That this man is put on a pedestal while Christian leaders such as Pat Robertson, who told an entire town they’re going to Hell, are lambasted by the popular media, is a real travesty.

    Posted by Riding Shotgun at 2:44 pm on November 23, 2005

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