His Holiness the Dalai Lama turned to twitter on Friday to restate a message which has become central to him in recent years: we must act.
The full tweet reads:
Although I am a Buddhist monk, I am skeptical that prayers alone will achieve world peace. We need instead to be enthusiastic and self-confident in taking action.
— Dalai Lama (@DalaiLama) February 9, 2018
This is not to say that mental training is useless. His other tweets (and much of Buddhist philosophy) attest to this. However, it should be clear that mental training to be kind and generous means little if you are in fact cruel and stingy in action. Perhaps part of the American ethos of individualism promotes the kind of Buddhism which is more self-involved than it had been in Asia. But there are and always have been the rogues of Buddhism in Asia, the Devadatas, Sogyal Rinpoches, and others who would use their understanding of the teachings to manipulate others.
One factor of many manipulators has been emphasizing the importance and centrality of religious institutions – over and against virtually everything else. Those who do this to an extreme tend to create cults, where followers are cut off from the outside world, or taught to view it in entirely negative terms, while building circles of secrecy around the leader. They emphasize the divine or super-human qualities of one leader, which is used to justify his (and rarely her) excesses of wealth and often promiscuous sexual behavior. And, generally, they come crashing down as truths about the leader’s activities come out, along with the damage done to the seekers they managed to convince.
In a discussion with a UK magazine in 2016, the Dalai Lama went so far as to say that “Ethics is more important than religion. We don’t arrive in this world as members of a particular religion. But ethics is innate.” He continued, “Yesterday’s ideas will get us nowhere. Especially for children, tomorrow’s adults, ethics is more important than religion.” Clarifying this, he said:
The knowledge and the practice of religion has of course been helpful, but today this is no longer enough, as examples from all over the world show more and more clearly. This is true of all religions, including Christianity and Buddhism. Wars have been waged in the name of religion, “holy wars” even. Religions have been and still are frequently intolerant.
This is why I say that in the 21st century we need a new ethic that transcends all religions. Far more crucial than religion is our elementary human spirituality. It’s a predisposition towards love, kindness and affection that we all have within us, whatever religion we belong to. In my view, people can do without religion, but they cannot do without inner values, without ethics.
Read more about the Dalai Lama’s push of secular ethics over Buddhism. The Dalai Lama also spent some time last year clarifying his emphasis on secular ethics, putting them in stark contrast to religious institutions that he said can sometimes become “rotten.” When one sees rotten institutions and “disgraced” teachers – disgraced through their immoral actions – then one has a responsibility to speak out, contacting the media, etc. This, the Dalai Lama suggested, was true religion and would preserve the teachings.
Hemant Mehta, the Friendly Atheist responded:
Either the Dalai Lama is more secular than we thought or we’re all Buddhists…
Michael Stone of the Progressive Secular Humanist blog likewise writes:
Bottom line: The Dalai Lama is correct: Prayers are not the answer. Positive change comes through education and “enthusiastic and self-confident” action, not through prayers or religious teaching.
What do you think? Should Buddhists think about ways to be more enthusiastically active in helping to solve world peace? Or is that a job of others?