His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Probably His Holiness will not mind if I quote extensively from his most recent book and then hope that you will read the book. It is partly a memoir of his experiences with friends rooted in the various faiths, and more importantly an analysis of the human roots of those faiths. Can we agree that all faiths have human roots regardless of their aspirations? Maybe not, those are my words. Here are some of his. Page 109, Toward a True Kinship of Faiths, Doubleday Religion:

“It is my conviction that compassion, the natural capacity of the human heart to feel concern for and connection with another being – constitutes a basic aspect of our nature shared by all human beings, as well as being the foundation of our happiness*. In this respect, there is not an iota of difference between a believer and a nonbeliever and between people of one race or another.”

May I insert another personal opinion before continuing. The above statement resonates strongly with me because of the basic logic of my background in studies of genetics and evolution. Not to quote some considerable evidence for the genetic importance of communal welfare. And contrary to the perversions of some subsets of the overall biological reality, for example “survival of the fittest” to suit preferences of some individuals and groups that are ignorant of the overall realities of life. It seems logical to me that Homo sapiens’ (we are all of the same species) selective advantage, that gave rise to our spectacular success on this earth, had to do primarily with a natural capacity to feel concern for and connection with other beings. I mean the difference between us and those that are no longer present on this earth. Probably it would be best for us if we don’t forget that reality, because we cannot survive on this earth without the well-being* of this living earth. Oh, oops, I was quoting religion, not science-based digressions:

“One can identify three broadly distinct approaches within this process. One is the theistic approach where the concept of God underpins the ethical teachings that foster man’s emulation of God’s own compassion. A second is the nontheistic religious approach, such as that of Buddhism, that invokes the laws of causality (cause and effect) and the fundamental equality of all beings in their basic aspirations for happiness* as the grounding of ethics. The third belongs to the secular or nonreligious approach, whereby no religious concepts are evoked but, rather, recognition of the primacy of compassion may be underpinned by common sense, shared common experience and scientific findings that demonstrate our deep dependence on others’ kindness.”

“. . . at the heart of all the world’s religions is a vision of human life that transcends the boundaries of an individual’s physical existence as an embodied, finite, and temporal being. A meaningful life, in all the faith traditions, is one that is lived with an awareness of a . . . “ dimension above the mundane.**

On page 114: “What we find in the teachings of the world religions is a vision of ethics that moves beyond the limited reciprocity of the Golden Rule to an exhortation to universal compassion.”

_______________
*For American readers, I am sorry that the word happiness has been used as a traditional translation of the concept of welfare and well-being that I assume must be the original meaning of the Buddha’s statement in the Pali language. The American idea of happiness does not fit a concept of universal well being. For one thing, happiness is a human emotion, or at most an emotion of higher vertebrates, and we are talking about the welfare of all sentient beings, most of which are not higher vertebrates. For another, happiness has some especially negative connotations (shoot it up, buy it up, eat it up and you will be happy) in American English that are not part of its use in this context. One other interpretation of the concept that I heard from Sharon Salzberg is “well-being,” which is not as pretty a term but clearly must be more accurate, because every living thing has a need for well-being, and the intent is for the welfare of all living things.

** Mundane means ordinary or perhaps boring, but it also has another meaning: “matters of this world,” that is probably more to the point of this quote (per your friendly Microsoft computer dictionary).

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