Ethics for the New Millennium

According to my experience, the principal characteristic of genuine happiness is peace: inner peace.

Afflictive emotion is the oxygen of conflict. It is thus essential that we remain sensitive to others and, recognizing their equal right to happiness, do nothing that could contribute to their suffering.

A revolution is called for, certainly. But not a political, an economic, or even a technical revolution. We have had enough experience of these during the past century to know that a purely external approach will not suffice. What I propose is a spiritual revolution.

As an old Tibetan proverb puts it, The next life or tomorrow—we can never be certain which will come first.

As a second step to familiarizing ourselves with the virtue of patience, it is also very helpful to think of adversity not so much as a threat to our peace of mind but rather as the very means by which patience is attained. From this perspective, we see that those who would harm us are, in a sense, teachers of patience.

Everywhere and in every society, people endure suffering and adversity—even those who enjoy freedom and material prosperity. Indeed, it seems to me that much of the unhappiness we humans endure is actually of our own making.

Far from applying the teachings of their religion in our personal lives, we have a tendency to use them to reinforce our self-centered attitudes. We relate to our religion as something we own or as a label that separates us from others. Surely this is misguided?

Gaining insight into our own negativity is a lifelong task, and one which is capable of almost infinite refinement. But unless we undertake it, we will be unable to see where to make the necessary changes in our lives. Were

Indeed, we find that almost all the mental and emotional suffering which is such a feature of modern living—including the sense of hopelessness, of loneliness, and so on—lessens the moment we begin to engage in actions motivated by concern for others.

In replacing religion as the final source of knowledge in popular estimation, science begins to look a bit like another religion itself.

It also becomes apparent that our every action, our every deed, word, and thought, no matter how slight or inconsequential it may seem, has an implication not only for ourselves but for all others, too. Furthermore,

Karma is a Sanskrit word meaning “action.” It denotes an active force, the inference being that the outcome of future events can be influenced by our actions. To suppose that karma is some sort of independent energy which predestines the course of our whole life is simply incorrect.

Lack of contentment—which really comes down to greed—sows the seed of envy and aggressive competitiveness, and leads to a culture of excessive materialism. The negative atmosphere this creates becomes the context for all kinds of social ills which bring suffering to all members of that community.

My meetings with many different sorts of people the world over have, however, helped me realize that there are other faiths, and other cultures, no less capable than mine of enabling individuals to lead constructive and satisfying lives.

Negative thoughts and emotions are what obstruct our most basic aspiration—to be happy and to avoid suffering. When we act under their influence, we become oblivious to the impact our actions have on others: they are thus the cause of our destructive behavior both toward others and to ourselves.

No more can the reader hope to learn virtue merely by reading this book—unless, of course, it is so boring as to demand perseverance!

Only the inner protection of patient forbearance can keep us from experiencing the turmoil of negative thoughts and emotions. The mind, or spirit (lo), is not physical. It cannot be touched or harmed directly. Only negative thoughts and emotions can harm it. Therefore, only the corresponding positive quality can protect it. As

The undisciplined mind is like an elephant. If left to blunder around out of control, it will wreak havoc. But the harm and suffering we encounter as a result of failing to restrain the negative impulses of mind far exceed the damage a rampaging elephant can cause.

The work of a person laboring in some humble occupation is no less relevant to the well-being of society than that of, for example, a doctor, a teacher, a monk, or a nun. All human endeavor is potentially great and noble. So long as we carry out our work with good motivation, thinking, “My work is for others,” it will be of benefit to the wider community.

We have no means of discriminating between right and wrong if we do not take into account others’ feelings, others’ suffering.

We hope that through this or that action we can bring about happiness. Everything we do, not only as individuals but also at the level of society, can be seen in terms of this fundamental aspiration.

What is more, I have come to the conclusion that whether or not a person is a religious believer does not matter much. Far more important is that they be a good human being. I

When we act to fulfill our immediate desires without taking into account others’ interests, we undermine the possibility of lasting happiness.

Yet again I was reminded that the way in which things and events unfold does not always coincide with our expectations. Indeed, this fact of life—that there is often a gap between the way in which we perceive phenomena and the reality of a given situation—is the source of much unhappiness.