Did the Dalai Lama Just Call for an End to Religion?

Well, not exactly—here is what the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism actually told his four million friends on Facebook earlier this fall:

“All the world’s major religions, with their emphasis on love, compassion, patience, tolerance, and forgiveness can and do promote inner values. But the reality of the world today is that grounding ethics in religion is no longer adequate. This is why I am increasingly convinced that the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics beyond religion altogether.” 

It is easy to sympathize with the Dalai Lama’s frustration. After millennia of being preached at by priests and prophets, humanity is still addicted to war; we continue to lay waste to the planet’s fragile ecosystem; we torture animals, repress ethnic minorities, and ignore the plight of the poor.

Worse still, religion has often in service of the very sins of intolerance that its prophets have railed against. Abortion clinics are bombed to support a “pro-life” agenda; religiously inspired hatred in the Middle East have fueled ongoing war—religiously inspired hatred everywhere have led to countless horrors. 

In the past, such moral failings, while contributing to human misery, did not put life itself at risk. But that has changed. Our once-marginal species is now the dominant life form on the planet numbering over seven billion souls. Granted, there are still more microorganisms in a shovelful of prime agricultural soil than human beings on Earth. But bacteria don’t have brains, and the crux of the problem is that we do.

To call the brain a “problem,” of course, is only half of the story. The human mind has created art, science, philosophy, government, education, and the miracles of modern medicine. Religion, with its exalted ethical and spiritual teachings, is another example—whatever Richard Dawkins might say—of our human capacity for creating good.

The New Atheists are right of course when they fault religion for not living up to its own ideals. They would get no argument from the Dalai Lama on this. But His Holiness would be quick to point out that the moral principles themselves are not to blame—it’s our failure to act on them.

The Dalai Lama recommends a radical new approach: a religionless religion, if you will, stripped of myth, superstition, and narrow dogmatism, and focused on the practical work of transforming human behavior. He wants to incorporate the insights of the hard sciences as well as psychology, philosophy, and sociology into a broad-based new discipline to address our current moral crisis.

But can religion be rationalized into a pure system of ethics without losing its (historically) persuasive power?

Some have pointed to Buddhism itself as an example of just such a system. Western practitioners like to think of Buddhism as a methodology for self-cultivation rather than as a religion per se. But Tibetan Buddhism, with its pantheon of deities and arcane practices, certainly looks familiarly religious to those of us brought up on Western religious myths and symbols.

I suspect that His Holiness would agree that these religious elements are not a bad thing. Because religion, for all its faults, seems to have an unrivaled capacity to move us, and to motivate us.

Perhaps that has something to do with stories—we want to know how our private stories fit into the greater cosmic narrative. The Dalai Lama seems to be saying that religion needs to work harder to bridge the gap between the story that it tells and our actions in the world. It is not enough to provide believers with a comforting world view; religion should give people tools to act upon the sacred ideals that it preaches.

The way to accomplish this, according to the Dalai Lama, is spiritual practice. “We are now in the twenty-first century,” writes Tibet’s leading monk.

“The world is also facing a lot of new problems, most of which are man-made. The root cause of these man made problems is the inability of human being to control their agitated minds. How to control such a state of mind is taught by the various religions of this world.”

The Dalai Lama advocates prayer and meditation as an antidote to the mind’s capacity for mischief. But he insists that we need not limit ourselves to traditional spiritual techniques. He has written a book on the convergence of views between Buddhism and science and he helped to organize conferences where religious thinkers meet with scientists to explore their common ground. This is because, in his view, science can help religion to fine tune its own methods. (Neurology has already gone a long way toward validating the reality of spiritual states by documenting, for example, similar changes in regions of the cerebral cortex in Cistercian monks during prayer as it has shown in Buddhist monks during meditation.)

The Dalai Lama believes that the fundamental ethical discoveries of religion are scientifically verifiable. When we actually live religiously—and don’t just profess a set of beliefs—we become more forgiving, peaceful, tolerant, attentive and inspired. This in turn leads to profound psychological and physiological changes which can be studied—and even measured.

It is time, the Dalai Lama says, to take the discoveries of spirituality out of the monasteries and into the world. While mindfulness meditation has been introduced into schools, hospitals, and even corporate boardrooms as a technique to lower stress, improve concentration, and help resolve conflicts, Tibet’s religious leader is acutely aware that none of this is enough. “It is all too evident that our moral thinking simply has not been able to keep pace with such rapid progress in our acquisition of knowledge and power,” the Dalai Lama told a group of scientists in 2005. 

The bottom line is that taming the mind creates more peaceful and contented human beings. This is the crux of the Dalai Lama’s message—because, as his urgency suggests, we are running out of time to get it right.

Richard Schiffman is a spiritual author, poet and journalist. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Christian Science Monitor and he is a regular blogger on The Huffington Post.

http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/atheologies/6647/did_the_dalai_lama_just_call_for_an_end_to_religion

Many Faiths, One Truth by Tenzin Gyaatso, the Dalai Lama

New York Times, May 24, 2010

WHEN I was a boy in Tibet, I felt that my own Buddhist religion must be the best — and that other faiths were somehow inferior. Now I see how naïve I was, and how dangerous the extremes of religious intolerance can be today. 

Though intolerance may be as old as religion itself, we still see vigorous signs of its virulence. In Europe, there are intense debates about newcomers wearing veils or wanting to erect minarets and episodes of violence against Muslim immigrants. Radical atheists issue blanket condemnations of those who hold to religious beliefs. In the Middle East, the flames of war are fanned by hatred of those who adhere to a different faith. 

Such tensions are likely to increase as the world becomes more interconnected and cultures, peoples and religions become ever more entwined. The pressure this creates tests more than our tolerance — it demands that we promote peaceful coexistence and understanding across boundaries. 

Granted, every religion has a sense of exclusivity as part of its core identity. Even so, I believe there is genuine potential for mutual understanding. While preserving faith toward one’s own tradition, one can respect, admire and appreciate other traditions. 

An early eye-opener for me was my meeting with the Trappist monk Thomas Merton in India shortly before his untimely death in 1968. Merton told me he could be perfectly faithful to Christianity, yet learn in depth from other religions like Buddhism. The same is true for me as an ardent Buddhist learning from the world’s other great religions. 

A main point in my discussion with Merton was how central compassion was to the message of both Christianity and Buddhism. In my readings of the New Testament, I find myself inspired by Jesus’ acts of compassion. His miracle of the loaves and fishes, his healing and his teaching are all motivated by the desire to relieve suffering. 

I’m a firm believer in the power of personal contact to bridge differences, so I’ve long been drawn to dialogues with people of other religious outlooks. The focus on compassion that Merton and I observed in our two religions strikes me as a strong unifying thread among all the major faiths. And these days we need to highlight what unifies us. 

Take Judaism, for instance. I first visited a synagogue in Cochin, India, in 1965, and have met with many rabbis over the years. I remember vividly the rabbi in the Netherlands who told me about the Holocaust with such intensity that we were both in tears. And I’ve learned how the Talmud and the Bible repeat the theme of compassion, as in the passage in Leviticus that admonishes, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 

In my many encounters with Hindu scholars in India, I’ve come to see the centrality of selfless compassion in Hinduism too — as expressed, for instance, in the Bhagavad Gita, which praises those who “delight in the welfare of all beings.” I’m moved by the ways this value has been expressed in the life of great beings like Mahatma Gandhi, or the lesser-known Baba Amte, who founded a leper colony not far from a Tibetan settlement in Maharashtra State in India. There he fed and sheltered lepers who were otherwise shunned. When I received my Nobel Peace Prize, I made a donation to his colony. 

Compassion is equally important in Islam — and recognizing that has become crucial in the years since Sept. 11, especially in answering those who paint Islam as a militant faith. On the first anniversary of 9/11, I spoke at the National Cathedral in Washington, pleading that we not blindly follow the lead of some in the news media and let the violent acts of a few individuals define an entire religion. 

Let me tell you about the Islam I know. Tibet has had an Islamic community for around 400 years, although my richest contacts with Islam have been in India, which has the world’s second-largest Muslim population. An imam in Ladakh once told me that a true Muslim should love and respect all of Allah’s creatures. And in my understanding, Islam enshrines compassion as a core spiritual principle, reflected in the very name of God, the “Compassionate and Merciful,” that appears at the beginning of virtually each chapter of the Koran. 

Finding common ground among faiths can help us bridge needless divides at a time when unified action is more crucial than ever. As a species, we must embrace the oneness of humanity as we face global issues like pandemics, economic crises and ecological disaster. At that scale, our response must be as one. 

Harmony among the major faiths has become an essential ingredient of peaceful coexistence in our world. From this perspective, mutual understanding among these traditions is not merely the business of religious believers — it matters for the welfare of humanity as a whole.

Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, is the author, most recently, of “Toward a True Kinship of Faiths: How the World’s Religions Can Come Together.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/25/opinion/25gyatso.html?th&emc=th

Universal values

The False Equation: Religion Equals Moralityby Gwynne Dyer, CommonDreams.org, December 19, 2011 …In the United States, where it is almost impossible to get elected unless you profess a strong religious faith… Not one of the hundred US senators ticks the “No Religion/Atheist/Agnostic” box, for example, although 16 percent of the American population do…This is a common belief among those who rule, because they confuse morality with religion…politicians, religious leaders and generals in every country, are effectively saying that my children, and those of all the other millions who have no religion, are morally inferior to those who do. It is insulting and untrue.

Another Word on “God and the Twenty-First Century” by Michael Benedikt – It is no longer necessary to invoke the name of God to explain or promote compassionate action. Today we understand we have evolved that capacity… the capacity for empathy, fairness, and altruism is wired into human beings and even other higher mammals from birth, thanks to millions of generations of reproduction-with-variation under the constraints of natural selection. Similarly, the laws of civility — from the Eightfold Way and the Ten Commandments to the Magna Carta, the Geneva Convention, and the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights — are the culturally transmitted legacy of thousands of years of human social evolution overlaid upon older, natural reproductive-selective processes. Whereas laws of civility may once have needed the rhetorical force of God-talk to establish themselves, today they can be embraced rationally in the service of peace and prosperity.

Toward a “Common Spirituality”: Scaffolding for Evolving Consciousness by Richard Harmer, PhD, Noetic, December 2010 – Spirituality is a universal phenomenon. It doesn’t matter where in the world you live or what “tribe” you are a part of; you can be assured that spirituality will be a part of the psychological and social fabric of your immediate world. Why? Humans have a strong will toward meaning…spirituality provides us with a sense of morality and ethics and allows us to find a sense of peace in the face of life’s trials and tribulations. In fact, spirituality is central to being and becoming a healthy and well-adjusted human being. Spirituality also plays a role in enabling the evolution of individual and collective consciousness…
A person’s way of thinking and being is influenced by their worldview – the unique combination of attitudes, perceptions, and assumptions that inform how they personally understand and make sense of their place in the world…
3) The belief in fostering wholeness and interconnectedness, which means a universal spiritual belief that all life is interconnected and that it is your bond to all humanity that provides a sense of wholeness…

Science and the Search for Meaning By Peter Morales, President, Unitarian Universalist Assn, www.theNewAtlantis.com, Summer 2013 – excerpt – We affirm and promote a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” This simple proposition, which could serve as the motto of any scientific society, secular organization, or humanist group, is in fact one of the seven principles that guide the Unitarian Universalist religion…for many religions, truth, or at least what is true about the most important matters, is given by a set of sacred texts or traditions that members accept as a matter of faith. At least in this somewhat stereotypical view of religious thought, the truth about the highest or most important things cannot be sought — it is only given by authority. Scientific truth, on the other hand, is constantly changing. That is to say, what people know to be true changes as new information comes to light and ideas are challenged by new findings.

It is understandable, then, that religion and science have had a conflict or two over the years…many people believe they have to make a choice between a religious and a scientific worldview…for faith to be whole, for it to encompass the whole of our lived experience with the world, we must come to terms with science and what science teaches us. As Unitarian Universalists, we recognize that science and religion share a common wellspring. They both arise from the human need to cope with life, to make life comprehensible, controllable, and meaningful…

Science is based on a radically democratic way of knowing, in the sense that scientific truth is comprised of the things we can all experience — not on private experiences, accessible only to putatively gifted individualsscientific truth needs to be equally true for everyone everywhere… ultimately, science is an attempt to understand those parts of human experience that are unarguably true for all of us…While science and religion both arise from our need to cope with experience, science and religion are responses to fundamentally different questions. Science can help us discover the truth about our world, but religion can help us give that truth meaning…There is a human hunger for meaning that science does not address….Meaning in life does not exist unless we create it; it is our individual and collective response to what we have learned about the world…

I believe that hunger for meaning is the source for the renewed interest we have witnessed in recent decades in ritual, in spiritual practices such as meditation, and in traditional religious imagery. This coincides with recent findings that the number of people in the United States who consider themselves religiously unaffiliated is growing, while a majority of them still “describe themselves either as a religious person (18 percent) or as spiritual but not religious (37 percent).” People are seeking something that science does not give them. This is not a criticism of science. To criticize science for not satisfying our emotional and spiritual need for meaning is like criticizing a circle for not having corners.

Religion, at its best and most profound and most enduring, has been humanity’s way of collecting and transmitting wisdom about the meaning of life from one generation to the next.….Before science, religion filled the vacuum created by ignorance and created stories to explain the truth about the world — myths about creation and humanity’s origin…only we can decide how to react to them, how to apply those wondrous insights to our own lives…That is our religious task — individually and communally to create lives filled with meaning and lives consistent with what we love most deeply… http://progressivevalues.org.s150046.gridserver.com

This election is about core values by Phyllis Stenerson, Commentary in Uptown Neighborhood News, Minneapolis, MN October 2012

Toward a “Common Spirituality”: Scaffolding for Evolving Consciousness by Richard Harmer, PhD, Noetic, December 2010 – Spirituality is a universal phenomenon. It doesn’t matter where in the world you live or what “tribe” you are a part of; you can be assured that spirituality will be a part of the psychological and social fabric of your immediate world. Why? Humans have a strong will toward meaning…spirituality provides us with a sense of morality and ethics and allows us to find a sense of peace in the face of life’s trials and tribulations. In fact, spirituality is central to being and becoming a healthy and well-adjusted human being. Spirituality also plays a role in enabling the evolution of individual and collective consciousness…
A person’s way of thinking and being is influenced by their worldview – the unique combination of attitudes, perceptions, and assumptions that inform how they personally understand and make sense of their place in the world…
3) The belief in fostering wholeness and interconnectedness, which means a universal spiritual belief that all life is interconnected and that it is your bond to all humanity that provides a sense of wholeness…

The Real Values Voters Summit by Rev. Peter Morales, UUA

Mahatma Gandhi’s famous statement on the nature of God from Tikkun.org, January 20, 2010

Many Faiths, One Truth by Tenzin Gyaatso, the Dalai Lama, New York Times, May 24, 2010

Real moral values – Articulating a liberal religious moral vision by Rev. William G. Sinkford, Unitarian Universalist World, March/April 2005