Is the Dalai Lama's vision attainable?


The opening premise of Beyond Religion is that many of the world's greatest problems are due, in large part, to our failure to cultivate moral ethics and inner values.  The Dalai Lama believes that we have paid too much attention to the external, material aspects of life. This, he said, has brought out some of the worst of human qualities, such as excess, greed, self-centeredness, corruption, and intolerance. His vision for a more just, peaceful, and sustainable future is through the intentional cultivatation of the better human qualities such as compassion, loving-kindness, patience, and self-discipline. His message is very hopeful, but is it too idealistic?  For example, billions of advertising dollars are spent every year, telling little white lies about the benefits on one product or another or promoting images of the perfect body, perfect car, perfect house. Can you imagine commericials that promote the virtues of compassion, or the benefits of meditation?  The Dalai Lama believes that mainstream education could play a pivotal role in cultivating positive human values.  But, public education seems too hell-bent on paying attention only to the rational-empirical-quantitative.  How else could it prepare students for a our consumption-crazy world that is more interested in speed, technology, and productivity?  Ask any public school teacher if they have time to integrate contemplative practices into their curriculum and they will either give you a funny look or ask you if there will be contemplative practices questions on the state mandated tests. 
What do you think?  Can you envision a world where we begin to pay more attention to the inner values of care and compassion versus the external values of fame, fortune, and lots of stuff??

It may be possible to cultivate secular ethics on a global scale

In response to the previous comment, I would argue that His Holiness the Dalai Lama does set forth an attainable, albeit aspirational, path towards achieving world wide, secular ethics. That path lies in two of the main concepts laid out in the book, the notion of our "shared humanity" and in the concept of "discernment."
It would seem to me that the cultivation of the key inner qualities that the Dalai Lama proscribes, such as patience, contentment, forgiveness, forbearance, self-discipline, and generosity is a worthy and lofty goal. It is what many of the world's religions attempt to inculcate into their followers. However, like the previous comment, I agree that on a global scale, without extreme societal change, this maybe somewhat idealistic.
Instead, I think the Dalai Lama gives us a better roadmap -  the contemplation of "our shared humanity." Understanding that all humans are fundamentally the same naturally leads to compassion, empathy, and the inclination to fully think through the consequences of our actions. But what is it that makes us all human? What is it that connects us as a global community when it would seem that the differences between us are too great to be transcended? The Dalai Lama writes that it is in "our quest for happiness and the avoidance of suffering, we are all fundamentally the same, and therefore equal...Despite all the characteristics that differentiate us - race, language, religion, gender, wealth, and many others - we are all equal in terms of our basic humanity" (pg. 28-29).
The second key concept in the book that, to me, would indicate that it IS possible to achieve secular, world ethics beyond the confines of individual religious traditions, is the idea of "discernment." The Dalai Lama writes that discernment is our capacity for reason, very much along the lines of Kant's categorical imperative. Like our avoidance of suffering and our pursuit of happiness, it is our ability to reason that makes us human and therefore worthy of compassion.
To the Dalai Lama, discernment is an individual's personal level of ethical awareness - i.e. the ability to understand the potential consequences of an action and to reason the best course of action based on the most beneficial outcomes from both the self and for others. Yet, discernment is not always an easy quality to attain. It takes a level of cognitive sophistication to be able to see things from beyond one's personal perspective to see from the eyes of another and to hold multiple perspectives in one's mind at the same time. That is where our educational systems come in. Developing cognitive sophistication, critical thinking skills, and the ability to reason are what our educational systems are designed for. Therefore, I wonder if instead of trying to instill values, would it be more effective to help all students reach a higher level of "discernment'?
The Dalai Lama insists that compassion and haveing compassionate motivation towards ethics is attainable and that it only takes an understanding that we share a common humanity and have a level of ethical awareness. Thus, through reflection, the incorporation of contemplative practices, and educating our young people to be able to understand other perspectives and reason the possible consequences of their actions, we will be able to attain secular ethics. I think then, compassion and inner values will be the beneficial byproduct of a more connected world.

Do we need to a better job teaching education of the heart?

One wonders what the Dalai Lama would say about the recent incident in which middle school boys verbally abused a grandmother on the school bus.  Charles Blow, journalist for the New York Times, concluded that it was just a reflection of our wider society that has turned ugly (June 22, 2012).  The Dalai Lama said that empathy, the inability to bear the sight of another’s suffering, is what makes us uniquely human and humane.  But, if we fail to cultivate empathy, the more destructive emotions of negativity, cruelty and hatred can easily fill the void.  Is that what is happening to us in our hyper-materialistic world? In his earlier book, Ethics for the New Millennium, the Dalai Lama points out that “just as we have the capacity to act selflessly out of concern for others’ well being, so do we all have the potential to be murderers and torturers” (p. 64).   As I read his thoughts on human empathy, it occurred to me that in the midst of all of our other problems, it is loss of human feeling that may pose the greatest threat to human survival in the new millennium?  Was it a diminished capacity to feel for others that caused the teenagers on the bus to be so cruel?  Kids may have ipods, ipads, and smart phones, but have they lost the ability to truly connect with people around them?  Our educational systems are quite good in teaching our children about the world, but are they failing in teaching them how to BE in the world, to cultivate those inner values of empathy, compassion, and kindness toward others? Martin Buber, author of the seminal book I & Thou may have been prescient when he said “when a culture is no longer centered in a living and continually renewed relational process, it freezes into the It-World…” (p.103). My hope is that one day educational policy makers will stop reorganizing the deck chairs of educational reform in service of our market economy, and take heed of the Dalai Lama’s wisdom that education is as much of the heart as it is of the head.