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In view of this, I am of the firm opinion that we have within our grasp a way, and a means, to ground inner values without contradicting any religion and yet, crucially, without depending on religion.

I should make it clear that my intention is not to dictate moral values. Doing that would be of no benefit. To try to impose moral principles from outside, to impose them, as it were, by command, can never be effective. Instead, I call for each of us to come to our own understanding of the importance of inner values. For it is these inner values which are the source of both an ethically harmonious world and the individual peace of mind, confidence, and happiness we all seek. Of course, 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 believe the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics that is beyond religion.

Members of my generation belong to the twentieth century, which has already gone past. During that century, we humans experimented with many kinds of things, including large-scale war. As a result of the terrible suffering this caused, we have, I feel, become a little more mature, a little wiser. In that century we also achieved a great deal in terms of material progress. But in so doing we created social inequity and environmental degradation, both of which we now have to deal with. It is now down to the youth of today to make a better world than the one which has been bequeathed to them. Much rests upon their shoulders.

Given this fact, and also the truth that effective societal change can only come about through the efforts of individuals, a key part of our strategy for dealing with these problems must be the education of the next generation. This is one reason why, during my travels, I always try to reach out to young people and spend some time with them. My hope and wish is that, one day, formal education will pay attention to what I call education of the heart. Just as we take for granted the need to acquire proficiency in the basic academic subjects, I am hopeful that a time will come when we can take it for granted that children will learn, as part of their school curriculum, the indispensability of inner values such as love, compassion, justice, and forgiveness.

I look forward to a day when children, as a result of integrating the principles of nonviolence and peaceful conflict resolution at school, will be more aware of their feelings and emotions and feel a greater sense of responsibility both toward themselves and toward the wider world. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? To bring about this better world, therefore, let us all, old and young—not as members of this nation or that nation, not as members of this faith or that faith, but simply as individual members of this great human family of seven billion—strive together with vision, with courage, and with optimism. This is my humble plea.

Within the scale of the life of the cosmos, a human life is no more than a tiny blip. Each one of us is a visitor to this planet, a guest, who has only a finite time to stay. What greater folly could there be than to spend this short time lonely, unhappy, and in conflict with our fellow visitors? Far better, surely, to use our short time in pursuing a meaningful life, enriched by a sense of connection with and service toward others.

So far, of the twenty-first century, just over a decade has gone; the major part of it is yet to come. It is my hope that this will be a century of peace, a century of dialogue—a century when a more caring, responsible, and compassionate humanity will emerge. This is my prayer as well.


From the March 2012 Shambhala Sun magazine. Click here to browse the entire issue online.






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