Ethics for the New Millennium

Ethics for the New Millennium

by the Dalai Lama
New York: Riverhead Books, 2001. Paperback, xiv + 237 pages.

On July 21,1981, the fourteenth Dalai Lama came to Olcott, headquarters of the Theosophical Society in America, in Wheaton, Illinois. This was a very large and significant event for the Society. The audience was approximately four hundred people, and we began with the mayor of Wheaton presenting to the Dalai Lama an honorary Citizenship to the city. Considering the very large fundamentalist Christian community in Wheaton at the time, this was indeed a momentous event. I was in the crowd that day, and I still remember this humble man walking through the many trees of Olcott to the small outdoor stage, with the people standing and paying silent respect.

At: that time, the Dalai Lama was not as well known in the United States as he is now, and his travels were not nearly as extensive. He is still a humble and simple man, but in 1989 he won the Nobel Peace Prize. Since that time the whole world has heard his profound message that the cultivation of compassion is the path to world peace.

In 1981, few books by the Dalai Lama were readily available, and those that were seemed written for a college-level introductory course on Tibetan Buddhism. Most of what I had read were scripts from his talks. Before I went to Olcott for his talk, I had read as many of his articles as I could find. His title that day was "The Buddha Nature," but I quickly noticed that what he said sounded very much like what I had read in the articles. In other words, the message was simple: compassion, happiness (inner peace), and world peace are what we should be thinking about.

In this book, Ethics for the New Millennium, the Dalai Lama continues that: same theme. He gives us a moral system based, not on religious principles, but on universal principles irrespective of religious belief. It is written more as if he and I were having a serious talk over lunch, and he is giving me all of these important points. If I were taking notes, they might look like the following:

"Unfortunately, many have unrealistic expectations, supposing that I have healing powers or that I can give some sort of blessing. But I am only an ordinary human being. The best I can do is try to help them by sharing in their suffering."

"Despite the fact that millions live in close proximity to one another, it seems that many people, especially among the old, have no one to talk to but their pets."

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

And then we have some real eye-openers: "My own experience of life as a refugee has helped me realize that the endless protocol, which was such an important part of my life in Tibet, was quite unnecessary."

Toward the end of the book, the Dalai Lama concludes, "I cannot, therefore, say that Buddhism is best for everyone," because from the perspective of human society at large, we must accept the concept of "many truths, many religions." Then he says, "In my own case, for example, my meetings with the late Thomas Merton, a Catholic monk of the Cistercian order, were deeply inspiring."

The Dalai Lama now has a large number of books in print. He says very little in this book that is new or original. But what he says still sounds fresh and worth rereading.


March/April 2002