HH the Dalai Lama, Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World

The Dalai Lama is well known as the (officially former) leader of the Tibetan people in exile and as a spiritual teacher. In this book he has done something unprecedented: he wrote a book for non-Buddhists, with no aim to convert them.

As a Tibetan, his approach to ethics – the topic of Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World – is automatically different from that of anyone who has followed the debates on ethics of our western philosophers. In Western terminology His Holiness’ approach to ethics could be described as ‘ virtue ethics’: what is right or wrong is determined far more by the motive than by the efffect.

However, he goes beyond the traditional western approach by suggesting motive can in fact be trained. Interestingly enough he doesn’t merely draw on his own Tibetan Buddhist training to argue this, but also on the results of modern neurological research. His Holiness has met with top scientists again and again and applies what he learned with them to the question of how to build a better world.

The Dalai Lama notices several main challenges facing humanity, hopeful signs as well as problems we haven’t yet been able to tackle:

  • Wealth and poverty and the problem that if we solve poverty by bringing everyone up to Western standards of wealth and luxury, the earth simply won’t be able to sustain it. On the one hand there is the greed of those at the top, at the other the degredation and temptations of poverty.
  • Violence and war – he notes that we’ve made some progress in this area as most thinking people no longer feel that the answer to any problem is just sending in the big guns.

As the common denominator amongst people all over the world, the Dalai Lama repeats what is surely a cliche by now: we all wish to be happy. True of course, and the basis for compassion in Tibetan Buddhism. Compassion – the wish for all beings to be free from suffering – and it’s paired concept of Love – the wish for all beings to be happy.

He then moves on to the issue of discernment: with love and compassion can come very silly actions. Only when there is discernment can we truly help others skillfully.

He closes with four chapters on training the mind and the last chapter has a few secular meditations to help the reader do so.

As a non-secular reader* and long time admirer of the Dalai Lama, I do wonder how this book will land with his intended audience. I’m hardly representative. I do think the book is well written, easy to digest and definitely interesting. There is certainly an audience for secular meditation, so the inclusion of a few meditations at the back must be useful for some of his readers.

From a Buddhist perspective this book is a bit thin, but it could hardly be otherwise.

  • Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World (Kindle Edition)
  • File Size: 348 KB
  • Print Length: 210 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0771046030
  • Publisher: Ebury Digital (January 5, 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B006K21GYQ

* [note added May 13th 2014] The Dalai Lama was in The Netherlands last Sunday and stressed that he didn’t like the English title ‘beyond religion’ because it suggest that religion is no longer necessary. Instead he had meant the book to suggest an ethics that includes all religions, the way Indian secularism includes all religions instead of excluding them from the state.

More famous books by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama