Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Ethics for the New Millennium

By Barbara Chisholm

OCTOBER 18, 1999: 

Ethics for the New Millennium by the Dalai Lama (Riverhead Books), $24.95 hard

For many of us, our first acquaintance with the Dalai Lama is through Richard Gere or Steven Seagal -- and these are men who haven't exactly made their careers as religious leaders. Having Gere and Seagal as a religious figure's most prominent proponents could appear to be the equivalent of a political candidate receiving a public endorsement from the KKK.

But the Dalai Lama is the real thing: a truly holy man and a tireless worker in the cause of peace and harmony. The Nobel Committee recognized his exceptional contributions by awarding him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. He has met with virtually all the heads of state in the Western world as well as in Eastern and developing nations. He has conferred with major religious leaders, including Pope John Paul and the Archbishop of Canterbury. What other accomplishments can I list to dispel the impression that he is some navel-gazing weirdo?

Actually, I don't have to because the Dalai Lama does it himself quite eloquently in several books, including his latest, Ethics for the New Millennium. The Dalai Lama considers this to be his statement of hope for the world in the coming millennium. As in his other books, the Dalai Lama is contagiously hopeful. In his simple yet profound style of writing (English is obviously not his first language, yet he has a poetic, gentle way with words), he lays out a specific recipe for harmony worldwide. Easy enough!

With abundant respect for differing world religions and their traditions, the Dalai Lama offers a recipe that does not necessitate the practice of any one religion, or any religion at all, for that matter. While this seemingly "anything goes" attitude surely rankles those of us who are devout in our particular faiths, the Dalai Lama makes clear in his words and actions that serious practice of one's religion is the most successful way to live a harmonious life. In this book, however, he suggests that a viable, global system of ethics can be achieved outside of religion.

All he asks is that we each recognize that all human beings desire to be happy and avoid suffering. All human beings. Even our tormentors. Even those who cut us off in traffic. The Dalai Lama is also convinced that it is human nature to be compassionate (and believe me, he hasn't come to this conclusion by living his life in some protected netherworld far from harsh realities). What this book calls us to do is to nurture and cultivate this natural compassion and to put it into practice in our lives.

The life story and literary contributions of the Dalai Lama are inspiring. If he can be hopeful, if he is optimistic about the future of the world given what he has encountered, then surely we can summon some of that faith in ourselves. Despite our apprehension about seeming soft or dopey, we must ask ourselves: What's so funny about peace, love, and understanding?

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