By Dan Clendenin
His Holiness the Dalai Lama, with Franz Alt, An Appeal to the World; The Way to Peace in a Time of Division (New York: William Morrow, 2017), 112pp.
For the last fifty-eight years, since 1959, the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, has lived in exile in India, where he has exercised his spiritual leadership over Tibetan Buddhism. In fact, there are about 100,000 Tibetan refugees living in India, and, for that matter, about 400 million Buddhists living in China. In 1989 Gyatso won the Nobel Peace Prize, and in 2007 the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal.
In this little book, which is a series of twenty-eight questions and answers with the German journalist Franz Alt that were taken from thirty-plus interviews, the Dalai Lama urges the world to adopt what he calls a “secular ethics.” In his view, this secular ethics transcends all religious, ethnic, national, and cultural boundaries. Whereas we are all born without any religion, he appeals to values that he says are innate in all humans, like benevolence, love, compassion, respect, tolerance, and nonviolence. “Humans can get by without religion,” says the Dalai Lama. His proposed global secular ethics is “more important than the classical religions.” These inner and innate values “don’t contradict any religion,” but neither do they “depend on any religion.” And so, in a world of violence and conflict, some of which is caused by religion, “it is no longer enough to ground ethics in religious values.”
This rather complex claim is addressed by a staccato of short and simple questions and answers. For example, “Could the next Dalai Lama be a woman? You are for equal opportunity, aren’t you?” Answer: yes! Or, “what do you mean by inner values?” The result of the format is not quite what one might expect. Instead of a sort of deep and careful wisdom, what you get is something like bumper sticker responses. For example, he insists, “I don’t have any enemies, only people I haven’t met yet.” There are a handful of questions about the status of Tibet, but that complex geo-political issue will not be adequately addressed in a book with one paragraph answers to generalized questions. Still, the Dalai Lama is a voice for peace in a violent world, and I for one am grateful for what he continues to do to call us all to our common humanity.
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