The question is: how do we get to the heart of the matter and turn the tide?
The Dalai Lama has answered this question and given us a remarkable step-by-step guide for building a better world. His plan doubles as a template for securing your own happiness and well-being at the same time. All the details are contained in his bestselling Ethics for New Millennium, published ten years ago.
Voted the most respected world leader in a 2009 Gallup poll, the Dalai Lama – with his warm heart, infectious smile, and positive disposition – is universally admired. Wouldn’t we all love to know his secret formula for happiness?
As disastrous oil spills shake us to our core and the dangers of climate change continue to unnerve us, it seems judicious to revisit his plan for global sanity.
In this 5-part series based on Ethics for a New Millennium, I will present some of the key principles and practices that the Dalai Lama emphasizes as crucial to greater peace and harmony both as individuals and as a society. They are simple steps, easily accessible to all.
How Can I be Happy?
The Dalai Lama has traveled the world far and wide. He has met people from all walks of life, cultures, religious traditions, and those who ascribe to no religion. Among the countless people he’s encountered, he’s observed one single factor as the driving force behind all our actions. He says,
“Indeed the more I see of the world, the clearer it becomes that no mater what our situation, whether we are rich or poor, educated or not, of one race, gender, religion, or another, we all desire to be happy and to avoid suffering.”
This is the great question that confronts all of us: “How can I be happy?” It is the motivating question behind all our actions and endeavors both as individuals and as societies. The desire to be happy and to avoid suffering is our very nature.
This simple principle lies at the heart of his plan for transforming the world.
Despite Material Abundance, Unhappiness Prevails
As he has traveled about, the Dalai Lama has also noticed,
“…those living in materially developed countries are in some ways less satisfied, are less happy, and to some extent suffer more than those living in the least developed countries.”
“They are so caught up with the idea of acquiring still more that they make no room for anything else in their lives. In their absorption, they actually lose the dream of happiness, which riches were to have provided. As a result, they are constantly tormented, torn between doubt about what might happen and the hope of gaining more, and plagued with mental and emotional suffering – even though outwardly they may appear to be leading entirely successful and comfortable lives.”
He notes a disturbing prevalence of psychological and emotional suffering in the form of “anxiety, discontent, frustration, uncertainty, and depression” among people living in developed countries. “Indeed, if we compare the rich with the poor, it often seems that those with nothing are, in fact, the least anxious, though they are plagued with physical pains and suffering.” The simple abundance that Raam Dev found in a remote village of Nepal illustrates the Dalai Lama’s point well.
One of the significant changes that has occurred in developed countries is a reorganization of the way we live. Our lives are now structured to increase autonomy and independence, while reducing our direct dependence on others. Thus people strive to own their own home, car, computer, and so on. This acquired autonomy makes it seem as though we are self-sufficient and that our future is no longer dependent on our neighbors, but only on our employer. This in turn can lead us to feel that if others are not so important to my happiness, their happiness is not so important to me.
The end result is a society where it’s difficult for people to express basic affection. There’s a diminishing sense of community and belonging, and a growing sense of loneliness and alienation. The emphasis on economic growth and development reinforces competitiveness and envy, compounding the sense of separation. As science takes precedence over religion, there are fewer guideposts and more confusion about how to conduct ourselves in daily life as well as a tendency to think that nothing exists.
Just take a look around the blogosphere and you will see an explosion of blogs offering advice on how to find happiness, love, and positivity to fill this growing chasm of discontent. Isn’t it ironic that despite having all our basics needs met, we simply don’t know how to be happy?
This same scenario of inner suffering occurs in areas of the world – like parts of Southeast Asia – where prosperity has recently increased. A sense of discontentment seems to consistently rise in tandem with economic development. This shows us that the potential for this unease exists within all of us and can easily manifest given a shift in circumstances.
The success of science and technology has led us to believe that the keys to happiness are material well-being and the power conferred by knowledge. However, with each passing day it is becoming clearer and clearer that material well-being cannot bring happiness. The budding interest in minimalism reflects this conclusion. While knowledge is powerful indeed, it alone cannot bring happiness. Happiness can only be found through an inner personal development that is not dependent on external factors.
A Revolution Is In Order
The Dalai Lama is not proposing that we abandon scientific achievements. Nor does he recommend idealizing old ways of life. He believes the challenge at hand is to find ways to enjoy the same degree of harmony and tranquility enjoyed by traditional cultures while continuing to benefit from the material developments we have secured.
He points to the escalation of certain negative trends as indicative of the turmoil we face in modern society, including an increase in:
- murder, violence, and rape
- abusive and exploitative relationships
- drug and alcohol addiction
- divorce and its adverse effects on children
But, he is quick to point out,
“none of these problems are by nature inevitable. Nor are they due to any lack of knowledge. When we think carefully we see they are all ethical problems. They each reflect our understanding of what is right and wrong, of what is positive and what is negative, of what is appropriate and inappropriate. But beyond this we can point to something more fundamental: a neglect of what I call our inner dimension.”
“…given the complexity or our species—in particular, the fact that our having thoughts and emotions as well as imaginative and critical faculties—it is obvious that our needs transcend the merely sensual. The prevalence of anxiety, stress, confusion, uncertainty, and depression among those whose basic needs have been met is a clear indication of this. Our problems, both those that we experience externally – such as wars, crime, and violence – and those we experience internally—our emotional and psychological sufferings—cannot be solved until we address this underlying neglect. That is why the great movements of the last hundred years and more—democracy, liberalism, socialism—have all failed to deliver the universal benefit they were supposed to provide, despite many wonderful ideas.
A revolution is called for, certainly, But not a political, an economic, or even a technical revolution. We have had enough experience of these during the past century to know that a purely external approach will not suffice. What I propose is a spiritual revolution.”
In calling for a spiritual revolution, the Dalai Lama is not proposing a religious solution to our problems. Rather he is calling for a reawakening of the basic human values that are common to us all. These we will explore in Part 2 of this series A Simple Guide to Inner and Outer Harmony.
What are your thoughts on the Dalai Lama’s ideas for a better world?
A Simple Guide to Inner and Outer Harmony:
- Part 1: Love and Compassion: the Key to a Better World
- Part 2: The Revolution Begins Within
- Part 3: The Heart of Reality
- Part 4: Happiness Is An Inside Job
- Part 5: A Magical Recipe for the Supreme Emotion
Image of the Dalai Lama from his Facebook Page.