The Revolution Begins Within

Dalai LamaWith the exception of natural disasters, whatever global problems we face – the environmental crisis, war, poverty, child slavery, drug abuse, drug trafficking, and so on – are all man-made problems.

Therefore, they can be overcome.

The same applies to the feelings of unhappiness, anxiety, discontent, frustration, uncertainty, and depression that plague the modern world despite all our material wealth and conveniences.

None of this is permanent or unsolvable.

In the first article of this series on Inner and Outer Harmony, the Dalai Lama concludes – based on the pervasive discontent he has observed in developed countries – that material wealth does not bring happiness.  He says that science, technology, and knowledge on their own – although important -  also have not and cannot solve the world’s problems.

He points out how the very structure of modern life is now geared toward creating a greater illusion of autonomy and independence.  This has lead to an increase in loneliness and alienation and a diminishing ability to express basic human affection – causing further problems and adding to our challenges.

When we look carefully at all these external problems, he argues, we see they are all fundamentally ethical problems. He says,

“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.”

“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.”

What is a spiritual revolution?

A spiritual revolution is not a religious revolution. The Dalai Lama clearly distinguishes between religion and spirituality.  He defines spirituality in this way,

“Spirituality, I take to be concerned with those qualities of the human spirit – such as love and compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, contentment, a sense of responsibility, a sense of harmony, which bring happiness to both self and other.  These inner qualities need not be connected to religion.”

While religion might encompass spirituality, religion is not required for the cultivation of a kind heart.

All the positive qualities of the human spirit can be nourished with practice and become a springboard for consistently acting out of concern for the welfare of others.  This is how the Dalai Lama defines spiritual practice and it is not necessarily connected with religion.  He says we might be able to do without religion, but we cannot survive without these basic spiritual qualities.

A Concern for Others

The single characteristic common to all these positive qualities of the human spirit is a concern for the well-being of others.

As much as you wish to be happy yourself, you also wish for others to be happy.  As much as you would like to avoid suffering, you also do not want others to suffer.

With this underlying motivation, you are cognizant of the potential impact of your behavior on others and adjust your actions accordingly.  As much as possible, you try to help and you try to avoid harming.

Just like you naturally feel love for your own child, you can grow love and compassion for all beings with practice.

In order to change the world for the better, the Dalai Lama proposes a reawakening of these basic human values like compassion, patience, forgiveness, and the others mentioned above along with,

“…a radical reorientation away form our habitual preoccupation with self.  It is a call to turn toward the wider community of beings with whom we are connected, and for conduct which recognizes others’ interests alongside our own.”

That’s right – we need to give up our self-centeredness if we want to see a better world. Paradoxically, reducing our self-absorption and over-focus on our own “needs” brings greater happiness.  Remember, all those shiny, bright new things are not bringing us a meaningful sense of contentment or lasting happiness.

Being “good” actually pays off. When we look closely at the impact of our actions, we will see time and again that helping others, helps you. Whereas harming others, harms you. This is the logical behind the Dalai Lama’s advice to bewisely selfish.” Ultimately, helping is in one’s own self-interest as is avoiding harmful actions.  Thus the age-old adage, “What comes around, goes around.”

Heartfelt Ethics

The sense of ethics the Dalai Lama proposes is not a prescriptive one, but a natural expression of a heart-felt concern for others.

By definition love, compassion, and other basic spiritual qualities that presume some level of concern for others also presuppose ethical restraint.  Ethical conduct is not something we engage in only because it is prescribed or coerced, but because of the heart-felt concern we feel for others.  This is how spirituality and ethics are interconnected even when religion is not in play.

There is no formulaic approach to ethics that can provide an answer for every possible ethical dilemma.

Instead, the Dalai Lama proposes that we take as a starting point the observation that we all wish to be happy and that we all wish to avoid suffering.  He suggests that one determinant of whether an act is ethical is its effect on another person’s experience or expectation of happiness.  An act which diminishes  happiness is potentially an unethical one.

Ultimately, it is our motivation or intention that drives and inspires our action. Therefore, it is our motivation – the overall state of one’s heart and mind – when we act that is key to determining the ethics of an action.

The aim of spiritual and, therefore, ethical practice is thus to transform and perfect one’s motivation.  When our motivation is positive, wholesome action follows.  Perfecting our motivation is how we become better human beings.  It is key to living consciously.

Perfecting Our Motivation

Following are some simple ways that you can establish a positive motivation everyday.

1. Take time to establish your motivation each day – the wish to help and the desire not to harm.  For example, every morning make a conscious heart-felt aspiration to help and not to harm in all that you do that day.

2. Check you motivation and your actions throughout the day.

Make conscious choices.  Consider how each of your actions will affect others – not just those close to you but your community and the whole world around you. For example, when it comes to buying a new product, consider its impact on the environment. Mindful consumption is an expression of  a good heart.

Re-establish your positive motivation if you feel it waning at any point during the day.

3. Use challenging encounters and situations to cultivate positive qualities like love, compassion, tolerance, and forgiveness, and to diminish harmful qualities like anger, hatred, greed, attachment, and so on.

4. Gently encourage positive qualities in others without succumbing to judgment.

5. Briefly examine your actions at the end of each day.  Celebrate the positive ones.  Acknowledge the harmful ones. Learn from them.  Consider how you might have handled a situation differently.  But don’t be harsh with yourself!  Re-commit to positive motivation and to expressing it through positive actions.

The more you transform your heart and mind through this simple approach the happier you will become.  Your actions will naturally become positive and you will be contributing to creating a better world for everyone else at the same time.

Practical Solutions Are Also Necessary

The Dalai Lama is not suggesting that cultivating positive spiritual values alone will make all the problems in the world automatically disappear.  Each challenge needs its own practical solution as well.  For example, climate change isn’t going to reverse itself simply because we are nice to each other.  We need to change our consumption habits too.  However, having a deep concern for the well-being of others is the motivation that can wake us up and spur us to do so.

A spiritual revolution can’t solve all our problems on its own, but without such a revolution of the spirit, there is no hope of achieving a lasting solution to our problems at all.

The revolution is now.  It begins within.  It starts with you.

Do you feel an inner revolution is crucial to changing the world?

This series A Simple Guide to Inner and Outer Harmony is based on Ethics for a New Millennium by the Dalai Lama

Image of the Dalai Lama from his Facebook Page.

If you liked this article, please share it with others via your social media networks.  Thanks!  Sandra

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31 thoughts on “The Revolution Begins Within

  1. Lovely and wonderfully empowering article Sandra.

    There is so much wisdom and truth here. When we step back and consider the needs of others, a spiritual awakening occurs for us all.

    Alex

    • Alex,

      You summed this up so beautifully: “When we step back and consider the needs of others, a spiritual awakening occurs for us all.” Thank you!

  2. Sandra,

    I LOVE this series. Your insight and wisdom — and the resulting guidance you can offer the rest of us is just wonderful. I mean that with every ounce of my being.

    Two points really resonate:

    1) The call to shift from the selfish to the selfless. Practice helps to make perfect here.

    2) Not losing sight of the practical things we must then do to realize the change we want to see. Manifesting the shift from selfish to selfless (or being ‘wisely selfish as HHDL calls for) in direct action helps us put the rubber to the road and start moving.

    We must re-engage ourselves, our communities and our world in ways both big and small. A selfless embrace of all beings (human and otherwise) + the practice of mindful consumption (thank you for the link) + a bit of elbow grease for rolling up our sleeves and digging in on the front lines of change can lead to all sort of wonderful things.

    I can’t wait to read the next installment. Be well.

    • Thanks for your kind words Bill, but I’m just the jukebox, all the wisdom is from the Dalai Lama! You highlight two key points for sure. The funny thing is that when we stop being selfish, we get all that we truly need. As you point out, action is equally important. Thanks for your insightful words.

      I think I will be linking to your mindful consumption article forever! It’s so good.

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  4. This post was highly inspirational to me and makes my outlook on life not seem strange. I really want to commit to memory that if my action could make someone unhappy, then it might be unethical.

  5. Beautiful post. It really resonated with me. I find concern for others paticurally important. There is so much selfishness in the world. I think it is a social disease. Also encouraging positive qualities in others is extremley important. So many don’t know how to be positive, because they were never encouraged to be. Negativity is accepted as a fact of life and that is profoundly sad. By helping others we help and advance ourselves!
    Thanks, Dandy

  6. Hi Lisa,

    Isn’t it funny that sometimes a kind outlook can seem strange in our world today? But great minds think alike and you can’t go wrong if you are thinking like the Dalai Lama. Just remember, none of us are perfect yet and we will all make mistakes so kindness towards our self is equally important!

  7. “The very structure of modern life is now geared toward creating a greater illusion of autonomy and independence.” This is occurring even as we become more interconnected with each passing day.

    To do no harm would be a laudable goal for each of us.

    Thanks, Sandra.

  8. Hi Sandra! I enjoyed this take on some really great concepts. I especially enjoy how you summed it up with practical solutions. This brings the spiritual ideas into our hands, so to speak, an active way to engage with our spiritual beliefs in the world and not just as an ideal.

  9. I love the concept of “wisely selfish.” As I read the first part, I found myself thinking “but…but…but.” As someone who spent far too many years giving to others and not taking care of her own needs, this answers my objections. As with anything in life, it is all about balance. I believe achieving balance is at the root of spirituality and the needed revolution.

    I also really like the distinction between religious and spiritual. Makes sense. Good stuff.

    • Debbie, I completely understand your hesitation. Many of us have been on automatic and have not taken care of ourselves. That concept is almost foreign to many traditional who are far more grounded and naturally take care of themselves without giving it a second thought or having it be a conflict with caring for others too. In Buddhism, it’s always emphasized to train gradually in compassion and to only extend yourself to your current capacity and to slowly try to widen your capacity. But it’s a given that you take care of yourself too. I’m really glad that you raised this point. Thanks!

      The Dalai Lama distinguishes between religion and spirituality because huge portions of the planet are not involved in religious faith. Therefore, he feels we need to find universal ethical denominators that we can all share that are not connected to religion.

  10. The life we live is about gaining experience, and more importantly how we think and decide to deal with these experiences on a day by day basis. Without these experiences we cannot test our own abilities, our own awakening and therefore cannot create that vital belief of revolution within us.

    If everyone took their experiences as a learning curve, or a test to strengthen our characters and spirituality, then the world would be a better place, without man made problems for both other people and the environment we live in.

    I like this topic, the message and the thought.

    • Hello and welcome Awakening Temptest,

      I love the tag line on your blog: “I think, therefore, I am dangerous.” Thanks for sharing your perspective with us. I agree that life is about gaining experience that transforms us and the world around us. Glad the topic is of interest to you. All the best!

  11. What a beautifully written post Sandra. Thank you for your inspiring words, yet again. I loved reading the reminder that helping others is really helping ourselves. It all stems from the premise that we are all interconnected and we are all one in the same. In our world it is so challenging to remember all of this-although we all know it deep within. I am in need of constant reminders to forgo any self judgment or judgment of others and love others selflessly. Thank you for helping me get back on track.

    • Hi Lori,

      I love how you draw this all back to interconnection and interdependence, which is an essential element in the Dalai Lama’s view and approach to the world.

      It is challenging! I’m so grateful that we have each other as reminders. I appreciate your dedication and warm heart.

  12. Thank you for sharing these wonderful thoughts Sandra! You say in a comment that the wisdom comes from Dalai Lama, but to be able to see and embrace this wisdom you and me and all the others have to recognize the wisdom inside ourselves. We are able to get the message, if we get it, because we are ready for it. With that said it is also important to recognize Dalai Lama as a messanger.

    • Hi Tom,

      You are right! The same wisdom within Dalai Lama exists within us all. That’s the fundamental message of Buddhism – we all have the fundamental heart of goodness or Buddha nature. Thank you for expressing this and reminding us!

  13. Hello Sandra
    I’ve only just recently found your excellent blog.
    This post is very thought provoking and sets things out in a very concise and accessable way.
    I especially like the distinction between religion and spirituality, which is very helpful.
    It’s great to be in contact with like-minded people.

    • Welcome Stella,

      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment and introducing yourself. I really appreciate it and enjoy meeting like-minded people too.

      The importance between religion and spirituality is very important because so many people are not connected with religion these days, but we still need to find a common ethical basis for our actions.

      Hope to see you again soon. All the best!

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  15. This is such a lovely and timely message. I had a conversation just yesterday about the spiritual problem that lies behind many of our world’s woes. I have never cared for the word ‘spiritual,’ but I’m working on embracing consciousness and responsibility. Would that being ‘wisely selfish’ came more naturally to us!

    • Hello Ailanna,

      I just read the interesting post on your blog about spirituality vs. rationalism. Great discussion and good questions – like how do you get people to care? I think that the Dalai Lama does address some of these questions and it does indeed require education since we are not automatically “wisely selfish” as you point out! Thanks so much for your comment. I look forward to reading more of your blog.

  16. Sandra,

    I’ve written down that definition of spirituality. This notion of the need for spiritual values to solve the world’s problems is absolutely on point.

    A particular MLK, Jr. quote came to mind, though I can’t find it. However, I did find these two which I thought I’d share:

    “Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge which is power; religion gives man wisdom which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals. They are complementary.”

    and

    “Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.”

    • Hi Travis -

      The Dalai Lama’s definition of spirituality seems to be ringing a bell with several people. Thanks so much for these quotes. They are both excellent! You are so generous to take the time to share them. Thanks so much.

  17. Hello Sandra,
    This is my first time here and this post speaks to everything I believe and try to live in my own life.
    Thank you for sharing as this is the best hope that these ideas will catch on!

    • Welcome Jenny, It’s so nice to “meet” you in the big wide world of cyberspace. I’m so glad this post resonated for you. Let’s keep sharing so they do catch on. Nice to see our connection via your review of Ram Dass’ book Be Love Now. Mine’s coming up on November 10th.

      Thanks so much for leaving a comment. All the best to you!

  18. Hi Sandra-I just wanted to thank Travis for the quote about religion and science being complementary, not rivals. The quote really resonated with me.

  19. Hi Sandra,
    My heart is always uplifted when I visit your blog. You bring hope and direction for personal growth that has the potential to effect everyone. I’m onboard and still working on No.2. It’s not that I consume too much. It’s the packaging and other details that trip me up. One step at a time, right. This is just lovely.

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