The following is taken from a speech given by the Dalai Lama about his views on the future of humanity. It was given in 1997, but is even more relevant today…
Today’s world requires us to accept the oneness of humanity. In the past, isolated communities could afford to think of one another as fundamentally separate. Some could even exist in total isolation. But nowadays, whatever happens in one region eventually affects many other areas. Within the context of our new interdependence, self-interest clearly lies in considering the interest of others.
Many of the world’s problems and conflicts arise because we have lost sight of the basic humanity that binds us all together as a human family. We tend to forget that despite the diversity of race, religion, ideology and so forth, people are equal in their basic wish for peace and happiness.
Nearly all of us receive our first lessons in peaceful living from our mothers, because the need for love lies at the very foundation of human existence. Peaceful living is about trusting those on whom we depend and caring for those who depend on us.
I believe that the very purpose of life is to be happy. From the very core of our being, we desire contentment. In my own limited experience I have found that the more we care for the happiness of others, the greater is our own sense of well being. Cultivating a close, warmhearted feeling for others automatically puts the mind at ease. It helps remove whatever fears or insecurities we may have and gives us the strength to cope with any obstacles we encounter. It is the principal source of success in life.
Since we are not solely material creatures, it is a mistake to place all our hopes for happiness on external development alone. The key is to develop inner peace.
Actions and events depend heavily on motivation. From my Buddhist viewpoint all things originate in the mind, if we develop a good heart, then whether the field of our occupation is science, agriculture or politics, since the motivation is so very important, the result will be more beneficial. With proper motivation these activities can help humanity; without it they go the other way. This is why the compassionate thought is so very important for humankind.
When you recognize that all beings are equal and like yourself in both their desire for happiness and their right to obtain it, you automatically feel empathy and closeness for them. You develop a feeling of responsibility for others: the wish to help them actively overcome their problems. True compassion is not just an emotional response but a firm commitment founded on reason. Therefore, a truly compassionate attitude towards others does not change even if they behave negatively.
I believe that we must consciously develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. We must learn to work not just for our own individual self, family, or nation, but for the benefit of all mankind. Universal responsibility is the best foundation both for our personal happiness and for world peace, the equitable use of our natural resources, and, through a concern for future generations, the proper care for the environment.
I believe it is important to reassess the rights and responsibilities of individuals, peoples, and nations in relation to each other and the planet as a whole. This has a direct bearing on human rights. Because it is very often the most gifted, dedicated, and creative members of our society who become victims of human rights abuses, the political, social, cultural, and economic developments of a society are obstructed by the violations of human rights.
Therefore, the acceptance of universally binding standards of human rights is essential in today’s shrinking world. Respect for fundamental human rights should not remain an ideal to be achieved, but a requisite foundation for every human society. But, when we demand the rights and freedoms we so cherish we should also be aware of our responsibilities. If we accept that others have an equal right to peace and happiness as ourselves, do we not have a responsibility to help those in need?
Faced with the challenge of establishing genuine world peace and preserving the bountiful earth, what can we do?
We need to embark on the difficult task of developing love and compassion within ourselves. Compassion is, by nature, peaceful and gentle, but it is also very powerful. Some may dismiss it as impractical and unrealistic, but I believe its practice is the true source success. It is a sign of true inner strength. To achieve it we do not need to become religious, nor do we need any ideology. All that is necessary is for us to develop our basic human qualities.
Ultimately, humanity is one and this small planet is our only home. If we are truly to help one another and protect this home of ours, each of us needs to experience a vivid sense of compassion and responsibility. Only these feelings can remove the self-centered motives that cause people to deceive and misuse one another.
No system of government is perfect, but democracy is closest to our essential human nature; it is also the only stable foundation upon which a just and free global political structure can be built. So it is in all our interests that those of us who already enjoy democracy should actively support everybody’s right to do so. We all want to live a good life, but that does not mean just having good food, clothes, and shelter. These are not sufficient. We need a good motivation: compassion, without dogmatism, without complicated philosophy, just understanding that others are our human brothers and sisters and respecting their rights and human dignity. That we humans can help each other is one of our unique human capacities.
Today, so much money is spent on armaments instead of feeding people and meeting basic human and environmental needs. It is a tragedy that in so many parts of the world there is no shortage of guns and bullets, but a severe lack of food. In such circumstances, thousands of innocent people, many of them children, are maimed or die. I believe there is a crying need for greater responsibility in the way we assess priorities in creating jobs, manufacturing goods and marketing them abroad.
The awesome proportion of scarce resources squandered on military development not only prevents the elimination of poverty, illiteracy, and disease, but also requires the sacrifice of our scientists’ precious human intelligence. Why should their talent be wasted in this way, when it could be used for positive global development? Our planet is blessed with vast natural treasures. If we use them wisely, beginning with the elimination of militarism and war, every human being will be able to live a healthy, prosperous existence.
Similarly, the problems of poverty, overpopulation, and destruction of the environment that face the global community today are problems that we have to address together. No single community or nation can expect to solve them on its own. In ancient times, each village was more or less self-sufficient and independent. There was neither the need nor the expectation of cooperation with others outside the village. You survived by doing everything yourself. The situation now has completely changed. It has become very old-fashioned to think only in terms of my nation or my country, let alone my village. Therefore; I repeat that universal responsibility is the real key to overcoming our problems.
Today’s problems of militarization, development, ecology, population, and the constant search for new sources of energy and raw materials require more than piece-meal actions and short-term problem-solving. Modern scientific development has, to an extent, helped in solving mankind’s problems. However, in tackling these global issues there is the need to cultivate not only the rational mind but also the other remarkable faculties of the human spirit: the power of love, compassion, and solidarity.
A new way of thinking has become the necessary condition for responsible living and acting. If we maintain obsolete values and beliefs, a fragmented consciousness and a self-centered spirit, we will continue to hold to outdated goals and behaviors. Much an attitude by a large number of people would block the entire transition to an interdependent yet peaceful and cooperative global society.
If we look back at the development in the 20th century, the most devastating cause of human suffering, of deprivation of human dignity, freedom and peace has been the culture of violence in resolving differences and conflicts. In some ways the 20th century can be called the century of war and bloodshed. The challenge before us, therefore, is to make the next century, a century of dialogue and of peaceful co-existence.
In human societies there will always be differences of views and interests. But the reality today is that we are all inter-dependent and have to co-exist on this small planet. Therefore, the only sensible and intelligent way of resolving differences and clashes of interests, whether between individuals or nations, is through dialogue. The promotion of a culture of dialogue and non-violence for the future of mankind is thus an important task of the international community. It is not enough for governments to endorse the principle of non-violence or hold it high without any appropriate action to promote it.
It is also natural that we should face obstacles in pursuit of our goals. But if we remain passive, making no effort to solve the problems we meet, conflicts will arise and hindrances will grow. Transforming these obstacles into opportunities for positive growth is a challenge to our human ingenuity. To achieve this requires patience, compassion, and the use of our intelligence.
This speech was delivered on September 4, 1997 by the Dalai Lama at the “Forum 2000” Conference in Prague.