Ethics for the new Millennium
Ch. 4 Redefining the Goal (pp. 49 à 62)
There is thus an important distinction to be made between what we might call ethical and spiritual acts. An ethical act is on where we refrain from causing harm to others' experience or expectation of happiness. Spiritual acts we can describe in terms of those qualities mentioned earlier of love, compassion, patience, forgiveness, humility, tolerance, and so on which presume some level of concern for others’ well-being. We find that the spiritual actions we undertake which are motivated not by narrow self-interest but out of our concern for others actually benefit ourselves. And not only that, but they make our lives meaningful. At least this is my experience. Looking back over my life, I can say with full confidence that such things as the office of Dalai Lama, the political power it confers, even the comparative wealth it puts at my disposal, contribute not even a fraction to my feelings of happiness compared with the happiness I have felt on those occasions when I have been able to benefit others.
Does this proposition stand up to analysis? Is conduct inspired by the wish to help others the most effective way to bring about genuine happiness? Consider the following. We humans are social beings. We come into the world as the result of other’s actions. We survive here in dependence on others. Whether we like it or not, there is hardly a moment of our lives when we do not benefit from others’ activities. For this reason, it is hardly surprising that most of our happiness arises in the context of our relationships with others. Nor is it so remarkable that our greatest joy should come when we are motivated but concerns for others. But that is not all. We find that not only do altruistic actions bring about happiness, but they also lessen our experience of suffering. Here I am not suggesting that the individual whose actions are motivated by the wish to bring others’ happiness necessarily meets with less misfortune than the one who does not. Sickness, old age, and mishaps of one sort or another are the same for us all. But the sufferings which undermine our internal peace –anxiety, frustration, disappointment—are definitely less. In our concern for others, we worry less about ourselves. When we worry less about ourselves, the experience of our own suffering is less intense.
What does this tell us? Firstly, because our every action has a universal dimension, a potential impact on others’ happiness, ethic is necessary as a means to ensure that we do not harm others. Secondly, it tells us that genuine happiness consists in those spiritual qualities of love and compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, humility and so on. It is these which provide happiness both for ourselves and for others.
Here was on pages 61-2 from Ethics for the new Millenium by His Holiness The Dalai Lama, Copyright 1999, at Riverhead Books, member of Penguin Putnam Inc. 375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014 ISBN 1-57322-025-6