To help explain the ethics of compassion I will be using reference from the Dalia Lama’s book Ethics for the New Millennium, more specifically chapter ten; The Need for Discernment, and chapter 5 The Supreme Emotion. I will also refer to Touching Peace, and the five mindfulness trainings. The Dalia Lama had so many strong points it was hard to find any criticisms in his philosophies. One thing that concerned me was how he recognizes people who kill and torture for pleasure.The other point he made that came across as weaker to me or somewhat questionable is that we are to question whether our motive is genuinely compassionate when considered in relation to the totality of all beings. As for the strong points keeping in mind that there is no substantial difference between us, we all share a common desire to be happy and avoid suffering.
The second point he made that I think is very strong is that, when we lack discipline, eventually anxiety arises in our mind, and deep in our heart we come to feel a sense of disquiet.In chapter 5 “the supreme emotion” the Dalai Lama begins talking about his visit to the Auschwitz extermination camp which is now a museum of sorts in Germany. He explains how he is dumfounded by the sheer calculation and detachment from feeling. Because basic human feeling is the capacity we all have to empathize with one another. In Tibetan this is known as shen dug ngal wa la mi so pa, and translates to the inability to bear the sight of another’s suffering.
He brings up the possibility for people who live in atmospheres of violence and indifference to others may no longer be moved as the sight of other’s suffering, just like those endure years of warfare. Although this may be true he still says we all still appreciate being shown kindness, which suggests that however hardened we may become the capacity for empathy remains. The Dalai Lama uses an example of him visiting the Washington memorial of showing two sides of human potential.The one side of the memorial lists victims of the holocaust and the other remembers the heroic acts of kindness on the part of the Christian families who willingly took terrible risk in order to harbor Jews. The Dalai Lama felt this to be entirely appropriate, and very necessary, In that it shows two sides of human potential. I agree with him on this completely and I think the fact they made this memorial like this makes it more than just a memorial, it is also art.
The Dalia Lama wants us to understand that the existence of negative potential does not give us grounds to suppose that human nature is inherently violent.The next question to think about is, what about those who kill and torture for pleasure? Here he is talking about people like Hilter, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot. In these types of people there is a lacking of the basic impulse toward care and affection for others. There is a commonality between all of them, that their schemes were carried out in accordance to a perverted vision. They all have goals towards which they were working. The Dalia Lama wants us to understand that killers come from a particular society, time and place. Also we should recognize the role of the imaginative faculty in their actions.Although I can understand these things, I think it comes awful close to making excuses for the horrible actions that these people have been in charge of.
By the use to which this faculty is put determines whether actions it conceives are positive or negative, ethical or unethical. The individuals’ motivation in this is known as Kun Long in Tibetan and is the governing factor. This can be the difference between a properly motivated vision and a negatively motivated one. This is where it seems that these types of evil people are lacking a common human thread.The Dalia lama believes that we can enhance our capacity for empathy- experienced as a feeling. We can restrain our feelings through reasoning; we enhance them the same way. Our instinctive capacity for empathy is the source of that most precious of all human qualities called in Tibetan “Nying je” which should be understood in terms of a combination of empathy and reason.
The more we develop compassion, the more genuinely ethical our conduct will be. The next point that I found to be extremely truthful, and insightful was that having concern for others breaks down barriers which inhibit us from healthy interaction with each other.There is no substantial difference between us, and we should recognize that we all share a common desire to be happy and to avoid suffering. In recognizing this when we act out of concern for others the peace it creates in our own hearts brings peace to everyone we associate with. Love and compassion are fundamentally important to us all.
We need to take other’s feelings into consideration, given that ethical conduct consists in not harming others. In chapter ten in The Need for Discernment the Dalai Lama begins explaining the need for discipline.Ethical discipline is something we adopt voluntarily on the basis of full recognition of its benfits. He says it is indispensible because it is a means by which we meditate between the competing claims of my right to happiness and others’ equal right. It is important to know also that the Dalai Lama has a firm belief that no one truly benefits from causing harm to others.
The point that I believe to be the strongest in this section is this; when we lack discipline eventually anxiety arises in our mind, and deep in our heart we come to feel a sense of disquiet.I think this is so true, and I know from experience. The Dalai Lama wants us to know that on the other hand whatever hardship it entails. Disciplining our response to negative though and emotions will cause us fewer problems in the long run than indulging in acts of selfishness. These are both very valid points, and important things to keep in mind on the day to day. Our actions contribute toward the well being of all, because ethical discipline is what facilitates the very qualities which give meaning and values to our existence.Employing the faculty of wise discernment (based off the Buddhist tradition called the union of skillful means and insights) involves constantly checking out outlook and asking ourselves whether we are broad-minded or narrow-minded.
Have we taken into account the overall situation or only the specifics? Is our view short term, or long term? Are we short sighted or clear-eyed? Is our motive genuinely compassionate when considered in relation to the totality of all beings? This last question poses a concern for me, because should we really be considering the totality of all beings over our motive, even when it is simple?Practicing pure methods of non-harming is very important to the well being of all, and the key principles are compassion and insight. From the Touching Peace reading compassion is not enough, we must also have to develop understanding so we know what kind of action to take. This is manifested in the five mindfulness trainings, they are as follows: 1 suffering caused by destruction of life. 2 suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression. 3 Suffering caused by sexual misconduct. 4 Suffering caused by the unmindful speech and inability to listen to others.
5 Suffering caused by unmindful consumption.