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The Dalai Lama Nails It: "Religion is No Longer Adequate"

His Holiness The Dalai Lama, on his facebook page, wrote the following provocative quote:

"All the world’s major religions, with their emphasis on love, compassion, patience, tolerance, and forgiveness can and do promote inner values. But the reality of the world today is that grounding ethics in religion is no longer adequate. This is why I am increasingly convinced that the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics beyond religion altogether."

I could not agree more. With a world that is turning away from reasonable religion (at the speed of light) toward either atheism or fundamentalism, we need some shared ethical basis for participation that is not grounded in religious principles that only SOME people adhere to. It also can't be based on greed, aggression, and provoking fear of the "other" constantly.

We need to find a more secular ethics based on things like mindfulness, empathy, and interdependence. This is why I am such a fan of a secular approach to Buddhism, presented as tools for the development of these secular qualities, which can be useful to atheists and religious folks alike.

The Dalai Lama literally just said "Religion is no longer adequate." Makes me think he'd probably be pretty into secular Buddhism, no?

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Comment from a buddhist

Buddhism is atheistic. The buddha was a human being who taught about how to be the best human being one can be. I do a buddhist practice but my understanding of the philosophy is that it is identical to highly developed common sense. One principle, if universally applied, would already bring about great changes. "You cannot build your happiness on the misery of others."

I couldn't agree more

with "highly developed common sense." I think everyone could agree on that -- atheists, humanists, religious people -- without fighting over the labels..


The Dalai Lama's quote is pithy and sweet. It also makes no mention of the endemic and treacherously well funded science of mind that has become predominant in our academic and medical institutions -- a paradigm that often-times reduces all that previously deemed spiritual (empathy, interdependence, love, human meaning) to a series of ultimately precious representational effects, basically determined by biology. Atheism oftentimes represents the propaganda arm of said movement - Hitchens and Dawkins serving as its footsoldiers, dissolving centuries of complicated theological discourse with the obnoxious flourish of angry adolescents (ie lets do away with all that silly metaphor and get back to the realness of the really really real material reality) while many (if not most) of the fundamentalists fight for the really really real meal of the archetypes and myths that undegird their very way of being. Neither is more noble. But both, I suspect, are responding to a curious moment in scientific and intellectual history in which the accepted authorities of science and medicine have carefully positioned themselves capable of obliterating aspects of humanity that have carried us through centuries.

is there a difference between religion & science?

Both ask people to believe in invisible forces and entities that are outside of our everyday experience (Gods vs particles & forces). Both are remarkably ill-equipped to predict reality, and have nifty ways to compensate when what is doesn't match up with their dictates. Religion defers to the whims of  "God," who may "choose" one group or another, but that doesn't mean it always goes their way, or that bad things don't happen to good people. Science simply updates its theories, saying oops, we had it wrong, THIS is how it works. Really. We're pretty sure this time. (Light is a particle, no it's a wave, no it's both! particles are discreet entities... oh wait, they seem to be connected, even when separated! eat margarine, butter is bad for you... oops eat butter! margarine is all trans fats and will kill you!). Both religion  and science are wildly unstable belief systems that create huge tensions between believers of different "faiths." I doubt science and medicine could ever begin to unseat religion... it's just another form of it, really. The Dalai Lama's statement simply asks for common sense. Kindness. That applies to everyone.

When you say "aspects of humanity that have carried us through centuries" (are you referring to religion?), it's worth noting that all of those centuries, and in fact all of recorded history has been intensely warlike, rife with division and conflict... dogmatic belief fuels ALL of these wars (while biological competition may be an underlying cause). It's almost like religion provides the talking points for the things biology drives us to do. Perhaps we should wake up to the destructive aspects of BOTH our biology and our religious belief systems and seek common sense and kindness and clear-seeing as the Dalai Lama suggests.

And certainly I think he does not mean for us leave behind the positive aspects of systems of belief. They arrange our world for us. But maybe we can seek a new understanding that does not divide us against each other, but weaves us together instead.

HHDL has said

"my religion is kindness."

pretty clear. I think he would find "secular buddhism" unnecessary.

be kind. no divisive labels needed.

Ethics and morals are not derivatives of religion

Anyone who thinks that only from religion can you derive ethical and moral behaviour has never done any critical thinking.

At one time in human history, our species was incapable of thinking beyond the moment and certainly could never have constructed the concept of any deity whatsoever. So, how did our species survive? Through the fact that moral and ethical behaviours were and still are fundamental to living and working cooperatively to ensure mutual survival. It's that simple.

Moral behaviour is an evolutionary requirement in a complex species. Even when our ancestors could not conceive of the concept, their actions were, thankfully, directed by powerful connections and a basic understanding of the need to act in a certain way.

Religion came long, long, long after and it has been a tool for controlling and manipulating with one hand while preaching something else entirely from the other hand. It's all a ruse and just looking at how religious groups treat each other and non-believers should be your first clue to the lies that have been instilled into ordinary people for millennia.

Letting go of form

This is such an important insight to embrace fully. When we cling to our beliefs, our rituals and traditions, our culture and teachings, we are very prone to loose sight of the true essence that lies beyond all form, to which all religions point, but also smother. Religion is often the death of spirituality; the divine gets trampled to death under the clumsy feet of dogma and belief.

My Take

I think that he is saying that there needs to be a more encompassing secular way of thinking about ethics. Religion based ethics only speaks to the people who are following that particular faith. It is not open to seeing things from a larger scale all by itself. He is not saying don't practice your religion any longer. He is saying that when it comes to ethics, there is a more universal way of looking at it that will include all people no matter what their religious beliefs are. I agree and having read his book on the subject, I think that the Dalai Lama does an excellent job of explaining his reasoning.

which book is that?



People could interpret this one of two ways. Either that we should do away with religion entirely or that we need something above and beyond religion and don't necessarily need to trash religion to get there. I choose to look at as the latter. And, in that sense, I agree with the Dalai Lama. I remain a Christian. But, I've studied secular Buddhism, which I see more as philosophy/psychology and mental discipline than I do as faith. Christianity alone wasn't enough for me.

Completely agree

I think what he is responding to is not genuine religion, but the bifurcation of former religion into atheism and fundamentalism. My point is that viewing Buddhist ethics and psychology as a secular offering is the way to actually give something of benefit to both the religious and the atheistic alike.

I would also say

That's the only way to look at this quote. There is almost nil chance the Dalai Lama would want to trash religion or discourage religious people from practicing in any way shape or form.

so helpful

I have been reflecting a little this time of year.  A bit of not so disconcerting insomnia and longer periods of travel time have afforded space to recently reread a collection of essays by Abraham Joshua Heschel (Moral Granduer and Spiritual Audacity), another translation of Shantideva's Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life, a newer biographical account of Malcolm X, and the Dalai Lama's Spiritual Advice for Buddhists and Christians, which happened to be on a local library shelf I was browsing.  Lately, I have been listening to Miles Neale and Ethan Nichtern but also reading work by Mark Epstein and Joe Loizzo.  I do not really know what to say about post-religious ethics and I hope to read more recent work by the Dalai Lama, but it seems quite wonderful to be near and/or to learn from those inhabiting/cultivating buddha-like and bodhisattva qualities and spaces.  With modesty, respect and faith in relation to many paths, plus a bit of gratitude for being more clued into my own judgments and sense of ignorance.  Lastly, I look forward to the NYC Silent Peace Walk on Oct 7: http://nypeacewalk.org/


Why anyone should support the practicing of false beliefs? The causes of suffering are brought about by actions caused by these dogmatic beliefs.  There is no reason they shouldn't be eradicated entirely besides the likely occurrence of fundamentalists nuking the world in response. If this realization of the Dalai Lama hasn't been apparent to Buddhists prior then they too wouldn't be worthy of much moral high ground besides their emphasis on compassion and the cessation of suffering to sentient beings. 


-Balls Deep 24/7 


I think the Dalai Lama would definitely be interested! He doesn't seem to believe anyone needs to start practicing Tibetan-style Buddhism ... just compassion, empathy, and wisdom. And none of those are exclusive to any religion.

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