This is unparalleled: One of the most important and most popular religious leaders world-wide said early in January, reacting to the Paris terrorist attacks: “On some days I think it would be better if there were no religions.”
The charismatic head of Tibetan Buddhism is increasingly sceptical of religions, because they also produce violence, fanaticism and intolerance.
In a fascinating speech last Sunday he said to over 7,000 visitors in Basel: “What we need is secular ethics beyond all religions.” I had the opportunity to ask the Dalai Lama about this statement. In this context he formulates a “Basel Appeal for Peace” at a time when in the middle of Europe a terrible war is raging again. “A prerequisite for peace is more compassion and completely new ethics, ethics without religion,” he says. The knowledge and practice of religion may be helpful but we could do without religion and also Buddhism, he seems convinced. We need “secular ethics” that would also be helpful and beneficial to about a billion atheists. “Be a kind person“ is also possible if you are not a believer, Dalai Lama says, starting his world-famous gurgling laugh that is something of a trademark and always catching – also in St. Jakobshalle in Basel. In his teaching he must have seen good examples of ethics without religion all over the world. If you enquire about the principles of secular ethics, he replies: “Education, respect, tolerance and non-violence, more inner values.”
Among six billion “believers” world-wide, he is afraid to say, there are “a lot of corrupt people” just pursuing their own interests. In the 20th century material interests had been taught and promoted too much. “Inner values must shape the 21st century”, he says, laughing out again. “Then our century will be one of peace and dialogue. There will, however, only be external peace if there is inner peace. This holds true for all current conflicts: In the Ukraine, the Middle East, in Afghanistan and Nigeria. Almost everywhere religious fundamentalism is one of the reasons for war”.
World-wide research still has to be made on world-wide secular ethics, as he agrees with many scientists, above all neuroscientists and teachers. Modern neurobiological research suggests that altruistic and less selfish behaviour is rewarding for all of us. Unlike animals, he goes on to say, man is able to behave altruistically and embrace the unknown and let the well-being of others be a guideline. Yet there is still a lack of awareness. The more people believe that others also behave altruistically, the more likely they are do so themselves. “Altruism just makes us happier”.
“For my interest in this area of research I was smiled at over 20 years ago. Today it is being recognized more and more. Whoever does not recognize altruism cannot understand how politics and power really work.” In the current Ukrainian conflict this means: Eastern Europe needs Western Europe and vice versa. Therefore: Talk with each other. You must realize that in the era of globalisation we are living in o n e world. The new motto should read: Your interest is ours.
Fundamentalism is always harmful. Yesterday’s concepts don’t help us any further. Especially for children, i.e. the adults of tomorrow, ethics is more important than religion. Climate change can also be tackled only globally. Violence and egoism are generally the wrong way. The most important question in view of a better world is: How can we serve each other? In order to do so, we must raise our awareness. This also applies to politicians.” We need positive states of mind and he is practising that every day for several hours, which in his view is more important than ritualized prayers.
Taking his leave, the 79-year-old Dalai Lama says: “Wars in the name of religion are hard to bear.” Then he will fly from Basel to Trondheim in Norway and from there to Copenhagen in order to campaign for new “secular ethics”. Only a week ago he talked about it in Washington and also met President Obama. The 1989 Nobel Peace Prize laureate sees himself as a modern angel of peace beyond all religions.