GESHE LOBSANG TENZIN (Director, Emory-Tibet Partnership): I think that we are living at a time you know where our world has really become very small in the sense that we live with many different people occupying the same space from different religious background, cultural backgrounds, ethnic backgrounds and I think that to live together harmoniously we would need to find some common ground, something that is shared among all people to inspire ourselves to become better human beings and that is compassion, you know, that love. It’s something that all religious traditions emphasize, compassion provides the foundation for all religions, but also for basic humanity and whether one believes in religion or not, basic human values like compassion or caring for each other, kindness, you know tolerance, these are basic human qualities that we will need whether we are religious or not, so his Holiness the Dalai Lama recognizes the need for… developing... need for a greater awareness about these basic human values that unite us regardless of what religion we follow. And I think that that’s why His Holiness is very committed to promoting secular ethics, a way of living… living with each other in this complex kind of world. Where we… a way of living in this… today’s world… the very kind of multicultural, multiethnic society that is grounded in those basic human values like love and compassion.

Ethics of compassion I think it’s a major part of all major religions I think. But what His Holiness is proposing is that ethics of compassion can also be you know developed without having to rely on a specific religion. So in proposing secular ethics His Holiness is not proposing something irreligious form of practice, but rather something that all religions have lot to say, a lot contribute to and guide us, but also something that we as human beings, have in our biology, whether we follow one religion or not, and those kind of the universal or the basic human values that perhaps we have developed before we even had religions, before the humanity you know came up with various religions. The basic kind of qualities of trust, the fairness, cooperation, and the concern for each other, this I think that the foundations of all religions, certainly religions have a lot to say, but also we can learn from those who don’t necessarily have any particular religion. And particularly you know that the science, the scientific kind of findings strongly suggest that these values are something that are in our biology, we have inherited from our kind of Mammalian sort of ancestors.

I think when we talk about ethics it’s... of course it is a quite broad topic, but it comes down to our… behavior, if you will, towards us and other living beings and that has to… a behavior that avoids harming others, ideally. Interacting with others in a helpful way, you know that so in order for us to interact with others in helpful manners and to refrain from harming others, it requires a minimum…at the minimum level it requires a certain degree of concern for others and that’s what His Holiness the Dalai Lama in presenting this the model for secular ethics, he mentions in the Ethics for the New Millennium that it requires, at the minimum level, it requires a concern for others’ well-being. And I think that from there then we can say that you know for us to act ethically, behave ethically, live ethically, compassion is very, very important. But how do we promote compassion? Not just for those who are very close to us, but many people that we interact on daily basis who may not be our relatives or close friends who maybe strangers or those who are quite a distance acquaintance, that are…people who may even challenge us, maybe who we feel some difficulties with. So how do we promote the compassion that can embrace the wider, community of people? And there I think that what His Holiness has proposed it is that the two pillars, the one is common humanity, what he calls common humanity, and the other one in…our interdependence.

What His Holiness is asking us is to attune to the very basic, the fundamental kind of aspects, or the fundamental aspirations that we all share, that…first of all, everyone you know wants to have a better life, the more flourishing, more happiness, well being, and nobody wants to have suffering or distress and dissatisfaction, and that’s what I think that if we go beyond our superficial relationships that where we belong and where others belong, but to be able to recognize at that deeper level that how we are in the same boat. You know we have the same goals and aspiration, deep aspiration to be happy and to be free from suffering. If we can relate to others from that common aspiration that we share then I think that the more of the kind of superficial aspect of our relationship will not have kind of …will not become a major hurdle in connecting with others with the kind of sense of understanding and empathy.

Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Extended Interview

“Ethics of compassion is a major part of all major religions. But ethics of compassion can also be developed without having to rely on a specific religion.” Watch more of correspondent Kate Olson’s interview about the Dalai Lama and secular ethics with Geshe Lobsang Tenzin, senior lecturer in Emory’s religion department and director of the Emory-Tibet Partnership.