Among religious leaders, the Dalai Lama stands out as someone who shares many Humanist values and as someone who welcomes Humanists. Even though I have concerns about some things the Dalai Lama has said, his recent book Beyond Religion does encourage a secular framework for ethical decisions and wise living.
While appreciating scientific progress, the Dalai Lama says, “there is still great suffering” with “many struggling to get by in the face of inequality, corruption, and injustice.” Since the need is to bring benefits of progress to more people, these problems appear to involve moral issues. A central point of Beyond Religion is that in addressing current problems, moral arguments based on religion will not be convincing to people outside those religions. The Dalai Lama explains, “it is vital for us to find a genuinely sustainable and universal approach to ethics, inner values, and personal integrity-an approach that can transcend religious, cultural, and racial differences and appeal to people at a fundamental human level.”
While the Dalai Lama appreciates the contributions religion could make toward solving problems, his focus is broader. The Dalai Lama replaces the misleading term “spiritual” with the more inclusive expression “inner values.” He describes “inner values” as “compassion” along with “kindness, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, and generosity” as opposed to “greed, malice, hatred, and bigotry.” The Dalai Lama sees that qualities of compassion are part of our biological nature.
A large part of the book discusses meditation practices. Practicing meditation could help with developing awareness and feelings that lead to a prosocial character. Building a prosocial character makes a valuable contribution, but might not be enough to build consensus on moral issues. For example, the Dalai Lama’s public positions on sexuality and the rights of LGBT people appear conflicted.
Although we do not give blind allegiance to the Dalai Lama, we can show our appreciation for those points where we agree. Humanists agree “that morality is based on human needs, interests and purposes and not on the commands of any authority including any supposedly supernatural being.”