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Search for Peace

Jul 04, 2023
10 min read

by His Holiness the DALAI LAMA
1959 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee, India

This article was written by 1959 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee His Holiness the DALAI LAMA exclusively for the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation. It first appeared in the book "My Work, My Teacher," published by the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation in 1987 in commemoration of the Award's 30th anniversary.

Science and technology have worked wonders in many fields, but the basic human problems remain. There is unprecedented literacy, yet universal education does not seem to have fostered goodness, only mental restlessness and discontent. There is no doubt about the increase in our material progress and technology, but somehow we have not yet succeeded in bringing about peace and happiness, nor in overcoming suffering.

I am not at all against science and technology-they have contributed immensely to the overall experience of humankind, to our material comfort and well-being, and to our greater understanding of the world we live in. But our basic human problems remain; we are still faced with suffering, fear and tension. Thus it is only logical to try to strike a balance between material development on the one hand and the development of spiritual, human values on the other. In order to bring about this great adjustment, we need to revive our humanitarian instincts.

I do not speak as a Buddhist nor even as a Tibetan. Nor do I speak as an expert on international politics though I unavoidably comment on these matters. Rather, I speak simply as a human being, as an upholder of the humanitarian values that are the bedrock, not only of Mahayana Buddhism, but of all the great world religions. From this perspective I share with you my personal beliefs, that universal humanitarianism is essential to solve global problems; compassion is the pillar of world peace; all world religions are for world peace, as are all humanitarians of whatever ideology; and each individual has a responsibility to shape institutions to serve human needs.

Our basic human problems remain; we are still faced with suffering, fear and tension. Thus it is only logical to try to strike a balance between material development on the one hand and the development of spiritual, human values on the other.

The premise behind the idea of universal responsibility is the simple fact that, in general terms, all others' desires are the same as mine. Every being wants happiness and does not want suffering. If we adopt a self-centered approach to life and constantly try to use others for our own self-interest, we may gain temporary benefits, but in the long run we will not succeed in achieving even personal happiness, and world peace will be completely out of the question.

All this calls for a new approach to global problems. The world is becoming smaller and smaller and more and more interdependent as a result of rapid technological advances and international trade, as well as increasing transnational relations. We now depend very much on each other. In ancient times problems were mostly family-size, and they were naturally tackled at the family level, but the situation has changed. Today we are so interdependent, so closely interconnected, that without a sense of universal responsibility, a feeling of universal brotherhood and sisterhood, and an understanding and belief that we really are part of one big human family, we cannot hope to overcome the dangers to our very existence- let alone bring about peace and happiness.

Every being wants happiness and does not want suffering.

One nation's problems can no longer be satisfactorily solved by itself alone; too much depends on the interest, attitude, and cooperation of other nations. A universal humanitarian approach to world problems seems the only sound basis for world peace. What does this mean? We begin from the recognition mentioned previously that all beings cherish happiness and do not want to suffer. It then becomes both morally wrong and pragmatically unwise to pursue one's own happiness, oblivious to the feelings and aspirations of all others who surround us as members of the same human family. The wiser course is to think of others. This will lead to what I call 'wise self-interest', which hopefully will transform itself into 'mutual interest'.

A spiritual approach may not solve all the political problems that have been caused by the existing self-centered approach, but in the long run, it will overcome the very basis of the problems that we face today.

On the other hand, if humankind continues to approach its problems considering only temporary expediency, future generations will have to face tremendous difficulties. The global population is increasing, and our resources are being rapidly depleted. We are facing problems because people are concentrating only on their short-term, selfish interests, not thinking of the entire human family. They are not thinking of the earth and the long-term effects on universal life as a whole. If we of the present generation do not think about these now, future generations may not be able to cope with them.

According to Buddhist philosophy, most of our troubles are due to our passionate desire for and attachment to things that we misapprehend as enduring entities. The pursuit of the objects of our desire and attachment involves competitiveness and aggression as supposedly efficacious instruments. Such processes have been going on since time immemorial, but their execution has become more effective under modern conditions. What can we do to control and regulate these poisons of delusion, greed, and aggression, for it is these poisons that are behind almost every trouble in the world?

As one brought up in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, I feel that love and compassion are the moral fabric needed to create world peace. Let me first define what I mean by compassion. When you have pity or compassion for a very poor person, you are showing sympathy because he or she is poor; your compassion is based on altruistic considerations. On the other hand, love towards your wife, your husband, your children is usually based on attachment. When your attachment changes, your kindness also changes; it may disappear. This is not true love. Real love is not based on attachment, but on altruism. In this case, your compassion will remain as a humane response to suffering as long as beings continue to suffer.

When we take into account the fact that all wish to gain happiness and avoid suffering, and keeping in mind our relative unimportance in relation to the billions of 'others', a true sense of compassion-a true sense of love and respect for others-becomes possible. Individual happiness ceases to be a conscious self-seeking effort; it becomes a far superior by-product of the whole process of loving and serving others.


I maintain that every major religion-Christianity, Confucian-ism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Sikhism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism has similar ideals of love, the same goal of benefiting humanity through spiritual practice, and the same effect of making their followers into better human beings. All religions agree upon the necessity to control the undisciplined mind that harbors selfishness and other roots of trouble, and each teaches A path leading to a spiritual state that is peaceful, disciplined, ethical and wise. In this sense, I believe all religions have essentially the same message.

It is from this perspective that I welcome efforts being made in various parts of the world for better understanding among religions. The need for this is particularly urgent now. If all religions make the betterment of humanity their main concern, then they can easily work together in harmony for peace. Interfaith understanding will bring about the unity necessary for all religions to work together. However, although this is indeed an important step, we must remember that there are no quick or easy solutions. We cannot hide the doctrinal differences that exist among various faiths, nor can we hope to replace the existing religions by a new universal belief. Each religion has its own distinctive contributions to make, and each in its own way is suitable to a particular group of people as they understand life. The world needs them all.

There are two primary tasks facing religious practitioners who are concerned with world peace. First, we must promote better interfaith understanding in order to create a workable degree of unity among all religions. This may be achieved in part by respecting each other's beliefs and by emphasizing our common concern for human well-being. Second, we must emphasize the common denominator of all world religions -humanitarian ideals. These two steps will enable us to act both individually and together to create the necessary spiritual conditions for peace.

We must recognize that we are all members of the same human family and that unless we develop a sense of universal responsibility and learn to see each other as brothers and sisters there can never be world peace.

Nevertheless, while advocating individual responsibility and universal brotherhood and sisterhood, the facts remain that humanity is organized in separate entities in the form of national societies. Thus, in a realistic sense, I feel it is these societies that must act as the building blocks for world peace.

Attempts have been made in the past to create societies more just and equal. Institutions have been established with noble charters to combat antisocial forces. Unfortunately, such ideas have been cheated by selfishness. More than ever before we witness today how ethics and noble principles are obscured by the shadow of self-interest, particularly in the political sphere. There is a school of thought that warns us to refrain from politics altogether, as politics has become synonymous with amorality. However politics is not axiomatically dirty'. Rather, the instruments of our political culture have distorted the high ideals and noble concepts meant to further human welfare.

Spiritual people express their concern about religious leaders 'messing' with politics, since they fear the contamination of religion by dirty politics. But such a view of religion is too one-sided; it lacks a proper perspective on the individual's relationship to society and the role of religion in our lives. Ethics is as crucial to a politician as it is to a religious practitioner. Dangerous consequences will follow when politicians and rulers forget moral principles. Whether we believe in God or karma, ethics is the foundation of every society.

Such human qualities as morality, compassion, decency and wisdom have been the foundations of all civilizations. These qualities must be cultivated and sustained through systematic moral education in a conducive social environment so that a more humane world may emerge. The qualities required to create such a world must be inculcated right from the beginning, from childhood. We need a revolution in our commitment to and practice of universal humanitarian values.

It is not enough to make noisy calls to halt moral degeneration; we must do something about it. Since present-day governments do not shoulder such 'religious' responsibilities, humanitarian and religious leaders must strengthen the existing civic, social, cultural, educational, and religious organizations to revive human and spiritual values. Where necessary we must create new organizations to achieve these goals. We must recognize that we are all members of the same human family and that unless we develop a sense of universal responsibility and learn to see each other as brothers and sisters there can never be world peace.

His Holiness the DALAI LAMA is the Fourteenth Incarnation of the Patron God of Tibet who strived to retain his people's right to live and worship in their own way. In 1959, the DALAI LAMA received the Ramon Magsaysay Award, Asia's premier prize and highest honor, for "his leadership of the Tibetan community's gallant struggle in defense of the sacred religion that is the inspiration of their life and culture."