Secular Ethics

Ethics: noun \ˈe-thik\ - an area of study that deals with ideas about what is good and bad behavior : a branch of philosophy dealing with what is morally right or wrong

Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World by His Holiness the Dalai Lama

There are many voices decrying the moral failings of modern society. They claim that our lack of faith has led to all the terrible woes of this world. Some even believe that religious education and prayer are the remedy for this. The Dalai Lama, and others, have offered up alternatives. His Holiness wrote Beyond Religion as a jumping off point for us to explore ethics in our secular lives. It is not a religious text and he is sure to draw from numerous backgrounds for information -  neuroscience, religion, philosophy, and anthropology to name a few.

His Holiness is a religious figure, there is no denying this. However, he makes the case for morality free from religion as a common ground for humanity. He cites the growing interactions between cultures as the need for this common ground. Partially due to the rapid physical globalization of culture in the 18th and 19th centuries, but heightened by the technological innovations of the 20th and 21st - people have more diverse interactions than ever before.  With this comes a certain degree of secularization.


The religiously unaffiliated, called “nones,” are growing significantly. They’re the second largest religious group in North America and most of Europe. In the United States, nones make up almost a quarter of the population.
— Gabe Bullard, National Geographic

Religious groups, particularly in the Western world, are seeing a decline in membership. People are stepping away from their faith-based systems of life and looking to other modes of morality. The Dalai Lama is seeking to reach these people, as well as the religious, to find an answer to the question "what is morality, free from religion?" 

The first principle is the recognition of our shared humanity and our shared aspiration to happiness and the avoidance of suffering; the second is the understanding of interdependence as a key feature of human reality, including our biological reality as social animals.
— Dalai Lama

His Holiness makes a point to highlight the shared values of most major world religions. The underlying principles of compassion, forgiveness, and community are integral to each, but it is the cultural practice and faith based rules that separate us. He maintains that if we cultivate inner values based around these core principles, the divisions between us will lessen. He goes on to offer meditative techniques for cultivating this self-awareness and control over our emotional state, which allows us to live according to our principles.

To bring about this better world, therefore, let us all, old and young - not as members of this nation or that nation, not as members of this faith or that faith, but simply as individual members of this great human family of seven billion - strive together with vision, with courage, and with optimism. This is my humble plea.
— Dalai Lama

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