A crack in a floating ice shelf in Antarctica reached its breaking point and calved a huge iceberg, setting it afloat in the seas. It’s a fitting image for a world that feels under pressure and on the verge of, well, everything — ready to break off and set itself free. The global political temperature is on the rise, the future of truth is under debate and the spectre of nuclear conflict hovers. We asked His Holiness the Dalai Lama for his thoughts on how to cope.
We are facing a time of great uncertainty and upheaval in many corners of our planet. When it comes to making the world a better place, concern for others is tantamount.
Our future is very much in our hands. Within each of us exists the potential to contribute positively to society. Although one individual among so many on this planet may seem too insignificant to have much of an effect on the course of humanity, it is our personal efforts that will determine the direction our society is heading.
Wherever I go, I consider myself just one of 7 billion human beings alive today. We share a fundamental wish: We all want to live a happy life, and that is our birthright. There is no formality when we’re born, and none when we die. In between, we should treat each other as brother and sister because we share this commonality — a desire for peace and contentment.
Sadly, we face all sorts of problems, many of them of our own making. Why? Because we are swayed by emotions like selfishness, anger and fear.
One of the most effective remedies for dealing with such destructive patterns of thought is to cultivate “loving-kindness” by thinking about the oneness of all the world’s 7 billion humans. If we consider the ways in which we are all the same, the barriers between us will diminish.
Compassion enhances our calm and self-confidence, allowing our marvelous human intelligence to function unhindered. Empathy is hard-wired in our genes — studies have shown that babies as young as 4 months experience it.
Research has shown again and again that compassion leads to a successful and fulfilling life. Why, then, do we not focus more on cultivating it into adulthood? When we’re angry, our judgment is one-sided, as we aren’t able to take all aspects of the situation into account. With a calm mind, we can reach a fuller view of whatever circumstances we face.
Humanity is rich in the diversity that naturally arose from the wide expanse of our world, from the variety of languages and ways of writing to our different societal norms and customs. However, when we overemphasize race, nationality, faith, or income or education level, we forget our many similarities.
We want a roof over our heads and food in our bellies, to feel safe and secure, and for our children to grow and be strong. As we seek to preserve our own culture and identity, we must also remember that we are one in being human, and work to maintain our warmheartedness toward all.
In the last century, the inclination to solve problems through the use of force was invariably destructive and perpetuated conflict. If we are to make this century a period of peace, we must resolve problems through dialogue and diplomacy. Since our lives are so intertwined, the interests of others are also our own. I believe that adopting divisive attitudes runs counter to those interests.
Our interdependence comes with advantages and pitfalls. Although we benefit from a global economy and an ability to communicate and know what is happening worldwide instantaneously, we also face problems that threaten us all. Climate change in particular is a challenge that calls us more than ever to make a common effort to defend the common good.
For those who feel helpless in the face of insurmountable suffering, we are still in the early years of the 21st century. There is time for us to create a better, happier world, but we can’t sit back and expect a miracle. We each have actions we must take, by living our lives meaningfully and in service to our fellow human beings — helping others whenever we can and making every effort to do them no harm.
Tackling destructive emotions and practicing loving-kindness isn’t something we should be doing with the next life, heaven or nirvana in mind, but how we should live in the here and now. I am convinced we can become happier individuals, happier communities and a happier humanity by cultivating a warm heart, allowing our better selves to prevail.
The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is the spiritual leader of Tibet and a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Since 1959 he has lived in exile in Dharamsala, in northern India.
This is an article from Turning Points, a magazine that explores what critical moments from this year might mean for the year ahead.