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Of Possibilities

In a world of over seven billion people who are increasingly closely interconnected and interdependent, what might form a basis for establishing basic human values of relevancy on a global basis?

For anyone lucky enough to have been present at the “Possibilities 2011” event His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s latest book, Beyond Religion – Ethics for a Whole World, published earlier this year, will be familiar territory. At that event, held in Dublin in April 2011, two of the wisest men on the planet engaged in dialogue.

It was a remarkable double act. Richard Moore first recounted the moving story of his life and through it highlighted not just the power of forgiveness but also the power of choice. He reminded us of the potential we all have to change people’s lives in a positive way through even the smallest of acts.

His Holiness described the 20th Century as a century of violence and bloodshed. He declared that the 21st Century should rather be one of dialogue, the responsibility for which must inevitably fall on today’s younger generations on whom the future happiness of the world depends.

For much of the 20th Century ethics or values were ingrained through religion and education in ways that sought to enforce conformity often on ideological or nationalistic grounds. A burning question facing us in today’s interconnected world is how relevant such methods of establishing values are to children and young people globally in the 21st Century.

His Holiness spoke in Dublin of the importance of, what he calls, inner qualities. His latest book takes us further down that path in encouraging a deeper understanding of those qualities and exploring how they might be cultivated. In doing so he seeks to remove religious divides in promoting a new set of secular ethics for the whole world. He succeeds in presenting a fundamentally non-religious book written in language that is accessible to all.

The first part of the book outlines His Holiness’s understanding of what those secular ethics, or basic human values, are. He does so with great skill using stories and examples of people and communities who are or were living examples of the values he seeks to promote. Such an example, and one suspects a personal favourite, is that of Richard Moore about whom he says “While I talk about forgiveness, you have made it part of your life. You have made it clear that if we practice compassion and forgiveness it gives us peace of mind. This is a wonderful model for others to follow”.

The second part of the book provides highly workable and relevant suggestions as to how one might go about cultivating or nurturing those qualities. One such example addresses how meditation might be used to cultivate positive mental qualities such as compassion and loving-kindness. After my first reading I must confess to wondering how practical this might be particularly amongst children and young people who are conditioned to seek instant gratification.

In May of this year, however, I had the privilege of visiting Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia with Richard, and of meeting with those involved in compassion meditation studies at the Emory-Tibet Partnership. During our visit we were able to spend time at two schools where compassion training was being piloted in classes of children aged 7 to 10 years old. We had no idea what to expect but found ourselves both astonished and inspired by how well these young people were capable of grasping and engaging creatively with so many of the concepts you will find outlined in Beyond Religion. We left Atlanta with real hope for the future and with a strengthened belief in the potential of our younger generations to meet the serious challenges previous generations have bequeathed them.

This is a book of relevance to everyone. I suspect that His Holiness doesn’t expect it to become an instant bestseller but rather that he hopes that it will serve as a presentation of themes that can be taken by others, particularly by those involved with children and young people, and reworked to meet specific target audiences in ways that provide them with an opportunity to engage with those themes in creative, relevant and globally collaborative ways.

Beyond Religion deserves to be widely read and particularly by those engaged in helping children and young people to find their own solutions to the world’s problems. Facilitating their access to and creative engagement with wisdom such as this can achieve deep, real and lasting positive change. Beyond Religion could and should prove to be one of the most important books of the 21st Century.