the following is to an online discussion conference, your assignment is to read it and give your thoughts and continue the conversation they are starting. I am not very understanding of the process of religion but the post is on the book by the Dalai Lama
In Ethics for the New Millennium (1999), the Dalai Lama suggests that “an ethical act is one where we refrain from causing harm to others’ experience or expectation of happiness” (p. 61). While I resonated with the vast majority of what was presented in the book, I found this definition to be a bit odd. I think I was particularly triggered by the phrase “expectation of happiness”, and I’m wondering if this book (likely written to appeal to a wider audience) just doesn’t go into the nuances of the Dalai Lama’s understanding. Sure, if I were to deprive someone of freedom or commit an act of violence against them, my acts might be called unethical. But is every instance of causing harm to someone’s expectation of happiness unethical? For example, is being lovingly honest to a partner who has a projected expectation of me and how I will act unethical because I’ve harmed their expectation? It seems to be a mantra of Western culture that things and people make us happy. Because of this, so many people place the locus of their happiness outside themselves, projecting expectations of what their family members and partners should be like. If someone harms my expectations of happiness by being who they are instead of who I am asking them to be (and have hung my happiness upon), are they less ethical? I often wonder about the intersection between the reality of the systems of oppression operating in the world today and consciousness (or, specifically, my personal journey of acknowledging how things are showing up and recognizing how much my own projections and expectations contribute to my suffering). The later concept points to my own responsibility for creating a peaceful mind/heart-state. And yet the former is still true. Even when I acknowledge that the world is filtered through my perceptions and that no one outside of me will “make” me happy, I also witness violence, oppression, and other horrors (things that look very much like they “make” people unhappy). I think perhaps these two factors can (and do) exist in tandem- that we can be in horrific situations that might incite grief or anger in most humans, work towards change in those situations, and (if we are up to or interested in the task) also acknowledge where our stories, triggers, expectations, and projections contribute to the degree of discomfort we experience. I also recognized my own white, upper middle class privilege in these statements, as I am not a survivor of horrific acts and thus cannot know what it’s like to be focused merely on survival. I don’t mean to speak with huge generalities, and yet I am responding to what I see as a huge generality in the text. I guess I am realizing how hard it is to cover all the nuance of an idea.
Dalai Lama, H. H. (1999). Ethics for the new millennium. New York, NY: Harper Perennial: 1993
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