Universal Responsibility

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    Shannon Kelly

    Why is it important to reorient our heart and mind away from self and toward others and how can we do this?

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    It is important to note that it is not enough to understand that our happiness is essentially the same as another’s happiness. We must act on this notion and begin to reorient our thinking and actions away from the self in order to complete this cognition. In his book Ethics For The New Millennium, the Dalai Lama states, “We have to live in the world we are helping to create. If we choose not to modify our behavior out of respect for others’ equal right to happiness and not to suffer, it will not be long before we begin to notice the negative consequences.” (Pg. 166, ¶ 1) While on a small scale our actions do little to affect the universal community, as we begin to see the world population as one living organism, it becomes increasingly more vital that we appreciate the happiness of others as it leads to our own happiness. This living organism that encompasses every living thing on earth, leads us to the concept of chi sem literally meaning, universal consciousness. To be truly conscious of one’s effect on the right to “happiness and not to suffer” of all others is a tall order, but if we begin to reorient our thoughts away from selfish desires and more towards appreciation and service to our communities, we will find that while we help others, our own level of happiness is increased.
    While we must possess this universal consciousness, it also important to understand, that we are not solely responsible for famine and other hardships across the world. If we all turned to our own communities to promote others’ right to happiness and not to suffer, we would soon see the differences across the world.

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    Cassie Caborn

    In the Dalai Lama’s book, Ethics for the New Millennium, he speaks about the importance of cultivating universal responsibility. This does not mean that each individual has a direct responsibility for every problem in the world, but rather one must have a basis of concern for the well-being of others. The Dalai Lama says, “ When we neglect others’ well-being and ignore the universal dimension of our actions, it is inevitable that we will come to see our interests as separate from theirs.” When we do not open our hearts and minds to allow our interests and desires to be interconnected and dependent, we loose the fundamental oneness of the human family.
    The Dalai Lama says, “in order to overcome our tendency to ignore others’ needs and rights, we must continually remind our selves of the obvious: that basically we are all the same.” When one is concentrated on only the small differences from person to person, the result is that we grow more distant rather than becoming closer. It is difficult for people to see the underlining sameness that exists in everyone. When the superficial characteristics are ignored and everyone is perceived as an equal, everyone’s inherent desire to avoid suffering is present and interconnected. It is important to take into consideration the well being of the community that you are directly involved in, while resisting the urge to neglect the rest of the world the surrounds you. The Dalai Lama says, “ Yet it seems to me that while most people are willing to accept the need for unity within their own group and, within this, the need to consider others’ welfare, the tendency is to neglect the rest of humanity.”

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    Lena Wiley

    In America, the very first rule we learn in preschool is that “sharing is caring.” The need for caring for others spills into every aspect of life, and as the Dalai Lama points out on page 161, “Today’s reality is so complex and, on a material level at least, so clearly interconnected that a… stock market crash on one side of the globe can have a direct effect on the economies of countries on the other…The very size of our population means that we cannot any longer afford to ignore other’s interests.” Another classic lesson taught in the first years of school is the golden rule, which is to treat others how you want to be treated. The golden rule hints at the Dalai Lama’s main point in Ethics for the New Millennium; that all people simply want to be happy and to avoid suffering.
    On page 163, the Dalai Lama wrote; “When we neglect other’s well-being and ignore the universal dimension of our actions, it is inevitable that we will come to see our interests as separate from theirs. We will overlook the fundamental oneness of the human family.” Because the idea that if we act without considering other’s well-being and the greater repercussions of our actions, we are disconnecting our fundamental human ties to others, we must reorient our heart and mind away from self and toward others. When we act on purely selfish motives with no consideration for others, we are breaking the golden rule, and thus risking our own future happiness. The success of our communities, local and international, depends on our ability to relate with each other in meaningful and positive ways.
    One way of combating our selfish outlooks and actions is to develop a sense of universal responsibility. On page 162, the Dalai Lama explains this as the ability to “develop an attitude of mind whereby, when we see an opportunity to benefit others, we will take it in preference to merely looking after our own narrow interests.”

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    Lexi Julien

    Isaac Newton’s third law of motion states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Everything that happens in the world is a direct result of this rule of cause and effect, and we humans are not exempt from its command. Every decision we make, whether it is as simple as choosing between buying apples or oranges or as complex as voting on who will lead your country for the next four years, has an effect on not just our own personal lives, but on the lives of others as well.

    The Dalai Lama tells us that, “…our individual well being is intimately connected with that of all others, and with the environment within which we live…our every action, our every deed, word and thought, no matter how slight or inconsequential it may seem, has an implication not only for ourselves but for all others, too.” (pg. 41) The interconnection between ourselves and others is not always easy to see. Our society and culture has made it commonplace to be isolated from one’s own neighbor, for social interaction between community members to be a matter of preference rather than necessity. This is an era of self-absorption, a time marked by the advancement of technology and the so-called “Me Generation”. We have lost sight of the natural connections that exist between us and all others in the face of our world’s many distractions, and we have turned the attention that would normally be reserved for others onto our own selves. What we need now is a reminder of our place in the world—we are one of many, and our choices affect every person on this earth. The Dalai Lama tells us that “we must continually remind ourselves of what is obvious: that basically we are all the same.” (pg. 164) When we see similarities between ourselves and others, compassion arises naturally and we develop a concern for their wellbeing. And with the development of this compassion for others, we become more removed from our own personal universes, and move away from our obsession with ourselves.

    By opening our hearts and minds to others, we create space for us to separate from the magnitude of our own personal sufferings and view them from a more realistic perspective. If one lives for one’s own self and not others, that person’s suffering will be amplified and seem a thousand times more severe than it actual is, for that suffering is all they have seen and known. However, when we move our perspectives to include others, we see and focus on their sufferings rather than our own, awakening us from our own nightmare of self, and putting our troubles into a more reasonable viewpoint. The Dalai Lama tells us that, “Due to the fundamental interconnectedness which lies at the heart of reality, your interest is also my interest.” (pg. 47) We make up the world as a whole, not as individuals. And if we remember that we are all fighting for the same reason—the pursuit of happiness—we will develop a universal compassion towards not just others, but ourselves as well.

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    In Ethics for the New Millennium by the Dalai Lama, he talks about developing a sense of universal responsibility. He describes this responsibility as a reorientation of our heart and mind away from self and towards others. To have this responsibility, you must be able to take any/all opportunities that benefit others, despite your own interests. When you do this you start to become more sensitive to others, able to see the need to avoid divisiveness, and become aware of the overwhelming importance of contentment. On page 162, the Dalai Lama says,
    “…Serving our own interests benefits others, even though this may not be our explicit intention.” He makes the point that our society today is so intertwined that we have direct effects on others whether we know it or not and that is why it is so important to be aware of ourselves and others. We don’t realize how much of an impact we can have until after our actions have been committed.

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    David Kerr

    The Dalai Lama believes that it is important to re-orient our hearts away from self and towards others “to develop a sense of universal responsibility – of the universal dimension of our every act and of the equal right of all others to happiness and not to suffer – is to develop an attitude of mind whereby, when we see an opportunity to benefit others, we will take it in preference to merely looking after our own narrow interests.” This belief is a crucial element in two of the Dalai Lama’s central arguments, that humans naturally seek happiness and avoid suffering, and that love and compassion are both necessities, not luxuries.
    If an individuals heart is directed inward, their physical and mental views of others and/or themselves can be occluded and misdirected.
    Mentally, emotion becomes extremely difficult to deal with. Imagine this: You’re in a room without gravity, with no edges in sight, with items floating aimlessly about in every which way. Each of these items represents some memory of yours, your favorite song, the first time you drew a four-legged chicken, etc… Either way, you’re in your own mind. But the mind can be a dark place if there aren’t any windows to the outside world. And that’s just what this room doesn’t have. Windows.
    Now visualize this: You’ve just experienced something wonderful. Great! Now you have a little light floating around this dark room you inhabit that represents that memory. You kind of cling to it because its nice to be able to see something in the confusion of the darkness. You even use it to look at other objects floating by. But did you know that if you don’t focus on them, emotions only last about six seconds? Just like that, the little thing is lost in the endless darkness that you’re suspended in. And why did you lose it? Because its easy to lose things in the dark. In the darkness of a mind that doesn’t acknowledge the outside world, its easy to lose the light of happiness.
    But in a converse manner, it is much different. What happens when you experience suffering? When you experience suffering, its like there’s another person inside your head. A thing that doesn’t particularly like you or anything to do with you. So it starts messing with you. It starts taking the memories, even the ones that you are the fondest of, and throwing them all about the place. Since there isn’t really any gravity holding them back, they bounce off the walls with such an intense velocity that there’s no way to control what’s going to come at you next. Then one of them hits you. It hurts. You look to see what had the audacity to hurt you in such a way. It was the light that you had cherished so fondly before. See, what this being of suffering does to you is extremely complex. It takes the things that make you happy, and makes them the breeding ground for afflicted emotions. Hate, Anger, you name it, it’s there. The battle of re-orienting your heart outwards is extremely difficult, because it requires you having to battle whatever it is that’s messing with you. The choice to take on this battle comes with the decision to not let whatever is out there continue wrecking the sanctity of your mind. So what do you do? You punch a hole in the nearest wall you can find, and let some light in. There’s light in the room now, even if its night outside, so you still get the tiniest amount of light. You catch a glimpse of a figure standing a short distance from you, but it escapes into the darkness that remains. You continue along the wall, creating more light as you advance towards whatever is hiding. Soon it gets to a point where there is almost nowhere to hide. You illuminate the last area. You see the figure. It’s turned around and you can’t see its face. You ask it to face you, and it complies. There you are, standing face to face with yourself.
    Avoidable suffering, as the Dalai Lama puts it, is almost always self-inflicted. The extent to which emotions affect a person is largely at the bay of how they view and react to those emotions. These emotions are magnified to a sometimes unbearable extent when that person cannot express them, or chooses not to. Therefore, it is very important that the individual orients their heart towards others instead of themselves, because focusing on others is what will bring the light to illuminate your world, and sometimes, the light that you provide in a compassionate manner is what will help others break free of their own burdens.
    In the physical aspect, I can speak from personal experience. I was driving with my Mom on the way to a piano lesson on Highway 101 North, when I started to get caught up in my own thoughts. Ordinarily, this isn’t a problem, but I was so stuck on these thoughts that I didn’t notice when I started drifting onto a separate lane of the highway. Luckily, there was no one around, but I didn’t even realize that I would have been jeopardizing myself and others until my Mom said, “You know you’re supposed to signal when you change lanes,” and my first thought was “OH NO!” In this regard, it is absolutely vital to your own (and sometimes others) overall safety that you include others in your definition of self, so that you don’t accidentally run someone of the road, literally or figuratively.

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    The Dalai Lama’s main thesis in Ethics for the New Millennium is obviously that all humans want to be happy. He talks about how we need to focus on the things which makes us happy and bring joy within ourselves but arguably more importantly is that we need to find ways to bring happiness to others. It is discussed that half the battle in making the world a better and happier to place is to incorporate others into your ego. Whether this is done by showing compassion or understanding to others in times of need, going out of your way to lift someone’s spirits or to simply give someone space when they need it. Discernment is needed to know what the proper action is in order to ease another’s suffering. The Dalai Lama says “The failure to act when it is clear that action is required may itself be a negative thought”. Although I agree with this statement, it isn’t entirely possible in every occasion, given that many people hide their suffering under layers of humor or other cover ups. I believe the best way to lessen this issue is to really understand your companions and look for cues to indicate that they are upset. Also in a perfect scenario, if you can build up enough trust the suffering individual won’t even hide it but will in fact come to you for help.
    The Dalai Lama also discusses how as humans we have a tendency to be compassionate and kind to those we are familiar. On the other hand we show far less benevolence to strangers or people who are different either ethnically or culturally than ourselves. He says “it seems to me that while most people are willing to accept the need for unity within their own group and, within this, the need to consider others welfare, the tendency is to neglect others welfare”. I agree with the Dalai Lama that this is a true fact about humanity and that it certainly is a negative but it something that will be very hard for our species to overcome. The knack to trust and help only those close or related to us is hardwired into our brains through natural selection and this view of a single humanity is a relatively new concept. This is why the book is called Ethics for the New Millennium because it is teaching ethics which have not hitherto been discussed on a large scale. It is these new ethics that I believe are the next step of human evolution. A key change in our lifestyle as a species is to take into account the happiness and suffering of our entire population with every move we make. This is a daunting thought but we inch closer to it everyday thanks to teachings and new philosophies like the ones in this book.

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    Christopher Colip

    Why should we reorient our hearts and minds from ourselves toward others? Well the most clear answer would be to achieve a higher level of happiness. Many would say that the purpose of life is in fact to be happy. How does one achieve this? According to the Dalai Lama “It is possible to divide every kind of happiness and suffering into two different categories, mental and physical … the more we care for the happiness of others, the greater our own sense of well-being becomes.” Have you ever noticed that when you console, or cheer someone up, or contribute to the happiness of someone, both of you connect and share the same feeling. Emotions are almost as contagious as actual diseases, if one person expresses it, then others are likely to join in. So on the Physical side of things it is mainly just positive reactions to what we do to others that brings us joy.

    Mentally is comes once you decide to change it, or strengthen your existing your mentality. When the physical sense of happiness sets in having a mentality toward happiness is just openness to accepting opportunities to be happy when they come to you. By embracing the physical side of helping others we create opportunities to be happy and its really just a never ending cycle from there.

    Now in turning ourselves toward others we achieve happiness, simple as that. Methods to accomplish these things we simple need to do very little positive things, if everyone did this eventually the world would change positively and be trapped in the cycle of physical and mental happiness.

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    Zoe Kelly

    “What is entailed, therefore, is not an admission of guilt but, again, a reorientation of our heart and mind away from self and towards others. To develop a sense of universal responsibility- of the universal dimension of our every act and of the equal right of all others to happiness and not to suffer-it is to develop an attitude of mind whereby, when we see an opportunity to benefit others, we will take it in preference to merely looking after our own narrow interests.” (The Dali Lama, Ethics for the New Millennium, page 163)
    Here, the Dali Lama is talking about a seemingly simple idea: the reorientation from self to others, a mindset that is promoted throughout all layers of life. It pops up as the new fangled idea of “sharing” in the early years, then transforms into teamwork and compromise, as one grows older. However, the practice of this idea has become convoluted in our complicated and fast pace world. We have lost touch of our interconnectedness, an idea that the Dali Lama has brought up multiple times in Ethics for the New Millenium. We have become distant from each other, which in turn has created barriers that drive us apart. In a world where everyone is suffering and struggling to find happiness, it seems ridiculous to fabricate divides or allow superficial things to provoke excessive discontentment. This sense of separation is a cause of such things. The Dali Lama sums it up on page 163 of Ethics for the New Millenium: “We all face death, old age, and sickness- not to mention the inevitability of meeting with disappointment. These we simply cannot avoid. Is this not enough? What is the point of creating still more unnecessary problems simply on basis of different ways of thinking or different skin color…In order to overcome our tendency to ignore others need sand rights, we must continually remind ourselves of what is most obvious: that basically we are all the same.”
    If we can re-orient our way of thinking from ourselves to others, we can overcome our superficial differences and rid ourselves of our many self made and unnecessary excess issues.

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    Rami Renee Walker

    In our universal quest for happiness it can sometimes be easier to see the I, and not the we but to obtain true contentment for ourselves and others there must be an awareness of equality on the most basic level. As the Dalai Lama says on page 164, “we see that both ethics and necessity call for the same response. In order to overcome our tendency to ignore others’ needs and rights, we must continually remind ourselves of what is obvious: that basically we are all the same.” This point ties in to an earlier concept discussed within the book, the interconnectedness of life. He says, “I am Tibetan before I am the Dalai Lama, and I am human before I am Tibetan.” It is important to recognize that we are all made of the same things, and all seek the same outcomes in life. Trivial differences should not dictate whether someone is given the full opportunity to find happiness. This concept is repeated throughout history where we find that those societies that turned a blind eye to race, gender, age, and socioeconomic class, often had a more prosperous and lasting reign. Selfish happiness can only goes as far as those around you are willing to indulge. If instead, everyone thought about the comfort and happiness of another before themselves, we would find that the entirety of humanity would be safe, for it is easy to be happy when you know someone is there to catch you if you fall.

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    In the book Ethics for the new millennium by the Dalai Lama, he poses the question on why is it important to reorient our mind and heart from self and toward others, he says “To develop a sense of universal responsibility-of the universal dimension of our every act and of the equal right of all others to happiness and not to suffer-is to develop an attitude of mind whereby, when we see an opportunity to benefit others, we will take it in preference to merely looking after our own narrow interests.” He has talked about this subject of redirecting our compassion and love to envelope everyone. This makes all of us have a connection and therefore recognize when that person we are attached to is in distress. We are able to become more aware of them than ourself. It is almost like you walk into a room joyfully after an argument just ensued in that room, you can sense and feel the intensity in the air. The varied degrees of emotional frequency can make you feel uncomfortable, that is an example of expanding our sense of self to encompass everyone. This does not mean that making our sense of self bigger bad. It is important to direct our heart and mind away from ourselves because if we don’t we shut out the happiness of others.

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