Comparison of the Ethics Inculcated by Three Political Figures: Aristotle, Gandhi, and the Dalai Lama

April 15, 2019 by Essay Writer

The rationale of the Dalai Lama has been a concept passed down from many generations. Being a line of reincarnations, very rarely have the morals deviated from the original Dalai Lama. Said to embody compassion, the Dalai Lama defined his duty to serve humanity. In Ethics for the New Millennium, by the most current Dalai Lama, compassion is not the only thing stressed— it also highlights the ethics of every other virtue. Focusing in compassion, however, the Dalai Lama believed that the best way to achieve it was by connecting with those who suffer. His main argument is that by doing so, an individual is more likely to feel the obligation to help those in need. The Dalai Lama’s ultimate goal throughout his position is to achieve nying je chenmo or great compassion, which includes accentuating the aspiration of developing nying he chenmo in order to act as inspiration throughout life and making it a common goal.

The Dalai Lama states that he does not expect each individual to attain the highest spiritual development, which he has dedicated his life to accomplishing, in order to live a meaningful and virtuous life. As stated previously, the Dalai Lama preaches that he wishes individuals to gain inspiration through learning how to “develop nying je chenmo…as an ideal” which will “naturally have a significant impact on our outlook” (Dalai Lama 124). By making this a choice of lifestyle, he believes that people will find a greater purpose to their lives, and in return, evoke to same choice onto others and spreading the same principles. Although it is most likely impossible to achieve the spiritual development that the Dalai Lama has been divinely righted, it is fair that he admits insurmountable boundary. He provides a practical concept, which motivates individual to engage in virtuous acts and spread their morale to other people. When choosing a virtuous lifestyle, a virtuous person is said to be spiritually strong and possess “patience” and the “ability to withstand.” Known as so pa, which develops through the practice of spiritual and moralistic discipline, they are “provided with the strength to resist suffering and are protected from losing compassion even for those who would harm us” (Dalai Lama 102). With that in mind, a virtuous person is able to respond to hardships with a meditative response rather than an impulsive one. This deliberate action entails the benefits and consequences of each situation and its effects on the wrong doer and the victim, thus invoking compassion response.

The nature of reality, which the Dalai Lama argues, relates to the connection between how we perceive ourselves and responsive behavior (Dalai lama 36). Deemed as crucially significant, the danger of misunderstanding leads to harming others as well as ourselves. The Dalai Lama describes an ethical act “one where we refrain from causing harm to others’ experience or expectation of happiness” (Dalai Lama 61). Compassion is once again brought forward. Trying not to cause harm to others, most spiritual acts including but not limited to “love, compassion, patience, forgiveness, humility, tolerance presume some level of concern for others’ well-being.” Invoking strong feelings of empathy, “the spiritual actions we undertake which are motivated not by narrow self-interest but out of concern for other actually benefit ourselves” (Dalai Lama 61) and bring us close to a more meaningful life. The concern for others entails that inner discipline must be exercised. The lack of inner restraint is the basis, which inhibits a compassionate life and is identified as the “source of all unethical conduct” (Dalai Lama 81). When we alter our old habits and dispositions, it makes it much easier to create an over all state of kun long, or overall state of heart and mind, which generate our actions. The Dalai Lama stresses how crucial it is not to let emotions be at the heart of our actions. For example, when we swamp ourselves in outrage, it is very likely for us to lash out at people and cause external as well as internal suffering (Dalai Lama 85). He says that “negative thoughts and emotions are what obstruct our most basic aspiration—to be happy and to avoid suffering” (Dalai Lama 87), which prove that inner restraint is an important factor in leading a compassionate life and vital to his argument of suffering and the importance of compassion. By learning how to deal with suffering and the destructive properties of afflicted emotions, we are able to “discriminate between temporary and long-term benefit… and the degree of ethical fitness of the different courses of action open to use…and to access the likely outcome of our actions, which sets aside lesser goals in order to achieve greater ones” (Dalai Lama 149). These skills highlight the need for discernment and enable us to partake in ethical practice. Compassionate response leads to a meaningful life.

While reading Ethics for the New Millennium, the most appropriate text, which reminded me much of his holiness the Dalai Lama’s ideals, was Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. Their views toward happiness and fulfilling a meaningful life were very similar, especially in the area of compassion and the ethics of virtue. They both preach the importance of compassion in order to live a peaceful life of happiness—an agreeable theory. Being from different time periods and different parts of the world, it is interesting to see how these two philosophical figures can hold the same ideals despite the distance in time period and geographical location. As I mentioned before, the Dalai Lama succession has been around for many generations, which explains why the importance of virtue has been around for so long. Another philosophical figure that comes to mind is Mahatma Gandhi and his Selected Political Writings. Gandhi stresses his support for restraint and self-discipline, which is an ethic that the Dalai Lama dedicates a whole chapter toward. Referring back to Ethics for the New Millennium, Nicomachean Ethics, and Mahatma Gandhi’s Selected Political Writings, I will emphasize the similarities in their arguments and explain why they are most agreeable.

The Dalai Lama starts off Ethics for the New Millennium with “the quest for human happiness.” He analyzes how modern society finds happiness and why relying on religion is just not enough. Our society is “devoted to material progress” because it offers “immediate satisfaction” (Dalai Lama 9). Seeing results from religion and prayer can often be a long progress, and the Dalai Lama even mentions, “the results for the most part are invisible” (Dalai Lama 10). Religion is slowly losing its influence amongst our society because it is believed that science has “disproven religion”; the Dalai Lama does recognize this occurrence and stresses that this is the time for “morality itself to be a matter of individual preference” (Dalai Lama 10). Gandhi mentions in his Selected Political Writings “only God is ever the same through all time” (Gandhi 36). Religion never changes, while technology grows at an exponential rate and constantly improves itself. Similar to Aristotle, the Dalai Lama believes that modern technology cannot be the source of happiness; instead, he believes in self-conviction and practicing the ethics of virtue. Differing in religion, Gandhi and the Dalai Lama being Buddhist, and Aristotle influenced by western Christianity, the similarity in their views show that the ideals of religion is very similar despite the differences in the way it is practiced. Religion has been around for many years before so I believe religion to be the one thing that stays the same in this ever-changing world. Religion is a great practice to fallback on because it offers familiarity and consistency. Prayer offers an immediate peace of mind, especially for myself, preventing me from acting through emotion alone.

Speaking of acting through emotion, Aristotle was a firm believer in immersing one’s self in life and its surroundings. This immersion, known as compassion, is the heart of the Dalai Lama’s morals. Aristotle believed that in order to be called virtuous, you must not only study their principles, but you must practice virtuous actions as well (Aristotle 1095b20-30). The Dalai Lama defines compassion as “sharing others’ suffering” (Dalai Lama 123). With that in mind, the two philosophers validate the idea that in order to lead a fulfilling life, the common phrase “walking in another person’s shoes” is necessary. By feeling the pain and discomfort that people suffer, this offers a greater reason to offer assistance and make the world a better place. People who have constantly lived their lives oppressed or less fortunate, it is hard to believe that they will not lash out and have only “goodwill towards all life” (Gandhi 41), which is why it is important to feel their discomfort and do something to help their situation. By helping one less person suffer, that offers a feeling of satisfaction that nothing else can replicate. Participating in virtuous acts such as helping those in need, so pa is accomplished. Individuals are “provided with the strength to resist suffering and are protected from losing compassion even for those who would harm us” (Dalai Lama 102), and are capable of making decisions that benefit as a whole rather than one-sidedly. Gandhi claims that “[God] as endowed our soul with such strength that sheer brute force is of no avail against it” (Gandhi 38), proving the strength of strong religious convictions. The strength that choosing a compassionate lifestyle yields is to an extent that nothing can overcome it.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Mahatma Gandhi, and Aristotle are three philosophers that have made a great impact on spiritual development. They may have had many differences, but their fundamentals were very much the same. Their reasoning was practical and it’s very easy to see that religion and divinity played a big part in shaping their philosophical morals. Given the information provided, it is easy to see that while religion served as glue to string their theories together, a general meaning of life was compiled. Religion is key, compassion is the lifestyle, and ethical practice is the goal.

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