Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
Last week, a day after the Ides of March, 2018, at about 3 am Pacific Daylight Savings Time, the Dalai Lama tweeted the following pearl: "When each of us learns to appreciate the critical importance of ethics and makes inner values like compassion and patience an integral part of our basic outlook on life, the effects will be far-reaching."
Yeah, no duh, genius.
We need a Dalai Lama for this kind of insight? "If we all appreciate how ethics are important and become compassionate and patient, things will change a lot." Really? This is how you earn your bowl of rice? A man who can take apart and put together a watch can't come up with anything better than, "When we become better, nicer people, it will be broadly transformative?"
Digging into his wording a little, though, which is probably not the most sensible endeavor given his questionable mastery of the English language, I have to say, I have some concerns.
"When" we appreciate the importance of ethics? "When" we integrate compassion and patience into our outlook? Yeah, when is that supposed to happen? You have it marked on your calendar? Don't hold your breath.
You're the bodhisattva, but I'm not as certain that we're each of us going to learn and internalize these laudable things. I hope we do, but the prospect seems uncertain. However, if we do make such changes in ourselves, I am certain it would transform our world quite radically.
Because imagine if it didn't. Imagine if each human woke up one morning, suddenly holding ethics as of utmost importance, and looking on others with kindness and patience, but then nothing changed. That'd be depressing. All that turning into ethical and compassionate beings, for nothing. Uch. That would suck.
We do live in a troubled world. And the biggest, most far-reaching decisions today are surely being made by those who hold ethics as not particularly valuable or even relevant, and for whom compassion and patience are lacking in their basic outlook. Lacking in the extreme. I'd always assumed that a lot of the world's current problems issued from precisely this lack of ethical priorities and compassion, especially at the top, but also all the way down the social hierarchy. And, boy, if I could do such a thing, I sure would prescribe some extra ethics and compassion, in order to begin repairing the global human catastrophe.
But imagine if, say Donald Dump and the current crop of spineless horrors in Congress, and the Koch Brothers and every other self-appointed master of the world, suddenly came to value ethics over ideology, kindness over profit, and yet none of their behavior changed.
Or imagine if their inner compass spun till they valued ethics over status, compassion over dollars, and their actions changed accordingly, but even then nothing at all took a turn for the better. Good god, that would be hell on Earth, would it not?
Imagine if everyone on the planet asked him or her or whomever self, from moment to moment, "Should I commit this act of mild pettiness? Or this act of ghastly cruelty? Or should I rather forbear to harm? Oughtn't I act with justice and mercy? Oughtn't I eschew selfishness and be charitable? I'll do it. I will not honk my car horn angrily at that old woman. I will not build an oil pipeline near an important source of fresh water. I will not disguise deceptively toxic investment instruments in order to enrich myself. I will not design a way to cheat emissions tests. I will not drop bombs on that city. I will not deny that black family a home loan. I will not stab those Muslims at the bus stop. I will not crush those Jews with a forklift. I will not leave those refugees to die. I will not attack that woman. I will not prevent that same-sex couple from getting married. I will not dump addictive drugs into that community."
Imagine if each of us, where applicable, said and did these things, and yet nothing improved, everything stayed as miserable as ever. Wouldn't that be a bitch?
Maybe that's why the Dalai Lama isn't willing to commit to anything more specific than, "the effects will be far-reaching." Because at the very least, behaving ethically and compassionately has got to change the person doing the behaving. And everyone doing that, well, those are indeed far-reaching effects in themselves, albeit solely internal, compartmental and individually discrete.
But, come on, man, really? You can't say, "When we think better, more compassionate thoughts, the overall amount of needless suffering will assuredly decrease?" That's a bridge to far? It's just not very encouraging to the rest of us non-Dalai Lamas.
I'm no Lama, Dalai or otherwise, but, friends, I have every confidence that if – not when, but if – we all prioritized ethics more highly and viewed each other with more compassion, we would consequently behave more ethically and compassionately, and thereby make the world a better place. If Donald Dump were a more compassionate person, he would not say terrible things about Muslims and Mexicans and women, nor would he attempt to turn the public against athletes taking a knee during the national anthem. And if Donald Dump were a more ethical person, he would most certainly not be president.
It scares me a little that the Dalai Lama even has to suggest such a thing, and so vaguely. Of course if we were better, more thoughtful people, the world would better. It goes without saying – in my opinion. So why are you saying yet not saying it, Dalai Lama – Dalai Lama who has decided not to reincarnate after the death of your current body? Does your decision not to reincarnate derive from your lack of confidence in humans to treat each other better, even should they become better humans? What's up, man? Why are you so damn negative? Why the hesitation to trust your fellow souls? Is there something you know that you're not saying?
I guess I just look more kindly on people than you do, Dalai Lama. I'm absolutely certain that, were our world view and values to improve, our actions toward our neighbors and even our enemies would be more humane as a consequence, and those humane actions would in turn show a tangible improvement in the overall condition of society. I'm going out on limb here, but I'll go ahead and say it: if we think nicer thoughts, it will lead us to do nicer deeds, which will lead to noticeable improvements in all our lives.
How many times has each of us thought, at one time or another, boy, if humans could just be more kind, considerate and fair, and less fearful and cruel and unjust and petty, we could make the world such a groovy place? I mean, why is the incarnation of the Avalokiteshvara himself hedging his bets on this? Especially if he's sure a change in our internal natures is inevitable enough that he says "when" rather than "if?"
This is truly making me anxious. If becoming better people, which in itself would be a miraculous event, is going to leave us with a world just as rotten as it was when we were selfish cowards, we're lost. In that case, nothing can save us, short of a visit from benevolent space aliens.
Why even bring it up, man? What's going on? Answer me, you grinning cipher! Answer me, you saffron-robed enigma!
Friends, forget that dude. He's abandoning us, anyway, to dissolve into Nirvana. I, in my utter imperfection, will do the heavy lifting the damn mealy-mouthed Dalai Lama seems unable to bring himself to do. I will believe in us. I will believe that we are not an entirely hopeless species. With an improvement in our moral judgment, we can be better people, treat others in a more positive way, divert civilization from its current suicidal course, and make a happier world for all beings.
How do you like them apples, Lama?
This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!