By HIS HOLINESS the 14th Dalai Lama
Riverhead / August 1999
Consider the following. We humans are social beings. We come into the world as the result of others' actions. We survive here in dependence on others. Whether we like it or not, there is hardly a moment of our lives when we do not benefit from others' activities. For this reason it is hardly surprising that most of our happiness arises in the context of our relationships with others. Nor is it so remarkable that our greatest joy should come when we are motivated by concern for others. But that is not all. We find that not only do altruistic actions bring about happiness but they also lessen our experience of suffering. Here I am not suggesting that the individual whose actions are motivated by the wish to bring others' happiness necessarily meets with less misfortune than the one who does not. Sickness, old age, mishaps of one sort or another are the same for us all. But the sufferings which undermine our internal peace anxiety, doubt, disappointment these things are definitely less. In our concern for others, we worry less about ourselves. When we worry less about ourselves an experience of our own suffering is less intense.
What does this tell us? Firstly, because our every action has a universal dimension, a potenial impact on others' happiness, ethics are necessary as a means to ensure that we do not harm others. Secondly, it tells us that genuine happiness consists in those spiritual qualities of love, compassion, patience, tolerance and forgiveness and so on. For it is these which provide both for our happiness and others' happiness.
Excerpts from Address by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, United Nations
Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Meeting,
Paris, February 1999
Widespread concern about the violation of human rights is very encouraging. Not only does it offer the prospect of relief to many suffering individuals, but it is also an indication of humanity╠s progress and development. Concern for human rights violations and the effort to protect human rights represents a great service to people of both the present and future generations.
The rights of every human being are very precious and important. According to Buddhist belief, every sentient being has a mind whose fundamental nature is essentially pure and unpolluted by mental distortions. We refer to that nature as the seed of enlightenment. From that point of view every being can eventually achieve perfection. And also because the nature of the mind is pure, we believe that all negative aspects can ultimately be removed from it.
Human rights are of universal interest because it is the inherent nature of all human beings to yearn for freedom, equality and dignity and they have a right to achieve them. Whether we like it or not, we have all been born into this world as part of one great human family. Rich or poor, educated or uneducated, belonging to one nation or another, to one religion or another, adhering to this ideology or that, ultimately each of us is just a human being like everyone else. We all desire happiness and do not want suffering.
If we accept that others have an equal right to peace and happinessas ourselves, do we not have responsibility to help those in need? The aspiration for democracy and respect for fundamental human rights is as important to the people of Africa and Asia as it is to those in Europe or the Americas. But often it is just those people who are deprived of their human rights who are least able to speak up for themselves. The responsibility rests with those of us who do enjoy such freedoms.
Some governments have contended that the standards of human rights laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are those advocated by the West and do not apply to Asia and other parts of the Third World because of differences in culture and social and economic development. I do not share this view and I am convinced that the majority of ordinary people do not support it either. I believe that the principles laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights constitute something like a natural law which ought to be followed by all peoples and governments. Moreover, I do not see any contradiction between the need for economic development and the need to respect human rights.
The world is becoming increasingly interdependent and that is why I firmly believe in the need to develop a sense of universal responsibility. We need to think in global terms, because the effects of one nation╠s actions are felt far beyond its borders. The acceptance of universally binding standards of human rights as laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the International Covenants of Human Rights is essential in today╠s shrinking world. Respect for fundamental human rights should not remain an ideal to be achieved but a requisite foundation for every human society.
We are witnessing a tremendous popular movement for the advancement of human rights and democratic freedom in the world. This movement must become an even more powerful moral force, so that even the most obstructive governments and armies are incapable of suppressing it. It is natural and just for nations, peoples and individuals to demand respect for their rights and freedoms and to struggle to end repression, racism, economic exploitation, military occupation, and various forms of colonialism and alien domination. Governments should actively support such demands instead of only paying lip service to them.
As we approach the end of the Twentieth Century, we find that the world is becoming one community. We are being drawn together by the grave problems of over-population, dwindling natural resources, and an environmental crisis that threaten the very foundation of our existence on this planet. Human rights, environmental protection and great social and economic equality, are all interrelated. I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. Each of us must learn to work not just for one╠s self, one╠s own family or one╠s nation, but for the benefit of all humankind.
Universal responsibility is the key to human survival. It is the best guarantee for human rights and for world peace.