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Of Secular Ethics

Of Secular Ethics

Sentinel Digital Desk

In the course of his speech at Dibrugarh University, the Dalai Lama stressed the need to have a curriculum on 'secular ethics' in the education system in order to ensure that the virtues of love, compassion and the feeling of oneness permeate human beings for a peaceful society. This is a theme that has found a prominent place in the speeches of the Dalai Lama during the last few days with good reason. The Dalai Lama has rightly seen the urgency for such a course of action in a world that has spent far too much time on conflicts and belligerent stances that are more likely to stoke violence and war on societies all over the world. He is of the view that compassiote feeling or thinking about humanity must come from the generations of the 21st century that have been witnesses to violence in the form of war and conflicts, in order to bring peace. In other words, he has entrusted the responsibility of ensuring peace on those who have suffered the most from conflict and violence. And this is as things should be, because it is those who have suffered the most from violence that should realize the importance of the appropriate action to replace conflict and war with reason and logic that can strengthen the action for peaceful coexistence.

One cannot gloss over the impression that the Dalai Lama's decision to talk about 'secular ethics' is an oblique way of reminding people that there is really no need to bring religion into any notions of ethical conduct. After all, ethics has to do with the moral principles governing or influencing human conduct. Good conduct that hinges on the virtues of justice or fairness, equality and polite and peaceful behaviour is essentially secular in character even though there has always been an attempt to bring religion into ethics in order to give the impression that our religious identity is what promotes good conduct. In his first speech at Guwahati last Saturday, he had said, "It is not through prayers but through education and awareness that we can make the world a peaceful place." Even if it might be difficult for some people to attribute such a remark to a religious or spiritual leader, that is what the Dalai Lama believes and seems determined to make others too believe—in the cause of universal peace. Unfortutely, the word secular has been misused far too often in this country. Of the half-a-dozen meanings of the word (some quite unexpected) the two that are relevant to our usual requirements are: (a) 'not religious, sacred or spiritual'; and (b) 'not subject to or bound by religious rule'. Dalai Lama's use of the phrase 'secular ethics' could well be a way of making sure that the word ethics does not get the kind religious colouring that the word secular has acquired in Indian usage. What the Dalai Lama is clearly trying to tell us is that our education should promote ethics and that this should have nothing to do with religion. Nor should ethics be seen as having only religious underpinnings as many of us think is the case.

We are all familiar with the expression 'value-based education'. It is an expression that many people use rather recklessly without understanding the implications or even having clear ideas of what is meant by it. During the last few days the Dalai Lama has been talking about just a few of the values that we hear about but are afraid to talk about largely because we are often not quite sure of what these values are. During the last few days, the Dalai Lama has been talking about just a few of the important values that are precious and need to be cherished. He has done this with vision, clarity and purposefulness and in the hope that the youth of the 21st century are aware of the challenges that face them and are determined to face them in hitherto untried ways because the very perspective of the demands of world peace has been missing from our calculations.

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