Dalai Lama on Contentment

Universal responsibility and the environment: Contentment

Too much consumption or effort to make money is no good. Neither is too much contentment. In principle contentment is a goal, but pure contentment becomes almost like suicide, doesn't it?
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The Tibetan Buddhist attitude is one of contentment, and there may be some connection here with our attitude toward the environment. We don’t indiscriminately consume. We put a limit on our consumption. We admire simply living and individual responsibility. We have always considered ourselves as part of our environment, but not just any part. Our ancient scriptures speak of the container and the contained. The world is the container—our house and we are the contained—the contents of the container.

From these simple facts we deduce a special relationship because, without the container, the contents cannot be contained. Without the contents, the container contains nothing, it’s meaningless.

In my Five-Point Peace Plan I have proposed that all of Tibet become a sanctuary, a zone of peace. Tibet was that once, but with no official designation. Peace means harmony: harmony between people, between people and animals, between sentient beings and the environment. Visitors from all over the world could come to Tibet to experience peace and harmony. Instead of building big hotels with many stories and many rooms, we would make small buildings, more like private homes, that would be in better harmony with nature.

It is not at all wrong for humans to use nature to make useful things, but we must not exploit nature to make useful things, and we must not exploit nature unnecessarily. It is good to live in a house, to have medicines, and to be able to drive somewhere in a car. In the right hands, a machine is not a luxury, but something very useful. A camera, for example, can be used to make pictures that promote understanding.

Bur everything has its limit. Too much consumption or effort to make money is no good. Neither is too much contentment. In principle, contentment is a goal, but pure contentment becomes almost like suicide, doesn’t it? I think the Tibetans had, in certain fields too much contentment. And we lost our country. These days we cannot afford too much contentment about the environment.

The peace and survival of life on earth as we know it are threatened by human activities that lack a commitment to humanitarian values. Destruction of nature and natural resources results from ignorance, greed, and a lack of respect for the earth’s living things. This lack of respect extends even to the earth’s human descendants, the future generations who will inherit a vastly degraded planet if world peace doesn’t become a reality and if destruction of the natural environment continues at the present rate.

Our ancestors viewed the earth as rich and bountiful, which it is. Many people in the past also saw nature as inexhaustibly sustainable, which we now know is the case only if we care for it. It is not difficult to forgive the destruction in the past that resulted from ignorance. Today, however, we have access to more information. It is essential that we re-examine ethically what we have inherited, what we are responsible for, and what we will pass on to coming generations.

Clearly, this is a pivotal generation. Global communication is possible, yet confrontations take place more often than meaningful dialogues for peace. Our marvels of science and technology are matched, if not outweighed, by many current tragedies, including human starvation in some parts of the world and the extinction of other life forms.

Exploration of outer space takes place at the same time the earth’s own oceans, seas, and freshwater areas grow increasingly polluted, and their life forms are still largely unknown or misunderstood. Many of the earth’s habitats, animals, plants, insects and even microorganisms that we know as rare may not be known at all by future generations. We have the capability and the responsibility. We must act before it is too late.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso is the spiritual leader of Tibet. Since taking asylum in India in 1959, His Holiness has become a global advocator of peace, compassion and happiness. He is the first Nobel Laureate to be recognised for his concern for global environmental problems.

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