cover image Ethics for the New Millennium

Ethics for the New Millennium

Dalai Lama, Bstan-'Dzin-Rgy. Riverhead Books, $24.95 (237pp) ISBN 978-1-57322-025-5

""This is not a religious book,"" asserts the Dalai Lama about a volume that's his most outspoken to date on moral and social issues. ""My aim has been to appeal for an approach to ethics based on universal rather than religious principles."" The Dalai Lama adopts this approach because, he notes, the majority of humanity ignores religion, the traditional vehicle for ethics, yet observation shows him that happiness, which he discerns as the prime human goal, depends upon ""positive ethical conduct."" The entire book, written in simple, direct prose, reflects this sort of step-by-step reasoning, taking on color and drama with numerous anecdotes drawn from the Tibetan leader's personal experience. Methodically, the Dalai Lama explores the foundation of ethics, how ethics affects the individual and the role of ethics in society. He resorts often to Buddhist principles (as in employing the idea of dependent origination--that nothing arises or exists of itself--to demonstrate the interrelatedness of all life), but also to native Tibetan ideas and, occasionally, to secular thought or that of other religions. The book represents no radical departure from his previous work, but it does present a number of forceful views on issues ranging from cloning to vivisection to excess wealth (""the life of luxury... is unworthy""), as well as personal flavor not seen in his books since his autobiography, Freedom in Exile. The Dalai Lama refers, for instance, to his unwillingness to sell his watch collection for money to feed the poor as an example of ethical limitation. With its disarmingly frank, kindly manner and authoritative air, the book is what one would expect from a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and could appeal as widely as the Dalai Lama's current bestseller, The Art of Happiness. (Aug.)