The following article is excerpted from His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s new book The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World and serves as the opening piece for this new volume of RHI focusing on environmental education. We think it sets the perfect tone not just for this newest RHI initiative but also for you, the teacher, as you think about how to motivate and inspire not just your students, but their parents, fellow faculty and, well, yourself!
It is clear that, given the reality of the interdependent world in which we now live, no individual or group, community or nation can live in isolation. This is not a merely abstract idea, but a political, economic and environmental reality. Our actions have an impact on others and the emerging global community. This is why an interdependent society has to be a compassionate society, compassionate in its choice of goals and responsible in its cooperation in pursuit of those goals.
Every day we hear or read about breathtaking manifestations of affluence, while at the same time tens of thousands die due to starvation, poverty, malnutrition, and preventable or curable diseases. We must ask ourselves whether something is wrong with our choice of goals or with our motivation or with both.
There is a great and growing desire for change in the world, change that promotes the urgent need to care for the planet and its ecological systems, and that encourages peace, compassion, respect and warm-heartedness. I believe that these goals can be achieved on the basis of increased awareness, therefore, let us widen our perspective to include the well being of the whole world and its future generations in our vision of prosperity and freedom.
When we bring up our children to have knowledge without compassion, their attitude towards others is likely to be a mixture of envy of those in positions above them, aggressive competitiveness toward their peers, and scorn for those less fortunate. This leads to a propensity towards greed, presumption, excess, and, very quickly, to a loss of happiness. Knowledge is important. But much more so is the use to which it is put. This depends on the heart and mind of the one who uses it.
Education is much more than a matter of imparting the knowledge and skills by which narrow goals are achieved. It is also about opening children’s eyes to the needs and rights of others. We must show children that their actions have a universal dimension. And we must somehow find a way to build on their natural feelings of empathy so that they come to have a sense of responsibility towards others. For it is this that stirs us into action. Indeed, if we had to choose between learning and virtue, the latter is definitely more valuable. The good heart which is the fruit of virtue is by itself a great benefit to humanity. Mere knowledge is not.
In order to awaken young people’s consciousness to the importance of basic human values, it is better not to present society’s problems only in ethical or religious terms. It is important to emphasize that what is at stake is our continued survival. This way, they will come to see that the future lies in their hands.