Living in an Interdependent World

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Universal consciousness

It is critical, the Dalai Lama says, that we cultivate a sense of what he calls universal responsibility. In Tibetan the term the Dalai Lama uses means universal  consciousness, but the sense of responsibility is an important component.

Consider these two terms: universal consciousness and universal responsibility. What does universal mean to you? Can you imagine having universal consciousness? What about responsibility? Is the Dalai Lama suggesting that each of us is responsible for each war and famine throughout the world? Is he suggesting that you should feel responsible for the poverty of a single village on the other side of the globe?

Sensitive to all

By developing a sense of universal responsibility, recognizing the right of all others to happiness and not to suffer, we cultivate a mind-set that is sensitive to others. As you know from our presentation of great compassion, the Dalai Lama is urging us to be sensitive to the needs of all others — not just those close to us, those within our sphere of interest. And so we guard against focusing on superficial differences, which causes divisiveness and suffering. 

When you think in terms of absolutes — in terms of religions, languages, customs, culture, and so on — do you find yourself making small, rigid discriminations?

How might this discrimination create suffering both for ourselves and others? Does this make any sense? As the Dalai Lama asks:

What is the point of creating still more unnecessary problems simply on the basis of different ways of thinking or different skin color? Ethics for the New Millennium

We can emphasize how we all are essentially the same. When we understand that everyone wants to be loved, to be happy, and not to suffer, concern for well-being of others arises almost by itself.  Most people naturally understand this in relation to their own families and their friends.  It is important to extend this understanding to other communities and nations, for these no longer exist in isolation.

Do you find your concern for others diminishes as the others are more removed from your own family, your own community, your country?

Do you find yourself focused on the superficial differences between your community and others, your country and others, your faith and others. . . ?

If I were to look on each as one of my own kind — as a human being like myself with one nose, two eyes, and so forth, ignoring differences of shape and color — then automatically that sense of distance would fade. I would see that we have the same human flesh and that, moreover, just as I want to be happy and to avoid suffering, so do they. On the basis of this recognition, I would quite naturally feel well disposed toward them. And concern for their well-being would arise almost by itself. Ethics for the New Millennium