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Beyond Religion by His Holiness the Dalai Lama

In his latest book, His Holiness the Dalai Lama proposes a system of secular ethics to fit the demands of the modern world. With respect for religious and global diversity and careful observance of the benefits of religious faith, he calls for us to move beyond religion in order to cultivate a universal system of ethics that recognizes and honors our common humanity. Emphasizing the importance of awareness, education, and action, he offers guidelines for the application of these teachings through meditative practice, including suggestions for the development of key human values. Beyond Religion is a message of compassion and wisdom for all global citizens—required reading for anyone interested in improved living and a better world.


Discussion Questions

1. What advancements does the Dalai Lama claim have been made in recent times and what problems or challenges remain? What does he propose is at the root of these problems? What does he cite as the biggest problem of our time?

2. The Dalai Lama suggests that we take a second look at how we define secularism. How has this term been interpreted in the past and what factors have been influential in determining how the term is understood? How do interpretations of the term differ in the United States and in India, for instance? How does he propose that we should define secularism?

3. Keeping this broader definition of secularism in mind, what reasons does the Dalai Lama provide for the need for secular ethics? What changes in the modern world have made this ethical system necessary while rendering past ethical systems ineffective or obsolete?

4. The Dalai Lama speaks throughout the book about the culture of India, where he has lived for many years as a refugee. What positive characteristics does he equate with Indian culture? How does Indian culture offer a model for a system of secular ethics? Alternatively, how does the story about Orissa, India, reveal one of the major obstacles to ethics in practice?

5. What does the Dalai Lama say is the foundation of well-being and the spiritual principle from which all other positive inner values emerge? Is this value something fundamental to our human nature or is it something that needs to be cultivated, or both? Is this principle only available to us through religion?

6. Does the Dalai Lama propose that readers should dispense with religion or convert to Buddhism? While he invites readers to move beyond religion towards secular ethics, what does he indicate are some of the benefits of religious faith and practice? What qualities does he say all religions share? Alternatively, what does he indicate are some of the “misuses of religion,” or the problems or inadequacies of an ethical system based on religion?

7. The Dalai Lama often speaks about science within the text. Do scientific findings support his beliefs and teachings or does science pose an obstacle to a secular system of ethics? According to the book, what does science tell us about compassion, equality, self-improvement, and emotion, for instance?

8. What are the two pillars for secular ethics? How has globalization heightened awareness of these pillars? What other values does the Dalai Lama suggest are necessary within this system of secular ethics?

9. In considering our common humanity, what claims does the Dalai Lama make for what separates us as humans and what unites us?

10. What are the true sources of human happiness and what are the two levels of satisfaction? What message does the book contain about material desires and transient sources of satisfaction? What are some examples of transient sources of satisfaction? What is the major difference between happiness and contentment?

11. What is the difference between empathy and compassion?

12. Are the concepts of compassion and justice in opposition with one another? What does the Dalai Lama mean when he speaks of broad and narrow justice? How does he propose that we define celebrities sex tapes justice? What kind of punishment does he recommend for wrongdoers? How does he suggest that we reach a place of forgiveness?

13. What is discernment? What role do discernment and interdependence play within a system of secular ethics? What does the Dalai Lama mean when he says that ethics must be grounded at the level of motivation, not consequence?

14. What message does the book contain about war and violence? About the environment? About economics? What does the Dalai Lama mean when he says that he considers himself “half Marxist”? What positive uses can there be for capitalism and material wealth?

15. The Dalai Lama clearly states that positive example and action are required in order for this system of secular ethics to succeed. What does he claim are the marks of a great teacher?

16. What are the three levels of the practice of ethical mindfulness? Which of the three is the highest form of ethical practice? Of body, speech, and mind, which is most important in our efforts to cultivate ethical mindfulness, and why?

17. What does the book claim is the greatest obstacle to our well-being and what are the causes of this affliction? What does the Dalai Lama propose we can do to effectively counter this obstacle?

18. What is the two-pronged approach to genuine ethical practice? What does the process of transformation entail and what positive qualities does the Dalai Lama suggest that we foster? What are the varieties of patience, for example, and what are the benefits of each?

19. What is the relationship of self-discipline and generosity within this system of ethical mindfulness? With respect to philanthropy, what does the book claim are the two most pressing areas of need?

20. What is meditation? What are the three levels of understanding in Buddhist theory that lead to mental transformation? How are absorptive and discursive meditation defined? What are the differences between the two? What general guidelines does the Dalai Lama offer with respect to all types of meditation and what are some of the major obstacles to proper meditation? Why does the Dalai Lama say that we should cultivate equanimity? Finally, what are some of the benefits of meditative practice?


Additional Resources

Other books by His Holiness the Dalai Lama:

Toward a True Kinship of Faiths (Doubleday, 2010)

Destructive Emotions (Bloomsbury, 2004)

The Compassionate Life (Wisdom Publications, 2003)

Ethics for the New Millennium (Penguin, 2001)

The Official Website of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet

The Dalai Lama Foundation


This guide was written by Je Banach.