Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Book Review: “Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World,” by the Dalai Lama

In “Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World,” Dalai Lama, the beloved religious leader, provides an insight into spirituality for the 21st century. A political head without a country, Nobel laureate professing peace and Buddhist monk practicing non-violence, proposes a universal ethics for the whole world that transcends all religions, conceptions of god and yet offers a moral plan for all humanity. Since globalization has brought people out of their isolation by creating interconnectedness and multicultural societies, ethics based on a particular religion, would not appeal to some of us or not be meaningful for all.” Instead, our century needs an ethics that “makes no recourse to religion” and yet appeals to all faiths and those without any: a secular ethics that will serve the inner needs of all humanity.

Dalai Lama says: “This book may seem strange coming from someone who from the very early age has lived as a monk in robes. Yet I see no contradiction here. My faith enjoins me to strive for the welfare and benefit of all sentient beings, reaching out beyond my own tradition, to those of other religions and those of none.”
He proposes a secular ethics inclusive of all people with or without faith, because “all human beings are basically inclined or disposed toward what we perceive to be good, appreciate kindness of others and oriented toward basic human values of love and compassion.” It is his “firm opinion that we have within our grasp a way, and a means, to ground inner values without contradicting any religion and yet, crucially, without depending on religion.”

He proposes the development and practice of a new vision that promotes “the need for secular ethics and inner values in the age of excessive materialism.” Since grounding ethics on a particular religion is no longer adequate in the 21st century, we need to think about spirituality and ethics beyond religion.

He has been the most unusual guest in India, residing there since 1959 when the Chinese took over Tibet. Dalai Lama admits that he had been brought up both physically and spiritually on Indian food and the writings of the Indian Buddhists.

In order to find the most inclusive secular ethics for the 21st century, Dalai Lama delves into the Indian and Western views on secularism. He models his secularism after the Indian King Ashoka, who in 261 B.C. emphasized the importance of interfaith dialogue by regarding all human beings as the children of one god. Following its unique historical background, today’s India adheres to secularism that implies “mutual tolerance and respect for all faiths as well as for those of no faith.” In contrast, the Western secularism developed as a scientific rational movement clashing with religious superstition where the two regarded each other “as belonging to opposing positions—leading to considerable suspicion and hostility.”

As a man of religion, Dalai Lama opts for the Indian view of secularism, which is inclusive of all human beings, and thus closer to his heart. He believes that though human beings can manage without religion, they cannot without inner values or spirituality. Spirituality has two dimensions: first relates to our innate human nature predisposing us towards compassion, kindness and caring for others and second hails from religious beliefs and practices towards life here and now and life after. The difference between the two dimensions is like between water and tea. Ethics and inner values without religion are like water that is essential for life whereas with religion it is like tea that garnishes the water. We can live without tea but not without water. Thus Dalai Lama asserts: “we are born free of religion but not born free of compassion.” Therefore more fundamental than religion is our basic human compassion or spirituality.

How do we cultivate spirituality? Dalai Lama believes that our shared humanity of aspiration to happiness and avoidance of pain and our interdependence as human beings are the two pillars of secular ethics.

Our desire for happiness depends upon wealth, health and companionship. When pursued selfishly, these bring about only temporary external gratification. However, for lasting inner fulfillment, one needs to cultivate these by sharing one’s riches with others, promoting others health and offering them friendship.

Such personal qualities as patience, contentment, self-discipline, generosity and the delight of charitable giving that enrich the inner values could be cultivated through daily meditation in action. Dalai Lama’s hope is that these qualities belonging to the heart could be infused in the education of the younger generation of the 21st century, thus leading to a moral world for all humanity. During this time of religious turmoil where more people are turning to spirituality by getting away from organized religions, it was a breath of fresh air to read “Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World” by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Dr. Ashok Kumar Malhotra

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

New Book: The Modern Transformation

I have a completed manuscript, 55,300 words, that is finally good enough to show to the public. “The Modern Transformation”. It describes the world-wide process of change from traditional to modern society, which began in western Europe about 500 years ago and is still continuing around the world today. The Arab Spring is the most recent chapter in this evolutionary and revolutionary transformation of human society. I really want to thank the ISCSC for helping me to get started with this project over four years ago in New Brunswick, Canada and again in Kalamazoo, Michigan. It was the first time I was ever treated as a bona fide scholar. Your warmth and acceptance helped to give me the confidence and courage needed to push this project through to a conclusion. I especially want to thank Matt Melko, God rest his soul, for taking the time and effort to enlighten me about some of the ways and wherefores of academic writing. Matt also told me to contact John Hord. It was John who told me to start by reading Jacques Cauvin The Birth of the Gods and the Origin of Agriculture. He also recommended that I ditch the term modern revolution and use modern transformation instead. Thanks also to Andrew Targowski and to everyone in the ISCSC. Those who read this manuscript will find something new and different to think about. By David Maurer

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Ninash Foundation News Release

Dr. Ashok Kumar Malhotra and Ms. Linda Marie Drake just returned after a fabulous 3 week long trip (March 12-April 2, 2012) to India where they visited all of Ninash Foundation’s 6 Indo-International Schools educating more than 1200 female and minority children. They were accompanied by 10 members of Ashok’s family from India who enjoyed being part of this educational venture to spread literacy among the poorest of poor children. Six members of Ashok’s family made commitments to support six children yearly at the Ninash's Indo-International Schools!

During their visit to the Indo-International School in Dundlod (Rajasthan), a sister city of Oneonta, they opened Hari Chand Chopra Culture Room , Jack Finestone Music Room and a newly built electrically operated well (funded by the Empire Toyota of Oneonta) to provide water to 550 children and 30 teachers They also held an assembly at the school where 550 children and teachers participated by asking questions of the visitors.

They also visited the Indo-International Culture School in Mahapura where the teachers and students displayed their recent art work in stained glass windows. They went to the classes from nursery to the ninth grade where children recited poems, sang songs and read their lessons in Hindi and English. They also held an open assembly with students and teachers to receive and answer questions.

Their last visit was at the Indo-International School in Kuran, where children performed dances and music as well as showed their acumen in using and understanding the basics of computer skills. Linda gave a demonstration of different kinds of things that could be done with the recent version of the IPAD. They held assembly at the school where 280 children and 6 teachers participated by asking questions of the visitors.

A special session with the local government (Panchayat) of Kuran was held. The entire day was spent visiting the families, their art and crafts as well as the new houses built for the community through the financial help of the local government. In the evening, the community got together to present a folk musical performance for the visitors. They also saw the completion of the High School building that will be in full operation by the next academic year.

Ashok and Linda met with an NGO group that provided free computer service to the children and teachers at the school in Kuran. They proposed to help tie up the six Indo-International Schools in Kuran, Mahapura and Dundlod by holding conferences through SKYPE and other means to share information on technology use, obtaining grants from the government and other items to help the schools to coordinate activities.

They also met with the staff of each school and held discussions with them regarding their needs and suggested direction and vision for the future. They suggested to the staff that the schools needed to provide more extensive computer skills so that AKAASH tablets (similar to IPAD) be bought and provided to the teachers in each school who could master the use and then teach these skills to others teachers and then teaching them to the children. To lure the teachers to learn about the AAKASH Tablet, two awards for the teachers were proposed for acquiring mastery of the tablet. Also teachers were asked to make commitment that they would have mastered the basic skills regarding the computer use during their next visit.

Moreover, since the water filtration unit at Kuran school was successfully providing clean water to 280 children, it was suggested and proposed to explore the possibility of first digging a bore well for sweet water and then providing a filtration unit to clean it for the entire village of Kuran. This would make the village self-sufficient as well as provide clean water to the entire community. A firm was consulted to check out the quality of water and come up with recommendations. Ashok and Linda promised to raise funds in the United States from generous donors like the Empire Toyota of Oneonta that provided financial assistance for the newly dug bore well in Dundlod.

This International Education Effort of the Ninash Foundation in cooperation with the SUNY Oneonta “Learn and Serve” study abroad program that built the first one-room school house with 50 underprivileged has now grown to 1200 children getting education in the six state- of- the-art schools. Founded by Dr. Ashok Malhotra, Distinguished Teaching Professor of Philosophy and co-directed by Linda Drake, Director of Center for Social Responsibility and Community, the “Learn and Serve in India” is one of the longest running SUNY study abroad programs in the SUNY system. Since 1979 the program has brought to India more than 300 participants consisting of students, faculty and members of the community by immersing them into India’s culture.

The Ninash’s six schools educating 1200 female and minority children are dependent on donations from generous people of the community. Please donate to the Ninash Foundation, a 501 © (3) charity, by going to the website at www.ninash.org and through PayPal. Donations are tax deductible.

Dr. Ashok Malhotra

What Is Making Population Numbers Crash?

The UN Population Agency reports that Europe's fertility rate may have plummeted to the point of no return. Certain countries (Ukraine, Russia, Germany, Spain, Italy, Greece) have fertility rates in the single digits that by the end of this century could spell doom. This applies to Japan as well, and threatens the modern and developed parts of China and India. In 1980, China's median age was 22; today it is 34.5. Not enough young to support the old. The same is happening in India's modernizing cities.

Remember the panic about population explosion threatening widespread famine and disaster if not stopped? Now demographers are alarmed at populations crashing at such speed that there may be no reversing the trend.

Two sets of numbers about the Muslim world are in dispute: that they are reproducing at such a rate that they will overwhelm Europe, or that Muslims are now almost universally in the most rapid population decline seen since the fall of Rome or the Dark Ages.

I would normally doubt the UN's figures on the Muslim world; they get these numbers from host governments, not from real census taking. Which Muslim countries have a reliable census (aside from Turkey and Iran)? Traditional people are very suspicious of government agents asking personal questions, particularly about who lives inside walled compounds where women are sequestered and not talked about.

However, when certain Muslim governments themselves express alarm and sometimes outrage over their plummeting birth rate (both Turkish and Iranian presidents have bitterly complained about this, blaming this free-fall on “outside” conspiracies), I do believe it. I suspect that all these governments know the truth because they keep track of water consumption and food supplies.

That the numbers are coming down is undeniable. But what are the reasons for this phenomenon? The most obvious reason is modernization. When women, for the first time in human history, are permitted choice over their fertility, they choose not to have the seven children that their hapless mothers had. Even a 7th grade education for a girl will cut her lifetime fertility rate in half. In those parts of the world where girls have no choices (Central Africa, Afghanistan, tribal Pakistan, and northern India), the fertility rates, child mortality rates, and maternal death rates are what they have been for millennia-very bad indeed.

Despite being literate and modern, despair has created the population plummet in every country that formerly lived under Communism or Fascism (Russia, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Japan, Italy, and Greece.) What role has despair on declining to reproduce? We see that in certain formerly hidden tribes in the Amazon jungles, when exposed to western culture, the suicide rate explodes and the fertility rate dwindles.

David Goldberg, author of How Civilizations Die, has some devastating demographics to make his case. He also addresses Europe's apparent population crash as well, but notes that the flood of Muslims who have poured into Europe have plummeting fertility rates as well. Yasser Arafat had once boasted about the Arab secret weapon: “the wombs of our women.” For the Palestinians, this was true because for a half century, the UN kept Palestinian refugee camps open, unlike other refugee camps, and paid the inmates by the head. Their numbers exploded, but so did their despair. Young Palestinians, with little hope for a decent future, are opting out of the fertility game.

It is possible that authoritarian governments will try to forbid two of the causes for decline: female literacy and availability of contraceptives. Ayatollah Khomeini tried that once---but after he died, family planning (and literacy) revived.

Although alarmists such as Goldberg see a death wish in people who have lost their cultures to modernization, this is not necessarily so. The really educated will figure out how to live in a world where rapid population growth is no longer necessary. Europe could change their downward trend at any point, sustaining themselves at a smaller level. Countries such as Denmark and Norway already do this. More traditional cultures may not be as lucky.


Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman is a historian, lecturer, and author of Worldchangers: Ten Inventions that Changed Everything. You may contact her at Lfarhat102@aol.com or www.globalthink.net.