The Dalai Lama speaking on religion, channeling the Talmud and Heraclitus

A friend sent me an internet link to a fascinating conversation that had taken place recently at an inter-religious conference between the Dalai Lama and the prominent Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff, as recorded by the latter.

From Wikipedia: Liberation theology is a movement in Christian theology which construes the teachings of Jesus Christ in terms of a liberation from unjust economic, political, or social conditions. It has been described by proponents as “an interpretation of Christian faith through the poor’s suffering, their struggle and hope, and a critique of society and the Catholic faith and Christianity through the eyes of the poor.” Although liberation theology has grown into an international and inter-denominational movement, it began as a movement within the Roman Catholic church in Latin America in the 1950s – 1960s. It arose principally as a moral reaction to the poverty caused by social injustice in that region. Proponents of liberation theology using were admonished by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (previously known as the Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition) in 1984 and 1986. The Vatican documents criticize certain strains of Liberation Theology for focusing on institutional dimensions of sin to the exclusion of the individual; and for identifying the church hierarchy as members of the privileged class.

In his record of the conversation, Leonardo Boff confesses to a certain “malice” when he asked “what is the best religion?” The Dalai Lama, refusing to fall into the trap of religious prejudice, said “the best religion is the one that gets you closer to God and makes you a better person.” Expanding on that, he says “whatever makes you more compassionate, more sensible.. more loving, more responsible. The religion that will do that for you is the best religion, for you.” Clearly on a roll, His Holiness adds, “I am not interested, my friend, in your religion, or if you are religious or not. What is important to me is your behavior with your peers, family, work, community and in front of the world.”

Having stated his unequivocal support for religious tolerance, The Dalai Lama then articulates the classic Buddhist teachings on karma: “Remember, the universe is (or contains) the echo of our actions and our thoughts. The law of action and reaction is not limited to physics, but applies also to human relations. If I act with goodness, I will receive goodness. If I act with evil, I will receive evil. You always receive what you wish for toward others.”

The Dalai Lama then proceeds to make the following series of statements – which, to my amazement, I unexpectedly found (in an anthology) correspond exactly to a passage from the Talmud.

Take care of your thoughts, because they will become words.
Take care of your words, because they will become actions.
Take care of your actions, because they will become habits.
Take care of your habits, because they will become your character.
Take care of your character, for it will form your destiny – and your destiny is your life.

Furthermore, the statement “your character will form your destiny” corresponds exactly to one of the most famous epigrams of Heraclitus, the 6th century BC Greek philosopher: Ethos anthropoi daimon.

This epigram is usually translated as “A man’s character determines his fate.” Ethos is the collection of values that constitute your character. Daimon, usually translated “fate” or “destiny” also and originally referred to the indwelling divine Spirit in every human being. Socrates reputedly used to report receiving guidance from his daimon. (Only much later, in medieval Christianity, did daimon acquire the connotations of an evil demon.)

One Response

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