The Dalai Lama on Tolerance

The Dalai Lama had an op-ed in The New York Times the other day. Alas, he got off to a very bad start with this:

WHEN I was a boy in Tibet, I felt that my own Buddhist religion must be the best — and that other faiths were somehow inferior. Now I see how naïve I was, and how dangerous the extremes of religious intolerance can be today.

Though intolerance may be as old as religion itself, we still see vigorous signs of its virulence. In Europe, there are intense debates about newcomers wearing veils or wanting to erect minarets and episodes of violence against Muslim immigrants. Radical atheists issue blanket condemnations of those who hold to religious beliefs. In the Middle East, the flames of war are fanned by hatred of those who adhere to a different faith.

“Radical atheists” write books expressing their views, and when invited to do so they speak publicly about what they believe. The Dalai Lama regards such activities as representing a dangerous extreme of religious intolerance, on the same level as violence against Muslim immigrants or fanning the flames of war in the Middle East. Forgive me if I question his moral judgment.

The remainder of his essay is a fairly standard paean to the notion of religious tolerance, centered around the idea that the world’s major religious traditions all take “compassion” to be a high virtue. I am certainly in favor of religious tolerance, but you hardly need a religious text to teach you the value of compassion. And many of the world’s major religions also teach certain doctrines, like their exclusive right to hold forth on the will of God, that make compassion far harder to realize in real life.


  1. #1 becca
    May 27, 2010

    Do you also feel he is condemning Europeans?

  2. #2 John S. Wilkins
    May 27, 2010

    I think that the DL is as religion-centric as anyone, despite his popularity with the “liberal” elite. He certainly manages to express his own beliefs in public, despite the fact that it marginalises other views, such as atheism.

  3. #3 bad Jim
    May 27, 2010

    The only acceptable views are fair and balanced, of course. The communists have fallen down on the job, so the New Atheists are being impressed into service as the dark side. (Which would be okay if they mentioned that we have cookies!)

  4. #4 Duke York
    May 27, 2010

    Forgive me if I question his moral judgment.

    C’mon! You can’t do that! The man is what, a eight hundred years old? Re-incarnated fourteen times? You must have learned some deep moral judgement in all those life times…

    Or he’s just some random Tibetan schmuck who was elevated in a national lottery to keep a feudal system running without secession battles.

    Either way, you’re not supposed to question!


  5. #5 ecologist
    May 27, 2010

    Jason — your indignation would be more convincing if you hadn’t made a HUGE logical error. The DL quote does not, in your words, put radical atheism “on the same level as violence against Muslim immigrants or fanning the flames of war in the Middle East”. Any more than he puts debate about minarets on the same level as violence and the flames of war.

    The quote gives examples of what are examples of intolerance (in his view). He includes purely verbal statements, political discourse, physical violence, and war AS EXAMPLES. To claim that X, Y, and Z are examples of something does not imply that there are no other differences between X, Y, and Z. And to attack the claim by demonstrating differences between X, Y, and Z is a logical fallacy.

    I assure you, the DL is very, very aware of the difference between verbally stating an intolerant opinion, physical violence, and war.

    Oh, and by the way, isn’t your last sentence more or less saying the same as his first sentence?

  6. #6 eric
    May 27, 2010

    I give him partial credit for a comment he made years ago. When asked what he would do if scientific findings came into conflict with buddhist beliefs, his answer was (paraphrasing): ‘then buddhism must change.’

  7. #7 Robert S.
    May 27, 2010

    @ecologist don’t make me break out the clue-bat.

    and episodes of violence against Muslim immigrants.

    are you quote mining? or do you have a condition that makes you skip the half of sentences that don’t support your point.

  8. #8 Blaine
    May 27, 2010

    The DL is also a political dictator who enforced a one religion policy in Tibet. Fortunately, he is stateless.

  9. #9 ecologist
    May 27, 2010

    @Robert S.

    Gee, I thought that by copying the quote EXACTLY from Jason’s text, and putting quotation marks around it, and attributing it to him, I had pretty much avoided quote-mining.

    Watch out how you wave that clue-bat around. Might hit yourself with it. Just saying.

  10. #10 colin
    May 27, 2010

    @ecologist :

    Even if you were correct, you’re mistaking the Dalai Lama’s understanding for those who might listen to him, and equate verbal statements with physical violence. As a spiritual leader (whatever that may be) it behooves him to make his points clearer.

    Also, nowhere does he point out that religiously-intolerant violence, in the Middle East, is created entirely by other religions, and not by atheists.

  11. #11 colin
    May 27, 2010

    Actually, strike my last sentence. He does point it out, although clearly, in the juxtaposition of the last two sentences of the quote, he is trying to suggest that clear atheism is just as bad as religious faith.

  12. #12 AL
    May 27, 2010


    The DL might not be equivocating verbal disagreement with outright physical violence, but it’s still silly and very straightforwardly self-refuting to decry intolerance and claim that verbal disagreement is a form of intolerance.

  13. #13 Blake Stacey
    May 27, 2010

    I think it’s time we liberal elitists faced the facts:

    The only leader of an Eastern mythological tradition who acts in a manner worthy of respect is Hideaki Anno. (-:

  14. #14 Cath the Canberra Cook
    June 18, 2010

    The DL is also a political dictator who enforced a one religion policy in Tibet. Fortunately, he is stateless.

    No, he didn’t. He was a child at the time, and became stateless as a teen.

    The dictatorship of the lamas was indeed hideous, but unless you actually believe in the reincarnation thing, he’s not to blame for it.

  15. #15 Lauren Smith
    March 24, 2011

    All I have to say is that he is a great religious leader!!

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