The Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Buddhist leader, made a visit to The United States back in ‘96 and made an interesting comment. He had something to say about the violence in the World. He said that harming others is like harming oneself. The article that follows is an interpretation of that statement. Our intention is that this article may serve as a springboard into a written debate on ethics, morality, religion, and philosophy in general.

The Meaning of The Dalai Lama's Statement
by Flavius (e-mail:

The Dalai Lama’s ostensibly simple, if not enigmatic comment, emanates from a profound, arcane and esoteric set of philosophical principles concerning ethics. Before directly answering the question at hand, a digression in order to more fully explore the first cause or basis of ethics is needed.

One is often exposed to hearing one of the most absurd questions ever asked, "Why should a person live according to ethical values?" In response to this fallacious and misguided question it must first be noted that the question itself needs to be questioned. That is, such a question seems to demand that there first be an ethical reason to be ethical. But if ethical values themselves are being questioned, it hardly seems possible to give an ethical reason to justify ethical behavior. The question itself implies a doubt about ethics in the first place. Therefore, a person who asks the question, "Why should I behave in an ethical manner?" is doubting ethics itself.

Given this dilemma, there are those who hold that there is no basis outside of ethics itself to justify moral or ethical behavior. However, there is an immutable and universal foundation for ethics. The moral or ethical life is tied to reason, and reason is the distinguishing feature of what it means to be human. Therefore, a human being can know and do what is good only by applying reason itself. Indeed, it is by acting in accordance with reason that individuals fulfill their true nature and discover what it means to be human. This, ultimately, is how one comes to know oneself.

Evil is an absence of good. Evil posses no objective reality of its own. It is only the pale shadow of the good that might have been. That is, evil is analogous to ignorance for it is based on a lack of reason. The evil doer harms himself most of all because his actions are based on ignorance; he goes against reason and nature to which he is ultimately subject. Doing evil, or harm to others as the Dalai Lama puts it, is only seemingly advantageous to the perpetrator. Evil doers seem to profit by their deeds, but the profit is only temporary and not of a true or lasting behavior.

The benefits are ephemeral while the damage is permanent. Evil deeds, because of their apparent and ephemeral benefits, become a tyrannical desire that can never be satisfied. The desire to do more harm becomes an unquestionable thirst that consumes the very essence of the perpetrator. Evil deeds do nothing less than corrupt and damage the soul. However, the evil person cannot take from the good person his essential goodness; he can only do temporary damage to the victim while doing permanent damage to himself. That which is most essential to one’s humanity, the capacity to reason, cannot be taken away by an evil person. Therefore, an evil person can never harm a good person.

However, the evil person, by the harm that he does, acts against reason and robs himself of what it means to be human. No other form of harm is so insidious or pernicious as well as permanent in its effects. The true extent of the evil person’s ignorance now becomes clear. Not only are his evil deeds based on ignorance, or a lack of reason, he is additionally ignorant of the harm he does himself by doing evil. This is why an evil person does more harm to himself than to the victims of his misdeeds.

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