"Anything that contradicts experience and logic should be abandoned."
~ His Holiness the Dalai Lama
I love debate and dialogue. It is invigorating to be in an environment where the free exchange of ideas is welcomed. For some people, the need for security overrides the ability for dialogue. In an uncertain world with an unclear future, fundamentalism has an appeal for those who desire certainty and stability. We do not have to look far to see examples of Protestant fundamentalism, Islamic fundamentalism, Jewish fundamentalism and Catholic fundamentalism. All of those movements represent a loss of nerve and a lack of faith.
When creativity and security cannot be found within, we scramble and redouble our efforts to build a superficial structure from without. There is the hope that seeing things as black-and-white will give us security. The irony is that those external structures cannot offer the security and stability that most of us desire. Ideology becomes defined by boundaries, vilification, and demonization. Danger is at hand when people blindly follow any ideology without thinking things through for themselves. Those who fail to use their God-given reason are like the fearful servant in Jesus' parable who buried his meager talent in the ground.
The Dalai Lama is one of my heroes. I am inspired by what he has to say about human dignity, freedom, and compassion. I am encouraged and heartened by his joyfulness. I imagine that dogma and ideology are very important to him, but he has the inner security that allows him to hold dogma lightly. I once heard a story about an encounter that the scientist Carl Sagan had with the Dalai Lama. Mr. Sagan was privileged to meet with His Holiness while traveling in India. The scientist was impressed with the religious leader's knowledge and interest in science. At one point in their conversation, Mr. Sagan asked him, "What would you do if science were to prove without a doubt that there is no basis for reincarnation – that it does not exist?"
Without any hesitation, the Dalai Lama said, "We would abandon it. We would stop teaching it." He went on to talk about scientific contributions to the world.
Mr. Sagan was quite surprised by the Tibetan leader's answer and that he spoke with such candor. After some discussion, the Dalai Lama then asked Mr. Sagan, "By the way, how would you go about proving that?" Reportedly, Mr. Sagan was uncharacteristically speechless.
Several years ago on ABC's Nightline, Ted Koppel was interviewing the Dalai Lama. He asked a question on the same subject of reincarnation. "Do you remember any of your previous incarnations?" The spiritual leader chuckled in a self-effacing manner and answered, "At my age, I have trouble remembering what happened yesterday!"
As we search for truth, we would do well to look to role models who exhibit joyfulness, compassion, and inner security. They are the ones who can be open to dialogue, who can question the validity of ideas. They are the ones who have the freedom to examine, to reflect, and to abandon anything that contradicts experience and logic.
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[You might be interested in reading an account of the Dalai Lama's visit to Birmingham, Alabama and his speech on secular ethics here)