Losang Tendrol is a nun in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and a contributor to The Washington Post’s local faith leader network. She teaches meditation and Buddhism at the Guhyasamaja Buddhist Center in Reston. The center was founded in 1994 and is affiliated with the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition. The center follows the Gelugpa tradition, the same lineage as his holiness the Dalai Lama.
After the first presidential debate, polls showed that the majority of Americans felt that President Obama had been too polite and not aggressive enough. He was faulted for his apparent lack of emotion and disinterest in the debate. Governor Mitt Romney's spirited attacks on the president captured people's attention. As a result, during the second and third debates, the president resorted to the same disrespectful behavior that Romney exhibited. Both candidates interrupted one another, bared their fists and let the punches fly.
This got me thinking both about the personal qualities that Americans expect to see in a president and, of equal importance, a president's moral values. With several European countries on the verge of economic collapse, the political situation in the Middle East deteriorating and tension between the U.S. and China running high, the next president faces an incredibly complex, volatile international situation that directly affects our future. The president's inner values will guide him in charting the course that America takes. This may mean launching a new military offensive or resolutely adhering to the practice of non-violence.
Against the backdrop of the negative campaigning of the 2012 election, his holiness the 14th
Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso toured the United States. He spoke to sold-out audiences at several American universities including Western Connecticut State University, the College of William & Mary and Syracuse University, to name a few. In his talks and his recent book “Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World,” the Dalai Lama describes the need for an ethical system that goes beyond the confines of any particular religion. Secular ethics are possible because mankind's natural compassion is the source of all our shared ethical or spiritual values. He defines spirituality as the practice of non-harming/non-violence both with respect to oneself and others.
Universal secular ethics center around two principles. In the aforementioned book he writes, “The first principle is the recognition of our shared humanity and our shared aspiration to happiness and the avoidance of suffering; the second is the understanding of interdependence as a key feature of human reality, including our biological reality as social animals.”
The quality of discernment is the ability to recognize our interdependence. A good leader is someone who possesses discernment and thus makes decisions guided by the needs of the broader community rather than those of a particular self-interest group. Likewise, when questions of justice are examined in the context of a moral framework grounded in compassion and non-violence, the key values are forgiveness and a recognition of man's ability to change. Capital punishment, for example, violates a compassion-centered ethic because it is motivated by revenge and does not acknowledge a person's capacity for positive reform.