“The world in which we live is globalized. Economies halfway around the world affect our own. Our politics, education, and cultural consumption happen on a global scale. Our ethics and morality also need to be globalized. A new global order calls for a new global ethic. A global ethic is the key to addressing the true difficulties of our time.”
With this simple, but powerful thought, Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist teacher, begins his exploration of Buddhism’s contribution to the society of the future, or in his words an Enlightened Society. His approach, called “Engaged Buddhism” is not only a call-to-action, but a way of life and a way forward for humanity. It is an attempt to bring the ethics and practice of Buddhism—most importantly, that of mindfulness—into our daily lives and directly into our deepest societal issues.
“Mindfulness is the basis of a Buddhist ethic. What does being mindful mean? It means, first of all, that we stop and observe deeply what is happening in the present moment. If we do this, we can see the suffering that is inside us and around us. We can practice looking deeply with concentration in order to see the causes of this suffering. We need to understand suffering in order to know what kind of action we can take to relieve it. We can use the insight of others, the mindfulness of our sangha—our larger community of practitioners—to share our insight and understand what kind of action can lead to the transformation of that suffering. When we have collective insight, it will help us see the mutually beneficial path that will lead to the cessation of suffering, not only for one person but for all of us.”
This is practical universal brotherhood and sisterhood in action: from individual mindfulness arises a healthy community; from shared awareness and open communication may arise the solutions to our shared ills.
“We are many different cultures and nations, each with its own values, ways of behaving, and criteria for ethical conduct. Every country and every culture can offer something beautiful. It will take all of our collective wisdom to make a global code of ethics. With insight from all the world’s people and traditions, we can create a global ethic that is based on mutual respect.
“Some people base their ethics on their religion. If you believe there is a deity that decides what is right and wrong regardless of what you observe, then you only need to follow the rules laid out by that religion to engage in right action. Others follow a scientific or utilitarian approach, looking only at what is a logical consequence of their actions. A Buddhist contribution to global ethics is different from both of these. It is based on observing and understanding the world with mindfulness, concentration, and insight. It begins with an awareness of the nonduality of subject and object and of the interconnectedness of all things. It is a practice that can be accepted by everyone, regardless of whether or not you believe in a god.”
The secular nature of this approach makes an appeal not to any single authority, but to the heart of each of us. The ethic of a global society must stem from each individual part that composes the whole. If the society of the future is to be an enlightened one, these simple yet powerful ideas must become our cornerstones. Ultimately, these ideas are not Buddhist, nor Hindu or Muslim or Christian or Atheist. They are human ideas. Universal kinship. Interconnectedness. Mindfulness. Shared moral responsibility. These are ideas we can all put into daily action.
Thich Nhat Hahn explores these ideas in great depth in his 2012 book “Good Citizens: Creating Enlightened Society,” from which the above quotations were taken. A longer excerpt, which is highly recommended was published by Lion’s Roar, here: http://www.lionsroar.com/creatign-an-enlightened-society-january-2013/