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Morality and Religion in the Dalai Lama and John Pope Ii Perspective

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The complexities on the issue of the relationship between religion and morality is intriguing in the sense that there is no right or wrong answer, but merely your own intrinsic belief. The 14th Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists, believes that you can’t have religion without morals, but you can have morals without religion. This seems to contrast with the view of John Paul II, in the sense that he passionately believes that moral truth is governed by only God himself. “To ask about the good, in fact, ultimately means to turn towards God, the fullness of goodness.” In this Encyclical letter, Veritatis splendor, John Paul II emphasizes that morality is synonymous with belief in religion and faith to God. The reasoning for the fine line between religion and morality for John Paul II is divergent to the Dalai Lamas. John Paul II believes that religion is primarily focused on worshipping God and the reinstitution of moral relationships between God and man. The thoughts between religion and morality to the Dalai Lama is that religion is something we can do without, but we cannot do without basic spiritual qualities.

A term that the Dalai Lama frequently interchanges with morality is ethics. He emphasizes that spirituality for ethics is needed because they are inextricably linked. In Ethics for the New Millennium, the Dalai Lama belabors on spirituality versus religion and the foundations of ethical practice itself. Religion, which is what John Paul II adheres to, is the practice of faith claims and salvation, the supernatural, and metaphysical reality. On the contrary, spirituality is directed to the inner workings of your soul which manifest happiness for yourself and others. Contrasting to John Paul II’s beliefs, the Dalai Lama denotes that the issue of binding right and wrong to religion is that people will then question, “which religion” is the right one to follow? (Dalai Lama, p.26) He elaborates how this creates conflict on who’s religion deems sovereignty and “the arguments would never stop.” Religious people, in most cases, view the relationship between religion and morality to be intertwined and highly influenced with your personal beliefs.

Religion clearly influences your thoughts on issues in the world. If you chose to take time to follow, believe and practice a religion, it’s arduous to eradicate your principles when answering life’s questions unbiasedly. Both leaders, John Paul II and the Dalai Lama, employ some of their religious tradition on their view of the relationship between religion and morality. First, the Dalai Lama mentions, in Ethics for the New Millennium, that his book is not about Buddhist ethics and is “not a religious book.” He further emphasizes that he is looking more universally beyond religion and more into moral spirituality. Although these statements might be true, anyone that has analyzed the basics of Buddhist philosophies can evidently see the parallel between his views on everyday life ethics and Buddhist ethics. For example, the Dalai Lama accents the basics of ethics as the desire for inner peace and how to cope/prevent suffering from arising. In comparison, Buddhism teaches the four noble truths, which is the central beliefs containing the essence of Buddhist teachings; it examines the reason humans suffer and how to subsist it with happiness and unity.

Since Buddhism is seen more as a philosophy, or ‘way of life,’ it is understandable that the Dalai Lama can easily speak about his thoughts on issues and not be directly pertained to the Buddhist religion. Another way the Dalai Lama’s religion is influenced by his view on this issue is his concept of ten del, or dependent origination. He intricately explains this as the law of action and consequence. This principle underlines cause and effect and how nothing exist independently and nothing has an independent identity. This coincides with the Buddhist philosophies of Karma, which literally means “action,” and is defined as an active force we create through our actions. The Dalai Lama’s view on the issue of the relationship between religion and morality is influenced by his Buddhist ethics in such that rules and guidelines are not absolute; unlike John Paul II, religion and morality seem to be independent of one another. Alike from the Dalai Lama, John Paul II also exhibits his religion through his views on the issue of the relationship between morality and religion. Although both of their religions somewhat filters through their views, John Paul II, believes that morality is striven by your direct faith in God alone.

The relationship between the two (morality and religion), in John Paul II view, is interlaced with each other through divine revelation. Being a strong believer in Catholic Christianity, the Pope believes that morality is taught by Christ himself. In the Encyclical letter of Veritatis splendor, John Paul II elaborates on the saying that “people today need to turn to Christ once again in order to receive from him the answer to their questions about what is good and what is evil.” He believes that Christ is the Teacher, the Alpha and the Omega of human history, that knows the truth about all good and evil. Contrasting, the Dalai Lama believes that with compassion, happiness, love and empathy, human beings can manifest morality without a ‘God.’ Similar to the Dalai Lama’s buddhist philosophies about the Four Noble Truths, John Paul II vicariously lives by the Ten Commandments.

When John Paul II highlights the relationship between faith in religion and morality, he speaks upon these ten commandments. These commandments instruct one to live a life without sin, idolatry, adultery, murder, theft, jealousy and dishonesty. It also teaches to honor thy neighbor/enemy, rest on Sabbath, and have complete respect and worship towards God. These ten commandments are vividly seen throughout John Paul II views and regime. To a good extent, believing these commandments of God, John Paul II acknowledges that leading a moral life is a direct effect of obeying these guidelines. This contrasts with the Dalai Lama’s view that people should not follow all rules blindly and not think of guidelines as absolute. Instead of obeying whatever the bible says, Dalai Lama highlights the importance of questioning and contemplating all suffering that arises in life. John Paul II and the Dalai Lama extremely differ in the way that one strives for happiness with connection to God, and one strives for happiness by personal development; both believe in the beauty of morality and religion, but differ in how one plays a role with the other.

Despite the fact that both these religious leaders have irreconcilable differences, their similarities are equally extreme. One overall comparison is that both view their religion as a religion of salvation; although, their ideologies of salvation in Buddhism and Christianity contradict. Both also believe that all religions should practice inter-religious harmony. The Dalai Lama and John Paul II both communicate that you can’t have religion without ethics. They think that with practice in religion, individuals will benefit greater in managing adversity than those who do not. John Paul II and the Dalai Lama accentuate their belief that practicing religion can inspire human beings to flourish a need to be morally disciplined and have an awareness of responsibility towards others. Furthermore, both the Dalai Lama and John Paul II stress that the best way to overcome ignorance and bring peace, is though inter-religious dialogue with members of other religions. In the realm of ethics, Christianity and Buddhism compare frequently. In the issue of the relationship between religion and morality, Dalai Lama and John Paul II views coincide in a sense that both desire for spiritual vitality, inner peace, and an unequivocal moral code.

In Ethics for The New Millennium, the Dalai Lama recites a story of a monk who was in jail and constantly tortured and beaten everyday. The Dalai Lama continues to profess the supreme emotion of compassion that this monk instilled towards the guards. Instead of feeling hatred inside, he examined empathy for the guards, which manifested inner peace. In comparison, John Paul II also believes in love and compassion for your enemies. “..Bless them that curse you and pray for those that are spiteful and use you,” seems to be underlining the idea, in comparison to the Dalai Lama, that with compassion and empathy to all humans beings, the world will know peace. In my opinion, the relationship between morality and religion is ambiguous. I agree with the Dalai Lama in the sense that there can not be religion without ethics, but there can be ethics without religion.

Something to ponder is that although we hold religious members to be truly ethical and moral, there are many religious individuals who commit murder, lie, cheat and steal. If you are a religious person, but are unethical, does this make you unreligious as well? The relationship between religion and morality tends to be two ends that seem to meet in the middle. I believe there is a correlation between being religious and showing explicit morality, but having morality doesn’t assume you are religious. This issue that being moral goes hand and hand with religion seems invalid when you contemplate an atheist that adheres to the highest practice of morality. Just because you don’t believe in a higher power, does not mean you can’t understand ethics.


http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_06081993_veritatis-splendor_en.html (veritatis splendor)

http://www.the-ten-commandments.org/ten_commandments-purpose_meaning.html (commandments)

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