The Modern Quest for Happiness

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Devotion to science and knowledge

No one can dispute the success of science and technology. The problem, the Dalai Lama suggests, lies in our devotion to material well-being and knowledge and the effect that devotion has on our happiness.

Do you agree that devotion to material things does not bring happiness? What is the relationship between happiness and material well-being? First consider this question regarding yourself — your material well-being and your happiness. Then reflect on the question from the perspective of others — your family, your community, your country, the world.

Are your attitudes and behavior in concert with answers you just gave?

Why does the Dalai Lama question our valuing knowledge? How does knowledge affect one's happiness? How does "knowing" affect your ability to question, to reason?

Our knowledge of the outside world is an immense achievement, the Dalai Lama acknowledges. But our reverence for knowledge can not itself bring happiness. Furthermore, when we reduce all questions and considerations to knowledge we risk losing touch with the deeper reality of human experience, especially our dependence on others.

The achievements of science and technology clearly reflect our desire to attain a better, more comfortable existence. This is very good. Who could fail to applaud many of the advances of modern medicine? Who could fail to be impressed at our ability to land people on the moon? I have learned a great deal from my encounters with scientist. My concern is . . . that we are apt to overlook the limitations of science.

If you were facing an ethical dilemma, would you go to a biologist for advice? An engineer?

Traditionally, where have people gone when they were confused with respect to the problem of how best we are to conduct themselves in life? Where would one go for ethical, moral guidance?

These have been the purview of religion. In the past, religion and ethics were closely intertwined. (In the next lesson we'll look at religion and it's role in guiding right living.)

The extraordinary achievements of science and technology have caused it to replace religion as the final source of knowledge in popular estimation.  Thus science stands beside, or in place of, religion for many people.  There is a danger of inappropriate and blind elevation of scientific principles to an absolute status, without conscious reflection and thoughtful choice as to what is right or wrong, good or bad, appropriate or inappropriate. Science, business and technology surround us, yet they do not address the issues of how to lead a moral life and how to be happy — the inner dimensions that define and motivate positive ethical conduct.