The Dalai Lama, who has a kind of rock star status at this event, closed the 2009 Parliament of the World's Religions on December 9 in Melbourne. The aging spiritual leader was playful and self-deprecating at first, then became extraordinarily serious in his remarks. He called on the leaders of the world's diverse faiths to act together to address the pressing problems of war and climate change. He said we must not just gather together but also act together; otherwise people will say we just went home and went to sleep.
The spiritual leader urged the participants to develop a common ethic of compassion and mutual respect. Peace of mind cannot be purchased in a store; it must be developed within. We need to pursue a sense of peace within our own traditions, then move out into the world to spread that peace. Meeting together to share our experiences is a crucial part of this process. No one group can do this work alone.
The Dalai Lama made a particular point of saying that our shared community of compassion must include people who are not religious. He noted that China is not a religious country but must be drawn into the shared community of compassion. His call to compassion resonated powerfully with the Charter for Compassion proposal of Karen Armstrong and the Global Ethic work of Hans Küng.
The words of the Dalai Lama strongly reinforced the core message of the Parliament, which was that while our beliefs and traditions are delightfully different, our problems are shared in common, and the core teachings of our traditions are strikingly similar. We need to work with that core of shared values to bring a compassionate response to the pressing problems that threaten our ability to survive on this planet. This may sound like a simple message, but it is a striking turnaround from the all-too-common antagonism of the world's religions.
Amid much inspiring pageantry, the 2009 Parliament came to an end. All of the participants I talked to said that they had been profoundly moved and were ready to go home and find ways to make a difference.