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Education of the Heart and The Earth Charter

A guest post by Alide Roerink, Earth Charter Council member and Friend of the Earth Charter in The Netherlands

In September 2000, His Holiness the Dalai Lama expressed his confidence in the content and the relevance of the Earth Charter. In a letter to the Earth Charter Commission, the Dalai Lama wrote that he was particularly happy to learn that the Earth Charter is used in schools and universities as a teaching tool. “I have always believed in the importance of education in such issues as the environment. We all know the important role of the youth in the future.”

In 2013 the Dalai Lama called for attention in formal education to Education of the Heart:

“Just as we take for granted the need to acquire proficiency in the basic academic subjects, I am hopeful that a time will come that we take it for granted that children will learn the indispensability of inner values such as love, justice and forgiveness. I look forward to a day when children will be more aware of their feelings and emotions and feel a greater sense of responsibility, both towards themselves and towards the wider world. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”

This call was answered by a coalition of education institutes and networks in the Netherlands, by organizing a symposium for 600 people from all generations on Education of the Heart in the presence of the Dalai Lama. The symposium took place on 12 May 2014 in the Erasmus University in Rotterdam. An outcome of the symposium is a special document – soon to be published – entitled “The Rotterdam Charter on Education of the Heart”. The Earth Charter is integrated in the preamble of this document. The Rotterdam Charter will be the basis for follow-up activities and dialogues in the field of education in The Netherlands. It represents a wonderful opportunity to introduce the Earth Charter to more young people, educators, and hopefully also to parents.

The Dalai Lama stated that it is clear that something is seriously lacking in the way we humans are going about things. The fundamental problem, he believes, is that at every level people are paying too much attention to the external material aspects of life while neglecting morals and inner values.  By inner values the Dalai Lama means the qualities that we all appreciate in others, such as affection and warm-heartedness, or in a single word, compassion. The essence of compassion, as explained in his latest book ‘Beyond Religion’, is a desire to alleviate the suffering of others and to promote their well-being. This is the spiritual principle from which all other positive inner values emerge. Today, however, any religion-based answer to the problem of our neglect of inner values can never be universal, and so will be inadequate. What we need, according to the Dalai Lama, is an approach to ethics which makes no recourse to religion and can be equally acceptable to those with faith and those without: a secular ethics. This is exactly what the Earth Charter represents. The Earth Charter resulted from a decade-long, worldwide, cross-cultural civil society dialogue to identify the widely shared values and principles of sustainability, and is being used as a values-based educational tool to guide humanity towards a sustainable future.

The Earth Charter was presented at the symposium by former prime minister and Earth Charter Commissioner Ruud Lubbers. He welcomed the Dalai Lama at the symposium with the words: “Let us focus on compassion as we are united in the Earth Charter and its call for a joyful celebration of life. (..) Erasmus, living twenty generations before us, would feel uplifted by this symposium, uniting religion and humanism, aware of our responsibility for Our Common Future. Erasmus would be delighted to follow the Earth Charter and the Charter of Compassion now towards the Education of the Heart.”

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