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Department's vision and mission




The Secular Ethics department of Tong-Len

Tong-Len students have been inspired by the teachings of His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama on secular ethics.  This, combined with their own personal experiences of unethical actions relating to life in the slum camp, has driven their desire to work towards the creation of a more ethical world. The secular ethics department of Tong-Len was established to facilitate their efforts to share His Holiness’s vision and to campaign against inequalities and social injustice.

Having been raised in an ethical framework in the Tong-Len Hostel, the senior students have the desire and motivation to take their knowledge and understanding of Secular Ethics to a greater audience. The primary goals are to raise awareness, create opportunities, provide a platform for discussion and debate, share experiences, and facilitate others in the spread of this vision. This platform will also help the students to develop their own ethical understanding through wider perspectives and experiences. A three-year plan has been developed moving outwards from the local level, expanding the vision like the ripples from a pebble in a pond.

The vision of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama for an ethical world is Tong-Len’s main focus and our inspiration is based on his 1st and 4th commitments regarding the promotion of ethical values, common humanity, and harmonious living. In the future, Tong-Len would like to have a Centre for Secular Ethics in a more central location. Easier access to and by the community for student exchange, awareness purposes, and teacher training would be beneficial in promoting the unique vision of His Holiness. A dedicated center for workshops and conferences would be very helpful. There is insufficient space for this on the Tong-Len campus and it is inconvenient for such events to take place in the Tong-Len school.

To understand Tong-Len’s position regarding secular ethics, it is necessary to understand the journey that has led up to the establishment of the Department and its present goals.

Lobsang Jamyang, a Tibetan Buddhist monk, is the founder and director of Tong Len Charitable Trust, a charity that has provided education and hostel care to the children from slum communities in the Dharamshala district since 2004.  Jamyang came to India as a refugee following a monastic life in Tibet and further education in South India. This education as a Tibetan Buddhist was based on discernment, critical thinking, and emotional learning. His early family life in a Tibetan Buddhist family was a living experience of ethical understanding and action.

When he arrived in India, Jamyang experienced a lot of sadness due to his separation from his family and his country. He was also moved by the conditions of the poorest of India’s people, witnessing hardship, extreme poverty, sickness, and death in both adults and children. The things he saw reached deep into his beliefs about compassion and posed an ethical dilemma ‘how could he witness this and not take action to alleviate this suffering?'. His confrontation with this ethical dilemma and his response to his moral conscience led to the establishment of Tong-Len. His primary aim was to rescue children from dying and help break the cycle of poverty through sustainable methods and he believed the first step was to give the slum camp children he saw begging in the streets the opportunity to attend school. rescue children from dying and help or put old ones.

Educating children both academically and morally became the agenda. The children in the hostel no longer faced a hand-to-mouth existence and had no need to tell lies or to deceive. However, the families of these children, who were also benefiting from the support of Tong-Len, were in need of some basic guidance as simple as “tell the truth, not the lie”. Accepting that the children of Tong-Len were not separate from their families, all needed some support and awareness about basic morals.

It was not originally the intention of Jamyang and the senior students to take a role in facilitating the expansion of the principles of ethics. It became a personal issue, based on their personal experiences. Contact with the poorest and most needy communities in Dharamshala gave witness to domestic violence, alcohol abuse, and a level of dishonesty that had developed through a need for survival. The disparity between well-off families in Dharamshala and the families living in the slum communities was stark and challenging. India as a country was observed as having a charitable culture with ethical values. However, this was not consistent with the evidence of social issues such as corruption and deception at every level of society. This is true of the global community, not just India.

The experience of the children in their education in local schools, although academically sound, lacked ethical and moral awareness. The children continued to see their families being victims of discrimination and they could see how their own lives had altered as a result of hostel life which focused not only on physical well-being and academic progress but on holistic education, including social, emotional, and ethical development. Most parents are very loving and proud of their children and the children love their families. The disparity between hostel and slum was a cause of pain to the children. They had a desire to reach out in an appeal to the moral and ethical part of all humans, starting with the basic moral of kindness. They could see that the root cause of their family’s circumstances needed to be addressed. They also wanted to provide direct services to the poor and work toward developing an ethical dimension in the whole community.

Tong-Len was focused on poverty and its effect on the slum community but could also see evidence of social disparity through all levels of society in India and globally. This developed into a goal to see ethics integrated into education on a global basis.  The next step was to address local thinking, particularly considering the revival of ancient Indian traditions and knowledge leading to the capacity to draw on global evidence and expertise.

The path forward seemed daunting, but the students’ thirst for a solution to the problems facing their community was undaunted. Eventually, a window opened through the teachings and public talks of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama had a vision for an ethical world and was deeply moved by world poverty, social issues, and injustices. In 2003/4 His Holiness gave Shanti Devas teachings about the development of feelings of love and compassion. His Holiness advised his followers/disciples to practice compassion in action whenever possible. At the same time, Tong-Len was developing its project and this teaching inspired Jamyang to act on his goal to alleviate the suffering of the slum communities in Dharamshala.

Jamyang believed that traditional education created certain capabilities, but his monastic education helped to develop an ethical dimension including discernment and emotional well-being. This in turn led to the development of a holistic model of education for the children in the Tong-Len Hostel which was inclusive of ethical development and contributed to the ethical thinking and beliefs of the children. Jamyang and the children were so inspired by His Holiness and His teachings that they saw ethical education as the means for turning their vision of a more ethical world into a reality.

His Holiness is a constant inspiration to Tong-Len, and his two books “Ethics for a New Millennium" and “Beyond Religion" have provided a deep understanding of the importance of secular ethics in the world. These texts provide a basis for modern thinking and give a model of ethics for all humanity that includes a focus on common humanity and discernment.

In approaching this vision, Jamyang and the students saw the first step was to ensure that they were truly ethical themselves in all aspects of their lives. Tong-Len is an ethical organization and all those associated with Tong-Len are also fully aware of the importance of ethics in all aspects of their work and personal experience.

Tong-Len’s desire was to further the vision of His Holiness in the greater community of Dharamshala and eventually beyond to as far as is reachable. The adage “Think global …act locally" is a guide in moving forward.

This vision was strongly adopted by the senior students of Tong-Len who within their lives thus far had first-hand experience of their families being victims of social injustices and unethical actions. They were inspired to share their vision and to work to address inequality and lack of ethical thinking and action. They wanted to share their understandings of secular ethics, particularly of kindness, common humanity, and discernment which gives the capacity for deeper understanding.

Tong-Len does not act in the capacity of the expert but as a facilitator to raise awareness and create opportunities to explore the dimensions of secular ethics, thus creating a platform for taking the vision to a greater level. The desire is to support schools, starting locally, and to create networks that will expand the level of awareness and active involvement.

So, in conclusion, this vision for an ethical world has been inspired by His Holiness and the personal experience of Jamyang and the Tong-Len students. The first and fourth commitments of His Holiness talk about an inclusive approach to build common ground for all humanity and the revival of ancient Indian knowledge. Tong-Len accepts this responsibility and has a total commitment in speech, body, and mind in the move forward to convert this vision to reality.

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