Oprah: Can a person be good without practicing religion?
Dalai Lama: Yes. And he or she can also be happy.
Oprah: Is it possible for everyone to be happy?
Dalai Lama: It is possible—absolutely. And it is worthwhile for one to make an effort to achieve happiness. Just as the purpose of a plant is to grow, so it is that the main purpose of every human being is to survive and to grow until death. As far as mental development is concerned, we should never be complacent. We can develop our minds infinitely—there is no limitation. Many of us are discontent with how many possessions we have, but we're content when it comes to our spiritual development. That is the mistake we make.
Oprah: That's big! If we all understood that our sole purpose is to help others, wouldn't that change humanity?
Dalai Lama: Yes, and understanding that begins with changing our attitude. We must realize that it is best to focus on our oneness, to reemphasize what is the same about each of us rather than dwell on what is different. Yes, there are differences between us. But it doesn't make sense to emphasize that, because my future and yours is connected with everyone else's. So we have to take seriously our concern for all of humanity. When we focus on our individuality, humanity inevitably suffers. And once humanity suffers, each one of us will also suffer.
For example, a few minutes ago there was a fire alarm in this building. I responded immediately—not because this building is part of my body but because I am here, in it. That's why I have to take care of it. Similarly, whether we love humanity or not, we must realize that we are part of it. My future depends entirely on the future of humanity, and so I am compelled to take care of humanity. That is why being compassionate is actually in my own best interest. And a symptom of my own peace of mind is that I can share comfort with others around me.
Oprah: Doesn't practicing gratitude also affect our lives in the same way that compassion does?
Dalai Lama: That's very true. When you practice gratefulness, there is a sense of respect toward others.