The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World
As we stepped off the plane at the small airport, the howl of the jet engines deafening and the snowcapped foothills of the Himalayas looming behind us, two old friends embraced. The Archbishop touched the Dalai Lama’s cheeks tenderly, and the Dalai Lama pursed his lips as if blowing the Archbishop a kiss. It was a moment of enormous affection and friendship. In the yearlong preparations for this visit, we were quite aware of what the meeting might mean for the world, but we never realized what a week together might mean for the two of them.
It has been a profound privilege and a daunting responsibility to convey the remarkable week of dialogues that took place in Dharamsala, India, at the Dalai Lama’s residence in exile. In this book I have tried to share with you their intimate conversations, which were filled with seemingly endless laughter and punctuated by many poignant moments of recalling love and loss.
Although they had met only half a dozen times, the men shared a bond that transcended these brief visits, and each considered the other his “mischievous spiritual brother.” Never before, or likely after, would they have a chance to spend so much time in each other’s company, reveling in the joy of their friendship.
The heavy footsteps of mortality were never far from our conversations. Our trip itinerary had to be reworked twice so that the Archbishop could attend funerals for his peers. As health and global politics have conspired to keep them apart, we recognized that this might be their last time together.
For a week we sat in a pool of soft light, arranged carefully to avoid hurting the Dalai Lama’s sensitive eyes, as five video cameras filmed around us. During our quest to understand joy, we explored many of the most profound subjects in life. We were in search of true joy that was not dependent on the vicissitudes of circumstance. We knew that we would need to tackle the obstacles that can so often make joy elusive. During the dialogues they outlined eight pillars of joy—four pillars of the mind and four pillars of the heart. These two great leaders agreed on the most important principles, and offered illuminating differences, as we attempted to gather insights that might help readers to find lasting happiness in an ever-changing, and often aching, world.
We had an opportunity each day to sip warm Darjeeling tea and to break bread—Tibetan flat bread. All who were working on filming the interviews were invited to join these daily teas and lunches. One exceptional morning, the Dalai Lama even introduced the Archbishop to his meditation practice in his private residence, and the Archbishop gave the Dalai Lama communion, a rite generally reserved for those who are within the Christian faith.
Finally, at the end of the week, we celebrated the Dalai Lama’s birthday at the Tibetan Children’s Village, one of the boarding schools for children who have fled Tibet, where the Chinese authorities have prevented them from receiving an education based on Tibetan culture and language. The children are sent by their parents over the mountain passes with guides who promise to deliver them to one of the Dalai Lama’s schools. It is hard to imagine the heartbreak of parents sending their children away, knowing that they will not see them again for more than a decade, if ever.
In the midst of this traumatized school, more than two thousand students and their teachers cheered as the Dalai Lama, who is prohibited by his monastic vows from dancing, took his first tentative shimmy encouraged by the Archbishop’s irrepressible boogie.
• • •
The Dalai Lama and the Archbishop are two of the great spiritual masters of our time, but they are also moral leaders who transcend their own traditions and speak always from a concern for humanity as a whole. Their courage and resilience and dogged hope in humanity inspire millions as they refuse to give in to the fashionable cynicism that risks engulfing us. Their joy is clearly not easy or superficial but one burnished by the fire of adversity, oppression, and struggle. The Dalai Lama and the Archbishop remind us that joy is in fact our birthright and even more fundamental than happiness.
“Joy,” as the Archbishop said during the week, “is much bigger than happiness. While happiness is often seen as being dependent on external circumstances, joy is not.” This state of mind—and heart—is much closer to both the Dalai Lama’s and the Archbishop’s understanding of what animates our lives and what ultimately leads to a life of satisfaction and meaning.
The dialogues were about what the Dalai Lama has called the very “purpose of life”—the goal of avoiding suffering and discovering happiness. They shared their hard-won wisdom of how to live with joy in the face of life’s inevitable sorrows. Together they explored how we can transform joy from an ephemeral state into an enduring trait, from a fleeting feeling into a lasting way of being.
• • •
From the beginning this book was envisioned as a three-layer birthday cake.
The first layer is the Dalai Lama’s and Archbishop Tutu’s teachings on joy: Is it really possible to be joyful even in the face of our daily troubles—from frustration with morning traffic to fears of not being able to provide for our families, from anger at those who have wronged us to grief at the loss of those we love, from the ravages of illness to the abyss of death? How do we embrace the reality of our lives, deny nothing, but transcend the pain and suffering that is inescapable? And even when our lives are good, how do we live in joy when so many others are suffering: when crushing poverty robs people of their future, when violence and terror fill our streets, and when ecological devastation endangers the very possibility of life on our planet? This book is an attempt to answer these questions and many more.
The second layer is made up of the latest science on joy and also on all the other qualities that they believe are essential for enduring happiness. With new discoveries in brain science and experimental psychology, there are now many profound insights into human flourishing. Two months before the trip I had lunch with neuroscientist Richard Davidson, a pioneer researching happiness. He has studied meditators in his lab and found that meditation confers measurable benefits for the brain. We sat at an outdoor table at a Vietnamese restaurant in San Francisco, the ever-present wind blowing the gray-black locks of his boyish haircut. As we ate spring rolls, Davidson said that the Dalai Lama had once confessed to him that he found the science on meditation inspiring, especially when getting out of bed to sit in the early morning. If the science helps the Dalai Lama, it can help the rest of us even more.
Too often we see spirituality and science as antagonistic forces, each with its hand at the other’s throat. Yet Archbishop Tutu has expressed his belief in the importance of what he calls “self-corroborating truth”—when many different fields of knowledge point to the same conclusion. Similarly, the Dalai Lama was adamant about the importance of making sure that this was not a Buddhist or Christian book, but a universal book supported not only by opinion or tradition but also by science. (Full disclosure: I am Jewish, although I also identify as secular—it sounds a little like a joke: A Buddhist, a Christian, and a Jew walk into a bar . . .)
The third layer of the birthday cake is the stories of being in Dharamsala with the Dalai Lama and the Archbishop throughout the week. These up-close and personal chapters are meant to allow the reader to join the journey from the first embrace to the final goodbye.
We have also included a selection of joy practices at the end of the book. Both teachers shared with us their daily practices, the anchors of their own emotional and spiritual lives. The goal here is not to create a recipe for a joyful life but to offer some of the techniques and traditions that have served the Dalai Lama and the Archbishop and countless others over the millennia in their respective traditions. These practical exercises will hopefully help you take the teachings, the science, and the stories and incorporate them into your daily life.
• • •
I have had the privilege of working with many of the great spiritual teachers and scientific pioneers of our time, helping them convey their insights about health and happiness for others. (Many of these scientists have generously contributed their research to this book.) I am sure that my fascination—okay, obsession—with joy began while growing up in a loving home that was shadowed by the black dog of depression. Having witnessed and experienced such pain from a very young age, I know that so much of human suffering occurs within our own head and heart. The week in Dharamsala felt like an extraordinary and challenging peak in this lifelong journey to understand both joy and suffering.
As the people’s ambassador, I sat there for five days of interviews, staring into the eyes of two of the most compassionate people on the planet. I am very skeptical about the magical sensations that some attribute to being in the presence of spiritual teachers, but from the very first day I found my head starting to tingle. It was startling, but perhaps it was simply an example of how my mirror neurons, those special empathic brain cells, were internalizing what I was witnessing in the eyes of these two extremely loving men.
Fortunately, I was not alone in the daunting task of distilling their wisdom. Thupten Jinpa, the Dalai Lama’s principal translator for more than thirty years and a Buddhist scholar, accompanied me from start to finish. For many years he was a Buddhist monk, but he gave up his robes for a life of marriage and family in Canada, making him the perfect partner for translating between worlds as well as languages. We sat together during the dialogues, but Jinpa also helped me to prepare the questions and interpret the answers. He has become a trusted collaborator and a dear friend.
The questions were not ours alone. We invited the world to ask their questions about joy, and although it turned out we had only three days to collect them, we received more than a thousand. It was fascinating that the most asked question was not about how we could discover our own joy but how we could possibly live with joy in a world filled with so much suffering.
• • •
During the week their fingers were often wagging at each other teasingly, moments before their hands were clasped together affectionately. During our first lunch the Archbishop told the story of a talk they were giving together. As they were getting ready to walk on stage, the Dalai Lama—the world’s icon of compassion and peace—pretended to choke his spiritual older brother. The Archbishop turned to the Dalai Lama and said, “Hey, the cameras are on us, act like a holy man.”
These two men remind us that how we choose to act each day is what matters. Even holy men have to act like holy men. But how we think holy men act, serious and severe, pious and reserved, is hardly how these two greet the world, or each other.
The Archbishop has never claimed sainthood and the Dalai Lama considers himself a simple monk. They offer us the reflection of real lives filled with pain and turmoil in the midst of which they have been able to discover a level of peace, of courage, of joy that we can aspire to in our own lives. Their desire for this book is not just to convey their wisdom but their humanity as well. Suffering is inevitable, they said, but how we respond to that suffering is our choice. Not even oppression or occupation can take away this freedom to choose our response.
Right until the very last minute we did not know if the Archbishop’s doctors would allow him to travel. The prostate cancer had returned and was slow, this time, to respond to treatment. The Archbishop is now on an experimental protocol to see if it will hold the cancer at bay. As we were landing in Dharamsala, what surprised me most was the excitement, anticipation, and perhaps a touch of concern, on the Archbishop’s face that could be seen in his wide grin and twinkling blue-gray eyes.
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