“I remember when we were in Seattle,” says the Christian. “There were seventy thousand people who wanted to come hear this man, and he can’t even speak English properly.”
The Buddhist let out a big belly laugh.
“It’s really not nice,” the Christian continues. “You really need to pray that I become a little more popular like you.”
And so Archbishop Desmond Tutu, talking to the Dalai Lama, opens one of the most delightful and profound books I’ve read. The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World reveals a week’s visit of face-to-face conversations between the two Nobel Peace Prize laureates. The retired Anglican priest flew thousands of miles to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday in his adopted home of Dharamsala, India; he was exiled from Tibet in 1959.
The two, who consider each other “his mischievous spiritual brother,” collaborate with editor and writer Douglas Abrams, who’s worked with a number of spiritual teachers and scientific pioneers and who describes himself as both “secular” and “a Jew.”
“From the beginning,” Abrams says, “this book was designed as a three-layer birthday cake.” The first layer: The teachings of the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu on joy. The second layer: The latest science on joy and all the other qualities believed essential for enduring happiness. The third layer: The stories of being in Dharamsala with these two icons throughout this week.
Abrams continues: “For all the joy they felt being together, it was an unprecedented and no doubt uncertain experience to meet for a week in Dharamsala. They had met only a half dozen times before, and these were largely brief and formal occasions.”
The Book of Joy is divided into three parts: Day 1—The Nature of True Joy; Days 2&3—The Obstacles to Joy; Days 4&5—The Eight Pillars of Joy.
Close friends (“very close,” the Dalai Lama says), the two spiritual masters compare notes on such issues as beauty and suffering; fear, stress, and anxiety; loneliness and despair; frustration and anger; perspective and humility; humor, forgiveness and gratitude; compassion and generosity.
I was made aware of this book by a good friend from elementary and high school days. Though I might have come across it eventually, I’m grateful she gave me the heads up when she did.
On occasion, I’ll give a book away for free. This is one of those occasions. I’ll get into the rules of that later.
This book is no academic dialogue. You see, hear, and feel tears and hugs, joking and teasing, prayer and meditation, and deep insights into life’s most perplexing issues. And there’s little or no discussion of “religious theologies.” Yet a pure, clear stream of mature spiritual experience flows through from front cover to back. This book reveals the ebb and flow of eighteen decades of hard-won, sometimes tragic lessons pressed into one week’s singular encounter.
Abrams writes: “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.’”
Frankly, I don’t know how to review this book. Maybe the best way is to share some of their quotes and insights on a random basis and let you be the judge…
On unhappiness: The Dalai Lama says so much of our unhappiness originates within our own mind and heart—in how we react to the events in our life. “Mental immunity is just learning to avoid the destructive emotions and to develop the positive ones. First, we must understand the mind—the diverse thoughts and emotions we experience on a daily basis. Some of these thoughts and emotions are harmful, even toxic, while others are healthy and healing. The former disturb our mind and cause much mental pain. The latter bring us true joyfulness.”
On fear: The Archbishop was asked how he managed fear during the dark days of apartheid, when he received frequent death threats. “Well, one did not do silly things like stand in front of a lit window at night,” he says, “but one had to say to God, ‘If I’m doing your work, you better jolly well protect me.’”
On anger: Underlying anger, according to the Dalai Lama, is a fear that we will not get what we need, that we are not loved, that we are not respected, that we will not be included. “Now medical scientists say that constant fear, constant anger, constant hatred harms our immune system.”
On hope vs. optimism: “I say to people I’m not an optimist, because that is something that depends on feelings more than the actual reality,” says Archbishop Tutu. “We feel optimistic, or we feel pessimistic. Now, hope is different in that it is based not on the ephemerality of feelings but on the firm ground of conviction. I believe with a steadfast faith that there can never be a situation that is utterly, totally hopeless. Hope is deeper and very, very close to unshakable. It’s in the pit of your tummy. It’s not in your head. It’s all here,” he says, pointing to his abdomen.
On despair: “Sadness and grief are, of course, natural human responses to loss,” says the Dalai Lama, “but if your focus remains on the loved one you have just lost the experience is less likely to lead to despair. In contrast, if your focus while grieving remains mostly on yourself—‘What am I going to do now? How can I cope?’—then there is a greater danger of going down the path of despair and depression.”
On humor and laughter: “It is much better when there’s not too much seriousness,” says the Dalai Lama. “Laughter, joking is much better. Then we can be completely relaxed. I met some scientists in Japan, and they explained that wholehearted laughter—not artificial laughter—is very good for your heart and your health in general. (People who laugh) are less likely to have a heart attack than those people who are really serious and who have difficulty connecting with other people. Those serious people are in real danger.”
Adds Abrams: “Having worked with many spiritual leaders, I’m tempted to see laughter and a sense of humor as a universal index of spiritual development. The Archbishop and the Dalai Lama were certainly at the top of that index, and they skewered humbug, status, injustice, and evil, all with the power of humor.”
On loneliness vs. being alone: The Dalai Lama turned to the Archbishop to see if he wanted to answer. “No, I’ve not been a monk, man. You start.” So the Dalai Lama jumps in: “Much depends on your attitude. If you are filled with negative judgment and anger, then you will feel separate from other people. You will feel lonely. But if you have an open heart and are filled with trust and friendship, even if you are physically alone, even living a hermit’s life, you will never feel lonely…When someone is warmhearted, they are always completely relaxed. If you live with fear and consider yourself as something special, then automatically, emotionally, you are distanced from others.” He adds for emphasis: “…fear and distrust come from too much focus on yourself.”
On suffering and adversity: The Archbishop was asked: So how did Nelson Mandela survive twenty-seven years of impoverishment and imprisonment and emerge as someone of immense magnanimity? Why do you think he was able to see his suffering as ennobling rather than embittering?
“He didn’t see it. It happened,” says the Archbishop, who earlier explained that suffering can either embitter us or ennoble us and that the difference lies in whether we are able to find meaning in our suffering. “It seems almost without fail that generosity of spirit requires that we will have experienced, if not suffering then at least frustrations…It is probably something like your muscle. If you want a good muscle tone, you work against it, offering it resistance, and it will grow. You can’t expand the volume of your chest just by sitting. You have to walk up mountains.”
This should be enough to give you a taste of The Book of Joy. I’ve read it once, and I suspect I’ll read it and refer to it scores of times more.
If you’d like to put your name into the hat for this book’s free giveaway, here’s what you do:
- Anyone is eligible, whether you subscribe to my newsletter or not. Simply send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org between this Thursday, August 3, and next Wednesday, August 9, by 11:59 PM EST. Indicate that you would like to be included in this month’s book giveaway and put in the subject line: BOOK GIVEAWAY.
- One person will be selected at random from those entering. I’ll send you a congratulatory email on Thursday, August 10. You will have 48 hours to respond to my email. If I don’t hear back from you by then, someone else will be selected at random.
- For more details, click Book Giveaway.
A quick update on the progress of my book A Path Revealed: How Hope, Love, and Joy Found Us Deep in a Maze Called Alzheimer’s, which was released October of last year. We hit something of a milestone on my Amazon page: Two weeks ago the number of reader reviews hit 100. As of this writing, the reviews stand at 110. If interested, our book can be found on Amazon (print or Kindle) or ordered through any bookstore worldwide.