Masters of joy

Category : General advice, Philosophy 8th May 2017

Inside Yoga 202 (8/5/2017)

I have just finished reading The Book of Joy, which are conversations with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. It was an excellent and inspiring book, where these octogenarians explain what joy is and how to attain it – see below why these masters of joy have a lot to teach us.

Author Douglas Abrams has put together a book that is not only a pleasure to read but informative and heart-warming at the same time. The two spiritual masters met for one week to discuss and share their views, and it was clear that considering that both are in their 80s that this could be their last meeting.

The Dalai Lama is the spiritual (and up to recently also political) leader of the Tibetans who live in exile, having escaped the rule of the Chinese who have occupied Tibet since the 1950s. The Dalai Lama and the government in exile, and many Tibetans live in Dharamsala in north India. This is where Archbishop Desmond Tutu travelled to have these conversations. The archbishop is South African and is famous for his opposition to the apartheid rule that came to end at the beginning of the 1990s and his work on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which followed the end of apartheid.

Each holy man is known for their fight for the rights of their people, their incredible compassion and patience, and above for their sense of humour despite their life stories, and it is this that the book reveals.

Narrated and guided by Adams, the two men spent a week discussing joy, with the topic divided into sections called The Nature of True Joy, The obstacles to Joy, and the final section called The Eight Pillars of Joy.

The author Abrams, says that during the week the archbishop pointed out that “joy is much bigger than happiness. While happiness is often seen as being dependent on external circumstances, joy is not.”

There is a lot of wisdom in this book, so the following are snippets: at the beginning the archbishop says after speaking about the anti-apartheid struggle, that in his experience “some suffering, maybe an intense suffering, is a necessary ingredient for life, certainly for developing compassion… in a paradoxical way, it is how we face all of the things that seem to be negative in our lives that determines the kind of person we become. If we regard all of this as frustrating, we’re going to come out squeezed and tight and just angry and wishing to smash everything.”

The Dalai Lama adds to this discussion that “Too much self-centred thinking is the source of suffering. A compassion for others’ well-being is the source of happiness.”  He says that we need to look after ourselves first to help others, “if we don’t take care of ourselves, we cannot survive… We should have wise selfishness rather than foolish selfishness. Foolish selfishness means you just think only of yourself… taking care of others, helping others, ultimately is the way to discover your own joy and to have a happy life. So that is what I call wise selfishness.”

We might feel alone on a busy planet, or, we might feel important on a crowded globe, but The Dalai Lama says “I always consider myself personally one of the seven billion human beings. Nothing special. So, on that level, I have tried to make people aware that the ultimate source of happiness is simply a healthy body and a warm heart.”

Speaking about why there is so much fear, anger and distrust in our world, the Dalai Lama says: “ I think circumstances, environment, education all matter. Especially today; there is not much focus on inner values in education…. instead of inner vales, we become self-centred – always thinking: I, I, I. A self-centred attitude brings a sense of insecurity and fear.”

The Dalai Lama talks about how meditation helps us to build up what he calls “mental immunity”. He also advises against those who want an instant fix and it all now! “Often people ask me for the quickest and best solution to a problem…. this is impossible. You can have quickest or you can have best solution, but not both. The best solution to our suffering is mental immunity, but it takes time to develop.”

On the topic of sadness and grief, the Dalai Lama explains that: “The way through the sadness and grief that comes from great loss is to use it as a motivation and to generate a deeper sense of purpose.”

While reading this book it became clear that the Dalai Lama has noticed and is also concerned that the increase in our self-centredness and “me first” thinking (in our increasingly so-called modern world) is one of our biggest barriers to well-being.

“The paradox is that although the drive behind excessive self-focus is to seek greater happiness for yourself, it ends up doing exactly the opposite. When you focus too much on yourself, you become disconnected and alienated from others. In the end, you also become alienated from yourself, since the need for connection with others is such a fundamental part of who we are as human beings.”

There is Tibetan saying that is the painful experiences that shine the light on the nature of happiness. One of the most important lessons the Buddha taught was the nature of impermanence and the author says that he was struck by the Dalai Lama’s phrase “passing through difficulties.” In other words, the depth of our suffering can also result in the height of joy.

The last half of the book is called the Eight Pillars of Joy in which the masters explain how we can achieve joy for ourselves. The four qualities of the mind: perspective, humility, humour, and acceptance. Four qualities of the heart: forgiveness, gratitude, compassion and generosity.

On compassion, psychologist Paul Gilbert says: “Compassion can flow naturally when we understand and work to remove our fears, our blocks, our resistance to it. Compassion is one of the most difficult and courageous of all of our motivations, but is also the most healing and elevating.”

This book is one of the best books of its kind that I have read – whether you call it spiritual, well-being, philosophy, life – it’s relevant and speaks to all of us. These two icons of our modern world have a lot to tell us, so why not read this book!

The Book of Joy is published by Penguin Random House UK. Available in hard back, kindle and audio book.

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