A Handbook for Living, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, M.D.
Not many of us would disagree with His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s belief that the “purpose of our lives is to seek happiness.” But in this world of complexity, anxiety, insecurity, conflict, intolerance, anger, and hatred we might be inclined on the one hand to ignore this extraordinary book on the grounds that it is too simplistic or idealistic, or, on the other hand, to agree too readily to its premises without actually practicing the difficult inner and outer work that the Dalai Lama believes is necessary for real happiness.
The Art of Happiness is based on conversations between the Dalai Lama and Dr. Howard Cutler, a Diplomat of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. Cutler does a superb job of framing the Dalai Lama’s teachings, stories, and meditations in a way that makes them come alive not just for Buddhists, but for anyone seeking real understanding.
This is a book of profound common sense. Exploring topics such as intimacy, compassion, suffering, anger, kindness, hatred, and change, the Dalai Lama makes clear that real happiness depends on transforming our deepest attitudes, the very way we look at and deal with ourselves and others. It requires “new conditioning.” For the Dalai Lama the first steps toward this new conditioning are based not on mystical or transcendental practices but rather on education, learning, determination, enthusiasm, and effort.
For the Dalai Lama, it is our negative emotions, especially our anger and hatred, that undermine our physical, psychological, and spiritual well-being and promote conflict and destruction in the world. The Dalai Lama makes clear that “’The only factor that can give you refuge or protection from the destructive effects of anger and hatred is your practice of tolerance and patience.’”
Though the practice of patience and tolerance may seem impossible with regard to the big things in our lives, the Dalai Lama suggests that we can start with the small things. “By sacrificing small things, by putting up with small problems or hardships, you will be able to forgo experiences or sufferings that can be much more enormous in the future.”
In The Art of Happiness, the Dalai Lama throws new light on many of our assumptions. In discussing “genuine humility” and its relationship to patience, for example, he points out that it “involves having the capacity to take a confrontational stance, having the capacity to retaliate if you wish, yet deliberately deciding not to do so.”
For the Dalai Lama, the work of patience and tolerance is a work of will that is based on inner strength, compassion, and presence of mind, not on meekness and passivity. It is this work, done with as much awareness as we can muster, that is especially needed in today’s world.
Read also Some Thoughts On Happiness and Suffering