The Art of Happiness astonished me in so many ways. It is a book that compares the Buddhist beliefs and life rules to Western research and psychology in a very interesting and open minded way. His Holiness the Dalai lama has always struck me as a remarkable man with an aura of complete kindness and the way he sometimes giggles and shows his easygoing sence of humour is just another sign of his wonderful and positive nature. This positivity and kindness comes through in the book so strongly it made me even more impressed and I will keep coming back to it many, many times.
About the author
The author, Howard C Cutler, is a professional psychiatrist who has interviewed HH the Dalai lama numerous times over a long period and based the book on all of these conversations. He does not just reiterate the conversations but he also contemplates the differences and similarities between Buddhist and Western thoughts in a very profound manner. The author’s open minded manner of treating the subject is impressive and the way he reflects over his own shortcomings during the interviews just makes the book more interesting.
His Holiness the Dalai lama
Being a fugitive from his native country of Tibet and now living in exile in India has not made this remarkably humble man bitter, as one might have expected.
He was born in 1935 on the eastern border of the former Tibetan region of Amdo and brought to Lhasa at the age of two, after having been recognized as the incarnation of the thirteenth Dalai lama. His monastic education started at about the age of six and at the age of fifteen he was formally enthroned as the fourteenth Dalai lama.
In 1959 he had to flee from Tibet and instead establish a Tibetan government in exile, in India. Since then he has travelled the world appealing for help for the Tibetan people and advocating for peace and non-violence. Although the Chinese treatment of the Tibetan people has been, and still is, a silent holocaust he still tries to come up with peaceful solutions to the problem, which just shows even more what a special man he is.
Buddhism and Western research
What truly strikes me in this book is the fact that many of the things we Westerners think is new research that we have found, is something that has been a custom within Eastern religions like Buddhism for thousands of years. For example we thought, not that long ago, that letting out our rage during therapy would help us get rid of it. HH the Dalai Lama explains that through his Buddhist thoughts he has learnt that the best treament to get rid of anger is instead to foster tolerance and patience, reaching for those feelings with great enthusiasm! Not surprisingly new Western research begins to show that the Buddhist approach is the better one, ranting and raging and hitting a pillow just makes a person even more prone to anger.
Approaching other people
As a man who has been brought up almost as a living diety HH the Dalai lama has a very humble and loving way of perceiving his position and the way we all should behave and meet others. He first and foremost sees hemself as a human no different from others and he thinks the best way to approach others is with a sence of compassion. He shows an unusual ability to make others feel relaxed and he quickly establishes a direct contact with those he meets.
He makes no difference between people and says that we are all just humans, not Buddhists or Christians or whatever label we usually use, there is just no reason to differentiate.
The most surprising thing I found in The Art of Happiness was his veiws on religion; as a leading Buddhist one might have thought he would advocate for everyone taking on the Buddhist religion, but instead he says that Buddhism is not for everyone! He instead says that all religions are basically good and that we have to choose what, and if, we want to believe in one or the other.
When asked for suggestions on how to overcome difficulties he gives different advice for different belief systems in the same loving and thoughtful way, and they are all very profound but also often quite simple.
The roots of problems
When we in the West try to rid ourselves of emotional distress, we often look in our childhood or teenage years for the answers. From a Buddhist point of view that is like looking for something you have lost and decide that you can only look in one room. According to buddhist beliefs the problems one has, could just as well stem from an earlier life.
Contemplating that view of solving problems feels both comforting and more complex, because if you have to look in an earlier life, how are you going to do that? On the other hand; if it happened in an earlier life, it should be easier to release the problem.
The art of Happiness also contains some advice on meditations to alliviate different problems, like anger or suffering, which I have found to be quite helpful. Especially the meditation that helps with physical pain: when facing physical problems it can help to imagine that the pain you are experiencing could take the pain away from someone else and therefor make their life better. With that thought in mind the pain is actually easier to withstand!
This is a book that I most deffinitely recommend. It takes time to read it, at least it did to me. Not because it was hard to read or especially ‘enigmatic’, but because I had to digest the content almost page by page. The book helps putting our Western research and ideas into a different perspective that I really like and it has also given me a new view on how to live.
Although much of the book focuses on suffering and how to alliviate that, it is deffinitely not a depressing book! On the contrary, it gives you tools on how to handle the things we all have to face at one time or another, because none of us will ever be able to escape suffering altogether.
To buy your own copy, please click the image above!
Please leave a comment on this post or any of the other posts in the comments section below!