The Art of Happiness by His Holiness Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler
This very well written book and easy to read, has so many parallels to another teacher, Saul-Paul.
Dalai Lama considers “the turning toward happiness as a valid goal and the conscious decision to seek in a systematic manner can profoundly change the rest of our lives”.
1. First step in seeking happiness is learning (p38). Learn how negative emotions and behaviour are harmful to us and how positive emotions are helpful.
Paul of Tarsus – Galations 5: 22
“The fruit of the Spirit is charity (love), joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self discipline (self-control)…”
Learn about the different mental states, classify them according to whether they lead to happiness or not. (p39)
Dalai Lama considers Constructive vs Destructive emotions such as hatred, fear sense of insecurity.
Personally I think its wise to learn about different emotions especially after I underwent coaching training, I begin to realise that Ps 128 talks about fear of the Lord, when I read the Hebrew word, it translates to “awe, reverence, wonder” and not the paralysing fear we talk about.
I agree with Cutler’s point that rather than classify mental states, emotions as “greed is sin” or “hatred is sin”, Dalai Lama classifies emotions as positive or negative to whether they lead to our ultimate happiness.
If happiness is simply a matter of cultivating more positive mental states like kindness, why are so many people unhappy?
Dalai Lama’s advice is that various techniques such as developing positive motivation:
“I will use this day in a positive way. I should not waste this very day.”
“Did I use this day as I planned”
No, regret and critique the day.
Although Dalai Lama claim these as buddhist practices, they are not solely, and are found in Catholic/Christian texts and Chinese philosophical texts. But what Dalai Lama is excellent in doing, is use scientific research, eg neuroplasticity of mind to underpin buddhism text.
Psalm 1 talks about how your social company can influence your ways. In Chinese proverbs, the saying goes that when you immerse silk in red ink, it becomes red. When you immerse it in black ink, it becomes black.
Through training, meditation practice, we can transform our mind, says Dalai Lama.
“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:2 (Paul)
How do we renew our minds? Do not be conformed to the patterns of the world and with supernatural intervention. Although it is not fully explained in the Bible, as Christian Bible is limited to 66 books. Where Christian text differs is the belief that God has given the Holy Spirit.
Usefulness of Compassion
Dalai Lama: once you accept that compassion is worthwhile, realise its deeper value, then you immediately develop an attraction towards it, a willingness to cultivate it… Once you encourage thought of compassion in your mind, then your attitude towards others chsnges automatically….. But without the attitude of compassion, if you are feeling closed, irritated or indifferent, then you can be approached by your best friend and you just feel uncomfortable.
Paul: (Charity, Lovingkindness) Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. … And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Cor 13
Further reading on cultivating compassion, joy, read Theresa of Lisieux and Teresa of Avila “The Interior Castle”.
With covid 19 and the rise of loneliness and depression, Cutler’s question to Dalai Lama on whether he felt lonely seems useful to me. (p70). Unlike investigators suggestion that the strategy to overcome loneliness is to work on improving social skills such as self disclosure, picking up conversational skills, Dalai Lama’s strategy is to bypass social skills and work on cultivating compassion.
Practice: Meditation on “our dependence on others”.
Do you wonder how many people are involved in making your shirt? The salesperson who sold the farmer the tractor, the people who grew the cotton, who sewed the cloth. Virtually every aspect of my life is the result of others efforts. Before we use the word “supply chain” and logistics realise our interconnectedness.
Although I was raised in a Buddhist family, with my grandmother and aunts living in temples and monastery, Dalai Lama’s interpretation is so different from what they taught in buddhism. I can only say his text is closer to Paul of Tarsus and influenced by his personality and staying outside of Tibet.
Cutler cites intimacy as being important in maintaining good emotional health from psychoanalyst Erich Fromm that humankind’s most basic fear is the threat of being seperated from others (p 79). Experience of seperateness and rejection is the source of all anxiety in human life.
Dalai Lama’s approach and that of St Paul, hands the locus of control back to the individual. Unlike American or French definition of intimacy as passionate, sexual relationship or attachment, it is a compassion of honor, respect, tenderness towards the other person.
Having heard the Dalai Lama over the internet, I can only guess that like Milton Friedman and the great saints, he possess an ability to cause trancelike state beyond human logic. Over the internet, I had difficulty understanding him and needed the help of translators like Ripoche. This has spurred me to learn more about NLP and how I can change my communication style to lessen others suffering, and if possible to bring joy.
Practice: Meditation on Compassion
1. Visualise a person who is acutely suffering, someone who is in pain or in an unfortunate situation. Reflect on the individual’s suffering (3 min).
2. Relate to yourself thinking “that individual has the same capacity for experiencing pain, joy, happiness and suffering that I do.
3. Allow your natural response to arise, natural feeling of compassion to that person.
4. Think how strongly you wish for that person to be free from suffering.
I have difficulty releasing forgiveness. However, starting with thought of how the person is suffering releases me from having negative feelings to that person. In truth, we all have suffering. Difficult to believe that Bill Gates has suffering. That he causes others to suffer is easier to believe.
The difference is the starting point of what we believe and our thought pattern which sets us free.