David Schaffner – Affiliate Board Chair
The Book of Joy—Lasting Happiness in a Changing World,
by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, with Douglas Abrams,
On a recent “Landmark Birthday,” perhaps better characterized as a “Pre-Tombstone Birthday,” a good friend gifted me a copy of The Book of Joy. This book is the result of a week of conversations between the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu at his Holiness’s home in Dharamsala, India, where he has lived since his escape from Tibet in March of 1959. Author Douglas Abrams has worked with Archbishop Tutu on other projects and does a masterful job of providing a framework of directed conversations over a five-day period.
Along with an introduction that highlights the great friendship and compatibility of these two major figures from different religious traditions, the book is divided into two major sections: “The Obstacles to Joy” and “The Eight Pillars of Joy.” As a sampling of the book’s content, the “Obstacle” section has chapters titled “Sadness and Grief: The Hard Times Knit Us More Closely Together,” and “Envy: That Guy Goes Past Us Yet Again in His Mercedes-Benz.”
I won’t give away all of the Eight Pillars, but one chapter is on Humor. Listen to the mischievous banter of these two ultimate jokesters.
The Archbishop pretended to scold him: “Are you listening?”
The Dalai Lama, who had missed the Archbishop’s comment, launched in with, “So that shows, really…”
The Archbishop continued to pretend that he was offended. “You see? He’s not listening.”
“Unless you use the stick, I will not listen,” the Dalai Lama said laughing.
“But I thought you were nonviolent!”
A strength of this book is how Abrams weaves writings of philosophers, theologians, and scientific researchers into the dialogue between his Holiness and the Archbishop. For example, from a psychologist, “Grief is the reminder of the depth of our love.” In one of the eight pillar chapters, one on Gratitude, research by UC Davis professors found that “…grateful people do not seem to ignore or deny the negative aspects of life; they simply choose to appreciate what is positive as well.” “People with a strong disposition toward gratitude have the capacity to be empathic and take the perspective of others. They are rated as more generous and more helpful by people in their social networks.”
The last chapter is titled “Joy Practices” and is bookended with practices that Tibetan Buddhist monks typically do at the beginning and end of each day. Other approaches to meditation and mindfulness are provided in this rather extensive chapter of over 40 pages. As I reviewed the book for this article, it became obvious that I need to re-read it a little at a time so that the fullness of the wisdom of these two remarkable individuals can soak in.