I know joy quite well; I’ve experienced its ecstasy, I’ve written many poems about joy and happiness but when the Book of Joy was recommended to me, I was intrigued by it, as it is based on the conversation of two renowned spiritual masters and friends – the Dalai Lama XIV and Desmond Tutu, (and reported by Douglas Carlton Abrams.)
So I am reading ‘The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World’ and must share my thoughts about it. When I started reading this book, I thought I know all this – I know suffering ennobles us, I know pain is essential for our emotional and mental growth, I know struggles make us stronger but this book made me ponder, followed me at my walks, haunted me with a number of questions and humbled me beyond words. The hubris of knowing and only knowing, not practicing, melted like thin air around me.
Living with joy even in the face of adversity! Doesn’t it seem outrageous? Only exalted souls can make such a statement and I read with added interest how one could find joy in difficult situations.
Is it possible to be joyful in the face of our daily troubles? The answer lies within us, says the Dalai Lama, “The ultimate source of happiness is inside, not outside. Even the source of physical health is inside, not outside.”
We know that happiness is a state of mind, an attitude that needs to be cultivated but the “source of physical health too is inside?” I was bewildered by this thought and have been trying to figure out the ways to understand this.
When asked that “nothing can be more devastating than being exiled from your home, from the things that are really precious to you and yet to have wonderful serenity on your face and wonderful compassion in your heart,” the Nobel Peace Laureate enlightens us that fleeing from Tibet gave him “more opportunity to learn, to experience life.” He further says, “If you look from one angle, you feel, oh how bad, how sad. But if you look from another angle at the same tragedy, that same event, you see that it gave me more opportunities.”
This book inspires us to “ take a holistic view” of a problem or a situation to respond to it in a more constructive manner. When we have a wider perspective, we have a natural understanding of our place in the situation. “We must look at any given situation or problem from the front and from the back, from the sides, from the top and the bottom, so from at least six different angles,” says the global spiritual leader. “One need not depend on religious faith to educate our inner values.”
The conversation between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu is most light-hearted, exuding with love and friendship; realistic and humorous at places yet it touches the core of your heart. I was stunned by the positivity of these observations:
“When you become a refugee, you get closer to life.”
“Torture and hard labor tests your inner strength. Some lose hope, some keep going, education has very little to do with survival in such circumstances. It is the inner spirit that matters.”
Personal experiences are cited to emphasize that “the depth of our suffering can also result in the height of our joy.” If there is no way to overcome the tragedy, there is no use worrying too much about it. We cannot control the inevitability of occurrences but we could influence their effect in our life by adjusting our attitude toward them. So it is all about the perspective.
You must remember that “there are eight pillars of joy: four are the qualities of mind – perspective, humor, humility and acceptance.
Four are the qualities of heart – forgiveness, gratitude, compassion and generosity.”
This book is neither religious nor spiritual yet it could be a life-changing book for those who wallow in self-pity, who can’t think beyond self, who seek happiness in material things, who chase success and contentment. It is not about some “abstract or aspirational theory of joy;” it talks about life in a simple way. It discusses fear, grief, frustration, anger, loneliness, envy and self-centered attitude, which create most of our suffering. Don’t forget, says the Archbishop “you are a masterpiece in the making. You are not yet perfect.”
Joy in the face of adversity comes with resilience, it comes when we learn to move beyond our suffering, when we train our mind and develop “mental immunity,” when we learn to “avoid the destructive emotions and develop the positive ones.”
Have you trained your mind to this level?
One reading of this book may not be enough!