Micael Widell

Dalai Lama on the Art of Happiness

/ happiness

If I am to read up on the subject of happiness properly, I feel that I am obliged to read at least one book by Dalai Lama. So I had a look at his author page on Amazon.

212 books!? And all of them have almost the same title, with some slight variations. "The Art of Happiness at Work". "The Art of Happiness in a troubled world". "The Essence of Happiness". "The Art of Living"... Where to start?

I chose to sort the list by number of reviews, and ended up with the book The Art of Happiness. If number of reviews is some kind of proxy for "most read", this should be Dalai Lamas most popular book.

The book isn't actually written by Dalai Lama himself though. The book's narrative consists of the author Dr. Howard Cutler retelling interviews with his holiness, coupled with Cutler's own thoughts surrounding these interviews.

I would describe this book as bland and vague. A bonanza in platitudes. I guess this feeling was amplified for me because I took it on right after reading Matthieu Ricard's excellent book on happiness from a Buddhist perspective, so I already knew basically everything about Buddhism that is told in the book. I didn't really learn anything new or particularly interesting about happiness or Buddhism.

Many of Dalai Lamas answers to life's most important questions are variations of "I don't know" or "it is hard to tell". And that is of course totally fine, I don't blame him for not having answers to all hard questions. I blame the author for publishing a book about it though! In the book's defence, I think someone who knows nothing at all about Buddhism before reading the book, might learn a thing or two.

Anyways, when going through my highlights, I guess there are a couple of thoughtworthy things to mention, if I dig deep.

I like the tactic outlined below on how we can be more compassionate with other people, how we can go from being irritated by someone else to understanding their perspective:

‘Whenever I meet people I always approach them from the standpoint of the most basic things we have in common. We each have a physical structure, a mind, emotions. We are all born in the same way, and we all die. All of us want happiness and do not want to suffer. Looking at others from this standpoint rather than emphasizing secondary differences such as the fact that I am Tibetan, or a different color, religion, or cultural background, allows me to have a feeling that I’m meeting someone just the same as me. I find that relating to others on that level makes it much easier to exchange and communicate with one another.’

And further elaborating later in the book:

Rather, genuine compassion is based on the rationale that all human beings have an innate desire to be happy and overcome suffering, just like myself. And, just like myself, they have the natural right to fulfill this fundamental aspiration. On the basis of the recognition of this equality and commonality, you develop a sense of affinity and closeness with others. With this as a foundation, you can feel compassion regardless of whether you view the other person as a friend or an enemy. It is based on the other’s fundamental rights rather than your own mental projection. Upon this basis, then, you will generate love and compassion. That’s genuine compassion.

But all-in-all, I think there are much better books if you want to learn about happiness from a Buddhist perspective, written in a more interesting way and with more colorful language.

Thank you Christopher Michel for the header photo of Tenzin Gyatso – the 14th Dalai Lama, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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