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  • A Book Review by Ellen Dee Davidson

"The Book of Joy"

The Book of Joy was written by The Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu With Douglas Abrams

We all need a little light and guidance to encourage our inner peace, love, well-being, happiness and joy during these extremely challenging times. The Book of Joy, a long conversation between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, written by Douglas Abrams, offers this in abundance. If you were only going to read one book in your entire life, this would be a good choice. It’s basically a map for how we can stay joyful no matter what is happening in the world around us.

The Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu agree on eight qualities, which they call pillars of joy, as the foundation for being able to live a joyful life. The four mental pillars are Perspective, Humility, Humor, and Acceptance. The four pillars of heart include Forgiveness, Gratitude, Compassion, and Generosity. Cultivate these qualities, and watch your life improve no matter what the circumstances.

Perspective is about our view and the way we see our lives and situations. The Dalai Lama says, “For every event in life, there are many different angles. When you look at the same event from a wider perspective, your sense of worry and anxiety reduces.” Examples are taking something traumatic from our past experience and seeing all the blessings that have arisen from it. Another shift in perspective is to shift the focus from I, me, and mine to we, us and ours. This is a bigger view and literally has physical effects on our bodies; those thinking mainly of themselves have a higher risk of heart attacks!

Humility, according to both of these brilliant moral leaders, is essential to live a life of joy. Humility involves not taking ourself so seriously or thinking we are extra special. The Dalai Lama makes the point that he’d be very lonely thinking of himself as the only Dalai Lama, but when he considers himself one of over seven billion people, he realizes he has lots of friends. Abrams states, “The word humility actually comes from the Latin word for earth or soil, humus.” Staying humble literally keeps us grounded and down to earth. “Sometimes we confuse humility with timidity,“ says Archbishop Tutu. “This gives little glory to the one who has given us our gifts. Humility is the recognition that your gifts are from God, and this lets you sit relatively loosely to those gifts.”

When we are humble, we find it easier to laugh at ourselves, and enjoy the third mental pillar of joy: Humor. Throughout the book, the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu are constantly teasing each other, joking and laughing. They definitely don’t take themselves too seriously. Again, humor, like humility, comes from the same root word, humus. The kind of humor they are describing is never mean-spirited.

According to both these spiritual teachers, Acceptance is the only place we can begin to change anything. Acceptance means we start right from where we are, with what is really happening. Acceptance is not, however, denying, giving up or being resigned to negative situations. But, as the Book of Joy clarifies, even though it’s important we stay aware of what is happening now for ourselves, others and the earth, we do not have to be miserable about it. We can do whatever we can to improve situations but, as the Dalai Lama points out, “Why be unhappy if it cannot be remedied?”

Forgiveness is the first pillar of the heart. It is the one capable of freeing us from the past. “Forgiveness,” the Dalai Lama says, “does not mean we forget.” We keep the discernment to avoid harmful situations, and maybe even seek justice, without reacting with negativity. The Dalai Lama says, “… there is an important distinction between forgiveness and simply allowing others’ wrong-doing.” Later he adds, “We stand firm against the wrong not only to protect those who are being harmed but also to protect the person who is harming others, because eventually they, too, will suffer.” But we don’t have to carry the poison of anger, hatred, and the desire for revenge in our hearts. Archbishop Tutu sums it up in The Book of Forgiving, “Without forgiveness, we remain tethered to the person who harmed us. We are bound to the chains of bitterness, tied together, trapped. Until we can forgive the person who harmed us, that person will hold the keys to our happiness, that person will be our jailor.”

Gratitude is perhaps one of the easiest pillars for most of us to access. We all can be thankful for the amazing experience of life as well as the beauty of nature. Abrams says, “Gratitude means embracing reality. It means moving from counting your burdens to counting your blessings.” The Dalai Lama points out that we can even be grateful for our enemies because they help us develop spiritually. Gratitude takes us out of fear, and tends to make us more compassionate and generous towards others, as well as releasing feel-good endorphins into our brains.

All of us love being treated with Compassion. Compassion is empathetic feeling towards others that leads to acting kindly. Fortunately, compassion is a pillar we can cultivate. According to the Dalai Lama, “Too much self-centered thinking is the source of suffering. A compassionate concern for others’ well-being is the source of happiness.” Recent scientific evidence points to the fact that our basic human nature is one of compassion. Concern for others is instinctual. Consider the most primary bond of mothers and infants; for nearly everyone it is an overwhelming, biochemical love affair. Archbishop Tutu comments, “We are growing and learning how to be compassionate, how to be caring, how to be human.” Of course, it’s essential to also be compassionate towards ourselves.

Generosity is the final pillar of joy. Like all of the other pillar qualities, generosity is encouraged by religions around the world. Scientists are also discovering that being generous boosts the immune system! We can be generous with our time, energy, money, and spirit. Abrams writes, “When we have a generous spirit, we are easy to be with and fun to be with. We radiate happiness, and our very company can bring joy to others.” And, later, “When we practice a generosity of spirit, we are in many ways practicing all the other pillars of joy. In generosity, there is a wider perspective, in which we see our connection to all others. There is a humility that recognizes our place in the world and acknowledges that at another time we could be the one in need, whether that need is material, emotional, or spiritual. There is a sense of humor and an ability to laugh at ourselves so that we do not take ourselves too seriously. There is an acceptance of life, in which we do not force life to be other than what it is. There is a forgiveness of others and a release of what might otherwise have been. There is a gratitude for all that we have been given. Finally, we see others with deep compassion and a desire to help where there is need. And from this comes a generosity that is “wise selfish,” a generosity that recognizes helping others as helping ourselves.”

The Book of Joy is a huge offering by some of the kindest and wisest teachers on the planet. It’s quite literally a road map to happiness. When we cultivate the qualities of the eight pillars, we give them to ourselves as well as everyone else. May we all grow in joy!

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