Monday, July 18, 2005

Book Review

The Art of HappinessThe Art of Happiness - By His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler, M.D.

A bit of background refresher about me- I was brought up in a fairly traditional Catholic household, which meant Mass on Sunday and that's about it. We never discussed religion, philosophy, or spirituality as a family and although differing viewpoints were never dismissed as invalid, they weren't discussed either. I don't know where the idea came from but I grew up thinking Buddhism, outside of Eastern Asia, was New Age hooey. With age has come a bit (just a bit) of wisdom and respect for other ideas, even if I don't subscribe to them. Over the past couple of years I've begun to think that maybe religion isn't for me, though I think I'd like to maintain some semblance of spirituality, perhaps adopting some Buddhist, Islamic (and other) philosophies. Jumping ahead to the end of this book, the Dalai Lama explains that this is a perfectly natural and acceptable feeling for some people, those who just don't feel like they can completely subscribe to one official doctrine or another. 5 Billion people on the planet are never going to agree on one thing.

That said, this is the first philosophy book I've ever read. It isn't about Buddhism, it's literally about happiness. But just because it isn't about that particular religion doesn't mean that there isn't a lot of that subject covered. The key things to take away from this book are the Dalai Lama's thoughts on compassion and suffering, understanding what each really means and methods for using each for the gain of yourself and those around you (i.e. the world at large). For most of us, this is the journey, not the destination. The book is co-authored with a Western psychiatrist and is loosely written in the style of a dialog between the author and the Dalai Lama, based on meetings both personal and public. In the user comments at Amazon, you will see some criticism of Dr. Cutler's opinion and writing on the subjects, as if they somehow dilute the importance or meanings. On the contrary, I think it's helpful to have the insights of a non-Buddhist, sometimes comparing and contrasting the Dalai Lama's teachings to traditional Western philosophy (which many of us are familiar with thanks to PHIL 101 being part of the required curriculum at many universities). Other times, Dr. Cutler's remarks help to translate the various twists and turns His Holiness takes on the path to proving his point. It's not the most difficult book I've ever read, and while I found much of it thought-provoking, I'm not quite ready to shave my head and chant. I will probably read more about Eastern philosophy in the future, but it's probably best to let this sit for a while. It may also be worth pointing out, I didn't find anything in this book that even the most devout Christian/Jew/Muslim/whatever would find contradicts his or her beliefs (and yet some criticize Harry Potter).

Tomorrow I will probably write about some of the thoughts on suffering and romance (but not suffering romance) from the book and a bit of the things it encouraged me to think about. Also tomorrow, vote on the next book I will read. Tonight I'll leave you with a bit about hatred, something I'm far too quick to give in to (and if you had to drive the Southwest Freeway at rush hour, you would too!):
So, for a spiritual practitioner, one's enemies play a crucial role. As I see it, compassion is the essence of a spiritual life. And in order for you to become fully successful in practicing love and compassion, the practice of patience and tolerance is indispensable. There is no fortitude similar to patience, just as there is no affliction worse than hatred. Therefore, one must exert one's best efforts not to harbor hatred towards the enemy, but rather use the encounter as an opportunity to enhance one's practice of patience and tolerance.

In fact, the enemy is the necessary condition for practicing patience. Without an enemy's action, there is no possibility for patience or tolerance to arise. Our friends do not ordinarily test us and provide the opportunity to cultivate patience; only our enemies do this. So, from this standpoint we can consider our enemy as a great teacher, and revere them for giving us this precious opportunity to practice patience.

The Art of Happiness, p. 178


At 7:50 AM, Blogger -J said...

Somehow I just see that last paragraph being an introduction to an Animaniacs episode.

At 1:01 PM, Blogger boo said...

mmm... i have mixed feelings about the dalai lama... i love buddha... though.... and happiness and joy... is certainly... something i live for...

At 2:38 PM, Blogger Sass said...

Good point. One must always pull the good out of a bad situation. Each event and person enters our life to teach us a lesson. Events and people brand our minds like fingerprints and wrinkles. It's up to us to find the beauty and significance in each.

Every time I get my heart broken I thank the Ass for reminding me what it was like to have those type of feelings again. One has to pull out the good and thank the enemy for the lesson. Tis the only way.

At 3:22 PM, Blogger tinyhands said...

-J: Maybe, but when I think Buddhist cartoons, I think Chilly Willy.

Boo: I can't imagine what you might have against him, but there's a chance I don't know everything after all. ;)

Sass: What you say is true, but I've never thought like that before. I'm used to embracing my dark side and letting myself be angry & miserable until it goes away on its own.

At 3:25 PM, Blogger Sass said...

TH - why waste the time with anger? My word that sounds so cliche' but it's true.

At 4:20 PM, Blogger DeAnna said...

I've been studying (sort of) Buddhism for a couple of years now. I was reading everything I could get my hands on but it wasn't until I put it into motion that I understood what I was looking for.
I started going to a Buddhist center nearby and it felt like....home. (If that doesn't sound too weird.)

Buddhism just fits my personality of questioning and wondering.
It also fits my philosophy of the world beginning and ending with us. The answers we seek, lie within ourselves.

At 4:23 PM, Blogger DeAnna said...

Oh, PS:
There will be no shaving of the head or giving up of the material possessions for me.
I'm what I like to call a "Lipstick Buddhist".

At 10:15 PM, Blogger tinyhands said...

Sass: No, you're right and I know it sounds incredibly stupid, but it's not something I ever thought I could control. Blame it on testosterone or a hypersensitive autonomic system, but don't worry, I'm non-violent. It's just one more thing for me to work on.

De: I'm not ready to jump into all that just yet. I don't know you, but I'd be really impressed if you'd shave your head to prove a point. ;)

At 3:20 PM, Blogger boo said...

Well... he (the dalai lama) recently outlawed... a saint... and everyone was to ordered to stop praying to said saint... one which he himself... used to be a monk of... no-one really knows why... except... that the oracle... told him to... so... feelings are a tad mixed...

I'm all for using psychic abilities... hey i use mine everyday... but still... not sure... the buddha though... he was a master... the dalai lama isn't.. yet!

At 1:04 AM, Blogger tinyhands said...

Boo- I was not aware of that. Yet another strike against organized religion, and a mark in favour of doing your own thing.


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