The Art of Happiness:
The Art of Happiness: a handbook for living
"This book changed my life," said my friend as she handed the worn paperback to me in Singapore.
It's exactly the kind of reading that promises to keep me occupied on the flight back to Amsterdam. While the writing seems easy to read, the concepts require re-reading to fully digest their meaning and implication.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama believes that the purpose of life is to seek happiness. Dr Howard C. Cutler, a psychiatrist, summarises the conversations he has with the Dalai Lama during his stay in Arizona.
Scientific enquiry soon reaches a dead end when it comes to answering questions about the meaning and purpose of life. I, for one, have applied all types of rational analysis to my own personal queries, as evident in my three week trip to Asia. There I had sought the opinion and advice of friends and family, only to reach the conclusion that I have to figure it out myself.
So what is happiness? And why is it an art? I think it's titled "art" as opposed to "science." Cutler proceeds to show how his own medical training has limitations to treating people who are chronically unhappy.
The Dalai Lama believes that the mind can be trained for happiness. He believes in mental discipline, controlling the mental state, and meditation as a means to get there. He advocates that people maintain a feeling of compassion, loving kindness, empathy, and detachment, among other things. Detachment is important to avoid becoming unnecessarily affected by others, i.e. taking things too personally.
There is one section that alarmed me. On page 83, Cutler asks the Dalai Lama about relationships based on romance. After all, in the Western world, romance is just about everything, if not, the most desirable thing. The idea of falling in love and being deeply in love with one's partner -- isn't that what makes the world go round?
The Dalai Lama replies that relationships based on romantic love is based on fantasy, unattainable, and may be a source of frustration, hence not a positive thing. This is certainly food for thought. I never questioned whether romantic relationships were good or bad. Falling in love and being in love were two pre-requisites to any exclusive adult relationship. It was a no brainer. But could it be that the endless pursuit of such romantic love is an idealisation, as the Dalai Lama professes?
On page 90, it says "if one is looking for lasting satisfaction in a relationship, the foundation of that relationship must be solid.... Sexual attraction, or even the intense feeling of falling in love may play a role in forming an initial bond between two people, to draw them together, but like a good epoxy glue, that initial bonding agent needs to be mixed with other ingredients into a lasting bond ..... affection, compassion, mutual respect."
I'm not so sure that this book will change my life, for I have already begun the process of changing my life for the better. After awhile, I see the same patterns forming and I want to know why and how I can break out of these patterns. At the same time, I recognise the limitations of Western scientific enquiry and see the need for something else to take me on this new journey.
Perhaps I'll start by inviting authors and publishers of Buddhist teachings to send me books for review.
4 May 2004 Tuesday
Conversation with my Buddhist friend DarmaPod in Southern California:
If you ever get an opportunity to hear HHDalai Lama - go!
It's awesome - just to be in his presence. He is amazing.
Have you ever been with someone who has no judgment? It's very bizarre to be in the presence of someone like this. Even as they speak to someone- answering a question for example, someone who you might judge, they answer the question with no judgement and with such compassion.
It's alarming to be in this kind of presence. HHDL is almost childlike. He has such joy on the simplest of things and laughs all the time. In spite of losing his country, he still has this childlike joy and immense intellectual understanding of what's really going on.
Where does DharmaPod come from?
The Dharma is the truth - the way it is.. without judgement. It also refers to the vast set of teachings- volumes and volumes which are about the way things are and the mind. The teachings on the mind are phenomenal, way beyond my comprehension. These are things people have discovered w/ many many many years of experience.
Pod comes from her iPod. She downloads lots of dharmas onto her iPod.