Excerpts from The Art of Happiness by His Holiness The Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, M.D.
I think that this is the first time I am meeting most of you. But to me, whether it is an old friend or new friend, there’s not much difference anyway, because I always believe we are the same; we are all human beings, consisting of the human body and the human mind. Wherever I meet people, I always have the feeling that I am encountering another human being, just like myself. I find it is much easier to communicate with others on that level.
The Dalai Lama has the ability to inspire rather than awe.
Is it possible to conceive the reverse sequence, where the thought gives rise to the sequence of chemical events in the brain?
The very purpose of life is to seek happiness.
The word “happy” is derived from the Icelandic word happ, meaning luck or chance.
The Tibetan word for ‘mind’ is Sem, which has a much broader meaning, closer to ‘psyche’ or ‘spirit’; it includes intellect and feeling, heart and mind. By bringing about a certain inner discipline, we can undergo a transformation of our attitude, our entire outlook and approach to living.
Happiness is determined more by one’s state of mind than by external events.
Our feelings of contentment are strongly influenced by our tendency to compare. So we can see how our feeling of life satisfaction often depends on who we compare ourselves to. Of course, we compare other things beside income. Constant comparison with those who are smarter, more beautiful, or more successful than ourselves also tends to breed envy, frustration, and unhappiness. But we can use this same principle in a positive way; we can increase our feeling of life satisfaction by comparing ourselves to those who are less fortunate than us and by reflecting on all the things we have.
Good health is considered to be one of the necessary factors for a happy life.
The demarcation between a positive and a negative desire or action is not whether it gives you a immediate feeling of satisfaction but whether it ultimately results in positive or negative consequences.
The true antidote of greed is contentment. If you have a strong sense of contentment, it doesn’t matter whether you obtain the object or not; either way, you are still content.
Inner contentment is achieved by wanting and appreciating what we have.
You can relate to them because you are still a human being, within the human community. You share that bond. And that human bond is enough to give rise to a sense of worth and dignity. That bond can become a source of consolation in the event that you lose everything else.
Happiness vs. Pleasure
We don’t need more money, we don’t need greater success or fame, we don’t need the perfect body or even the perfect mate – right now, at this moment we have a mind, which is all the basic equipment we need to achieve complete happiness.
If you maintain a feeling of compassion, loving kindness, then something automatically opens your inner door. Through that, you can communicate much more easily with other people. And that feeling of warmth creates a kind of openness. You’ll find that all human beings are just like you, so you’ll be able to relate to them more easily.
The term Dharma is most often used to refer to the teachings and doctrine of the Buddha. The Sanskrit word Dharma is derived from the etymological root meaning “to hold” and in this context the word has a broader meaning: any behavior or understanding that serves “to hold one back” or protect one from experiencing suffering and its causes.
Bringing about discipline within one’s mind is the essence of the Buddha’s teaching.
It is clear that feelings of love, affection, closeness, and compassion bring happiness. I believe that every one of us has the basis to be happy, to access the warm and compassionate states of mind that bring happiness. In fact, it is one of my fundamental beliefs that not only do we inherently possess the potential for compassion but I believe that the basic or underlying nature of human beings is gentleness.
So, first, if we look at the very pattern of our existence from an early age until our death, we can see the way in which we are fundamentally nurtured by other’s affection. It begins at birth. Our very first act after birth is to suck our mother’s or someone else’s milk. That is an act of affection, of compassion. Without that act, we cannot survive. That’s clear. And that action cannot be fulfilled unless there is a mutual feeling of affection. From the child’s side, if there is no feeling of affection, no bond, towards the person who is giving the milk, then the child may not suck the milk. And without affection on the part of the mother or someone else, then the milk may not come freely. So that’s the way of life. That’s reality.
When life becomes too complicated and we feel overwhelmed, it’s often useful just to stand back and remind ourselves of our overall purpose, our overall goal. When faced with a feeling of stagnation and confusion, it may be helpful to take an hour, an afternoon, or even several days to simply reflect on what it is that will truly bring us happiness, and then reset our priorities on the basis of that. This can put our life back in proper context, allow a fresh perspective, and enable us to see which direction to take.
Our day to day existence is very much alive with hope, although there is no guarantee of our future. There is no guarantee that tomorrow at this time we will be here. But still we are working for that purely on the basis of hope. So we need to make the best use of our time. I believe that the proper utilization of time is this: if you can, serve other people, other sentient beings. If not, at least refrain from harming them. I think that is the whole basis of my philosophy.
To maintain good health, you rely on medicines made by others and health care provided by others. If you examine all the material facilities that you use for the enjoyment of life, you’ll find that there are hardly any of these material objects that have had no connection with other people. If you think carefully, you’ll see that all of these goods come into being as a result of the efforts of many people, either directly or indirectly. Needless to say, when we’re talking about good friends and companions as being another necessary factor for a happy life, we are talking about interactions with other sentient beings, other human beings.
The Dalai Lama’s model of intimacy is based on a willingness to open ourselves to many others, to family, friends, and even strangers, forming genuine and deep bonds based on our common humanity.
In looking at the various means of developing compassion, I think that empathy is an important factor. The ability to appreciate another’s suffering.
So one can attempt to increase compassion by trying to empathize with another’s feeling or experience.
First, it is helpful to understand and appreciate the background of the people you are dealing with. Also, being more open-minded and honest are useful qualities when it comes to dealing with others.
Sometimes it is the most basic and straightforward of advice, the kind that we tend to dismiss as naïve, that can be the most effective means of enhancing communication.
Some friendships are based on wealth, power, and position. In these cases your friendship continues as long as your power, wealth, or position is sustained. Once these grounds are no longer there, then the friendship will also begin to disappear. On the other hand, there is another kind of friendship. Friendships that are based not on considerations of wealth, power, and position but rather on true human feeling, a feeling of closeness in which there is a sense of sharing and connectedness. This type of friendship is what I would call genuine friendship because it would not be affected by the status of the individual’s wealth, position, or power, whether it is increasing or whether it is declining. The factor that sustains a genuine friendship is a feeling of affection.
The Dalai Lama’s approach to building a strong relationship – basing our relationship on the qualities of affection, compassion, and mutual respect as human beings. Basing a relationship on these qualities enables us to achieve a deep and meaningful bond not only with our lover or spouse but also with friends, acquaintances, or strangers – virtually any human being. It opens up unlimited possibilities and opportunities for connection.
Compassion can be roughly defined in terms of a state of main that is nonviolent, nonharming, and nonaggressive. It is a mental attitude based on the wish for others to be free of their suffering and is associated with a sense of commitment, responsibility, and respect towards the other.
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.
In one sense one could define compassion as the feeling of unbearableness at the sight of other people’s suffering, other sentient being’s suffering. And in order to generate that feeling one must have an appreciation of the seriousness or intensity of another’s suffering.
I truly believe that compassion provides the basis of human survival, the real value of human life, and without that there is a basic piece missing. A deep sensitivity to other’s feelings is an element of love and compassion, and without that, for example, I think there would be problems in the man’s ability to relate with his wife.
David McClelland researches the field of mind-body medicine.
The Dalai Lama detailed his approach to human suffering – an approach that ultimately includes a belief in the possibility of freedom from suffering but starts with accepting suffering as a natural fact of human existence, and courageously facing our problems head-on.
If you directly confront your suffering, you will be in a better position to appreciate the depth and nature of the problem.
If you confront your problems rather than avoid them, you will be in a better position to deal with them.
If we can transform our attitude towards suffering, adopt an attitude that allows us greater tolerance of it, then this can do much to help counteract feelings of mental unhappiness, dissatisfaction, and discontent.
But at that moment if you can look at the situation from another angle and realize that this very body is the very basis of suffering, then this reduces the feeling of rejection – that feeling that somehow you don’t deserve to suffer, that you are a victim.
I think that how you perceive life as a whole plays a role in your attitude bout suffering. For instance, if your basic outlook is that suffering is negative and must be avoided at all costs and in some sense is a sign of failure, this will add a distinct psychological component of anxiety and intolerance when you encounter difficult circumstances, a feeling of being overwhelmed. On the other hand, if your basic outlook accepts that suffering is a natural part of your existence, this will undoubtedly make you more tolerant towards the adversities of life. And without a certain degree of tolerance towards your suffering, your life becomes miserable; then it’s like having a very bad night. That night seems eternal; it never seems to end.
There is a possibility of freedom from suffering. By removing the causes of suffering, it is possible to attain a state of Liberation, a state free from suffering. According to Buddhist thought, the root causes of suffering are ignorance, craving, and hatred. These are called the ‘three poisons of the mind.’ These terms have specific connotations when used within a Buddhist context. For example, ‘ignorance’ doesn’t refer to a lack of information as it is used in an everyday sense but rather refers to a fundamental misperception of the true nature of the self and all phenomena. By generating insight into the true nature of reality and eliminating afflictive states of mind such as craving and hatred, one can achieve a completely purified state of mind, free form suffering. Within a Buddhist context, when one reflects on the fact that one’s ordinary day-to-day existence is characterized by suffering, this serves to encourage one to engage in the practices that will eliminate the root causes of one’s suffering. Otherwise, if there was no hope, or no possibility of freedom from suffering, mere reflection on suffering just becomes morbid thinking, and would be quite negative.
The best way to keep a memory of that person, the best remembrance, is to see if you can carry on the wishes of that person.
So, if you find yourself worrying too much, it may help to think of the other people who have similar or even worse tragedies. Once you realize that, then you no longer feel isolated, as if you have been single-pointedly picked out. That can offer you some kind of condolence.
It is at this point that a critical shift in perception takes place; as suffering becomes less visible, it is no longer seen as part of the fundamental nature of human beings – but rather as an anomaly, a sign that something has gone terribly wrong, a sign of “failure” of some system, an infringement on our guaranteed right to happiness!
As long as we view suffering as an unnatural state, an abnormal condition that we fear, avoid, and reject, we will never uproot the causes of suffering and begin to live a happier life.
We also often add to our pain and suffering by being overly sensitive, overreacting to minor things, and sometimes taking things too personally. We tend to take small things too seriously and blow them up out of proportion, while at the same time we often remain indifferent to the really important thins, those things which have profound effects on our lives and long-term consequences and implications.