–by Dalai Lama XIV, Desmond Tutu, Douglas Abrams (Dec 20, 2018)
Desmond Tutu: It is wonderful to discover that what we want is not actually happiness. It is not actually what I would speak of. I would speak of joy. Joy subsumes happiness. Joy is the far greater thing. Think of a mother who is going to give birth. Almost all of us want to escape pain. And mothers know that they are going to have pain, the great pain of giving birth. But they accept it. And even after the most painful labor, once the baby is out, you can’t measure the mother’s joy. It is one of those incredible things that joy can come so quickly from suffering. […]
Douglas Abrams: Is joy a feeling that comes and surprises us, or is it a more dependable way of being? For the two of you, joy seems to be something much more enduring. Your spiritual practice hasn’t made you somber and serious. It’s made you more joyful. So how can people cultivate that sense of joy as a way of being, and not just as a temporary feeling?
Dalai Lama XIV: Yes, it is true. Joy is something different from happiness. When I use the word happiness, in a sense I mean satisfaction. Sometimes we have a painful experience, but that experience, as you’ve said with birth, can bring great satisfaction and joyfulness.
Desmond Tutu: Let me ask you, you’ve been in exile for 56 years. Fifty-six years from a part of the Planet that you love more than anything else. Why are you not sad?
Dalai Lama: One of my practices comes from an ancient Indian teacher. He taught that when you experience some tragic situation, think about it. If there’s no way to overcome the tragedy, then there is no use of worrying too much. So I practice that. If something can be done about the situation, what need is there for dejection? And if nothing can be done about it, what use is there for being dejected?
Desmond Tutu: Yes, but I think people know it with their head. That it doesn’t help worrying. But they still worry.
Dalai Lama: Many of us have become refugees and there are a lot of difficulties in my own part of the planet. When I look only at that, then I worry. But when I look at the World, there are a lot of problems. […] When we see these things, we realize that not only do we suffer, but so do many of our human brothers and sisters. So when we look at the same event from a wider perspective, we will reduce the worrying and our own suffering.
[Douglas Abrams: I was struck by the simplicity and profundity of what the Dalai Lama was saying. That was far from “don’t worry, be happy.” This was not a denial of pain and suffering, but a shift in perspective –from oneself and towards others, from anguish to compassion– seeing that others are suffering as well. The remarkable thing about what the Dalai Lama was describing is that as we recognize others’s suffering and realize that we are not alone, our pain is lessened. He was not contrasting his situation with others, but uniting his situation with others, enlarging his identity and seeing that he and his people were not alone in their suffering. This recognition that we are all connected is the birth of empathy and compassion.
I wondered how the Dali Lama’s ability to shift his perspective might relate to the notion “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” Was it truly possible to experience pain, whether the pain of an injury or an exile, without suffering?]
Dalai Lama: When touched with a feeling of pain, the uninstructed, ordinary person sorrows, grieves, and laments, beats his breast, becomes distraught. So he feels two pains, physical and mental. Just as if they were to shoot a man with an arrow and, right afterward, were to shoot him with another one so that he feels the pain of two arrows.
[Douglas Abrams: The Dalai Lama was suggesting that by shifting our perspective to a broader, more compassionate one, we can avoid the worry and suffering that is the second arrow.]
Dalai Lama: Then another thing, there are different aspects to any event. For example, we lost our own part of the Planet and became refugees, but the same experience gave us new opportunities to see more things. For me personally, I had more opportunities to meet with different people, different spiritual practitioners, and also scientists. This new opportunity arrived because I became a refugee. So personally, I prefer the last five decades of refugee life. It’s more useful, more opportunity to learn, to experience life. Therefore if you look from one angle, you feel, oh how bad, how sad. But if you look from another angle at the same tragedy, that same event, you see that it gives me new opportunities. It is wonderful. That’s the main reason I’m not sad and morose. There’s a Tibetan saying: “Where you have friends that’s your country, and wherever you receive love, that’s your home.” […]
Desmond Tutu: That’s very beautiful.
Dalai Lama: Also whoever gives you love, that’s your parent.
Desmond Tutu: What you said is quite wonderful. I think I would just add to it by saying to our sisters and brothers out there: Anguish and sadness in many ways are things that you cannot control. They happen. Supposing somebody hits you. The pain causes and anguish in you and an anger, and you might want to retaliate. But as you grow in the spiritual life, whether as a Buddhist or a Christian or any other tradition, you are able to accept anything that happens to you. You accept it not as a result of your being sinful, that you are blameworthy because of what has happened –it’s part of the warp and woof of life. It’s going to happen whether you like it or not. There are going to be frustrations in life. The question is not: How do I escape? It is: How can I use this as something positive?
–Dalai Lama XIV, Desmond Tutu and Douglas Abrams. Excerpt adapted from The Book Of Joy [Photograph from Craig Goodwin]