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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World

February 12, 2010

Reviewed by Candida Baker
Sydney Morning Herald (SMH)
February 10, 2010

The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World
By His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler
Hachette, 338pp, $35

IT IS 17 years since Howard Cutler, a
psychiatrist and author, began to interview the
Dalai Lama for The Art of Happiness: A Handbook
for Living. It seems inconceivable now but that
first book was rejected for five years, until a
chance remark to a stranger on a subway resulted in a first small print run.

Millions of copies and a sequel, The Art of
Happiness at Work, later, Cutler and the Dalai
Lama decided to tackle the subject of happiness
in a wider context: how do we find it amid all the suffering?

One of the major tenets of Buddhist philosophy is
non-violence but deeper than that runs the belief
that humans are basically gentle. It is a belief
that even Cutler, with his unprecedented access
to the Dalai Lama, finds hard to embrace.

But despite the Dalai Lama's distress at world
events such as the September 11, 2001, attacks in
the US, he states in this book, as in the first:
"I remain firmly convinced of the basic goodness
of human beings, and at the fundamental level,
our nature is gentle and not violent."

It is the world's "us and them" mentality that
causes grief in every area of life, he says.
Interdependence and connection create community,
which creates concern for others. By embracing
"we" as a concept, rather than "I", we understand
that our welfare is linked to the welfare of others.

In many ways, this is a very different book from
the first two -- more scientific, less
meditative, perhaps. For those of us involved in
a search for spiritual understanding, its
concentration on politics, current affairs and
modern sociology takes it out of the realm of
spiritual journey and more into a primer for the
mainstream. From my point of view, this makes it
a slightly less enjoyable book than the previous
two but there is no doubt that it is instructive and interesting.

I haven't seen the Dalai Lama in person but from
reports his apparently simple wisdom can
sometimes seem at a disadvantage when he is on
panels with people who have lots of bells and
whistles, so to speak. In the book, too, he will
often answer one of Cutler's more complex
questions or statements with "yes" or "no", or "that's right".

This, of course, is not to say that the Dalai
Lama's thinking is simple but perhaps more that
he lives in a different mind-set from most of us.
When you are somehow at peace with the world, in
all its vexed glory, then simplicity, I imagine, rules.

  A good example of this is the Buddhist approach
to that most terrifying subject of all -- death
-- and our inevitable non-presence in the
universe. Rather than denying death, the Dalai
Lama suggests that most fear stems from fear of
death, and therefore the thing to do is to
meditate upon it – upon the transient nature of
not just one's own existence but of the entire
universe. The meditation, and the acceptance of
one's own mortality, rather than being depressing
and morbid, creates an expansive attitude that can help reduce fear.

In his lifetime, the Dalai Lama has needed an
ever-increasing awareness of mortality. Only two
years ago, the communist government of China
passed a series of laws: the Management Measures
on Reincarnation (MMR), giving the government
complete control over reincarnation. The law now
states that only the government can authorise a
dead lama to reincarnate and all Tibetan lamas
will henceforth be reborn within the People's Republic of China.

Faced with this extraordinary level of stubborn,
comic stupidity, the Dalai Lama remains
optimistic and even resilient, and somehow that
in itself is a comfort in the troubled world he
and Cutler discuss in such depth.

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