Howard C Cutler is a psychiatrist who undertook the task of putting down His Holiness Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader's practical advice on life in the book 'The Art of Happiness'. This book is an essence of Dalai Lama's philosophy as explored by Howard C Cutler during various direct conversations with him as well as from various pubic speeches.
The Art of Happiness provides Dalai Lama's approach based on Tibetan Buddhism to solve life's common problems. This book is aptly named as 'The Art of Happiness' as when we remove obstacles and solve problems of our lives, we explore the happiness behind.
Though this book is based on conversations with Dalai Lama, Cutler combined the essence into four chapters in a narrative style and this approach gives this book a great readability and clarity. Perhaps this is the first comprehensive book providing Dalai Lama's philosophy and approach to life so clearly and exhaustively.
The book starts with the purpose of life as Dalai Lama stated. He said 'Every one wants happiness in life and I believe it is possible to achieve happiness through training the mind'. The conversations in this book are quite interesting as Cutler is speaking from a psychologist's perspective trying to bring logic and reason and Dalai Lama is speaking from a spiritual perspective and finally we see a nice merge between these two.
So after establishing the premise that the purpose of our life is to seek happiness in 'The Art of Happiness', the sources of happiness is explored. Obviously every one wants to live in comfort, prosperity, health and good relationships. But at the same time happiness can not come just by success in any of these areas. Cutler provides practical examples on how people can be unhappy even after earning few million dollars a year, by comparing with some one earning higher. This shows that apart from success itself, we also need to have the right mental attitude in order to be happy. The Dalai Lama explains: 'Although it is possible to achieve happiness, happiness is not a simple thing'. The external factors like wealth are indeed a source of happiness, however in order to fully utilize them towards a fulfilled life, your state of mind is crucial. This state of mind comes when we attain inner contentment and inner worth.
The next question is how we train our mind to get to the right state of mind. The Dalai Lama mentions that we need to identify and develop positive mental states and identify and remove negative mental states. A mental state is not simply good or bad by any text book definition but by its long term worth of giving happiness. So when we develop hatred about some one, it is not going to give any happiness to us in the long run and so it is not good for us. He defines that a healthy person is one who is compassionate and demonstrates loving kindness in his behaviour.
In the next section, there is a discussion on intimacy and how we connect with other people. We want support from other people but ironically we also are afraid about loosing our independence. The Dalai Lama explains that we need to develop compassion first. When we look at others through inner compassion, we will not have the normal insecurities in a relationship and we become more open with other people and can develop better relationships.
The next is a discussion about compassion â€“ compassion is a state of mind where we feel for others, we wish others to be happy.
From the field of psychology, Cutler provides examples for concrete benefits of compassion. In one experiment at Harvard University, where a group of students were inspired by a documentary on Mother Teresa, they described that they felt compassion when they watched the movie. When their saliva was lab tested, it showed an increase in certain antibodies that help in fighting respiratory infections. In another experiment investigators found that people who do voluntary work, interacting with others in a kind and compassionate way have higher life expectancy and overall better vitality. Cutler concludes that having compassion as an approach to life as suggested by The Dalai Lama is not just a philosophy, it is proven that it has good practical benefits as well. This section ends with a meditation on compassion.
The next section deals with suffering. In life we can not always avoid suffering, so our attitude towards suffering attains a greater importance. Dalai Lama says if we adopt an attitude, to have a greater tolerance of suffering, this can help in counteracting feelings of unhappiness, discontent and dissatisfaction. This follows a discussion on self inflicted suffering due to over-sensitivity. On the other extreme there are who tolerate suffering taking it as their Karma. Dalai Lama explains that Karma is not fate and we need to take responsibility for our situations and act without blaming Karma.
The other topics covered in this section are about shifting our perspective in life so that we start learning to cope life's problems in a different way, finding meaning in pain and suffering and Tong-Len (giving and receiving) meditation.
The next section is bringing about change. The process of change starts with learning. Learning starts with awareness until it leads to a conviction about the change required, which brings the determination. This determination helps one to put effort in the right direction to change the habit patterns.
The last two chapters deal with the negative states of mind that destroy our happiness â€“ dealing with anger and hatred and anxiety. Dalai Lama explains that we can not get rid of anger and hatred by suppressing but we need to develop the antidotes for them â€“ patience and tolerance. In case of worry and anxiety, Dalai Lama suggests to cultivate a state of the reasoning that if a situation has a solution, there is no need to worry and we need to put efforts to find the solution and if a situation does not have a solution, then there is no point in getting worried. The later part of the chapter is on developing self confidence and self-esteem.
The concluding part of the book is a brief on basic spiritual values. The Dalai Lama says different religions are required as suited to each individual personality and each of them can contribute to the society in different ways. We need to cultivate the tolerance, understanding and appreciation of each others paths.
The book 'The Art of Happiness' is an engaging discussion on the philosophy of The Dalai Lama and it gives many practical pointers to meet the challenges of our lives. Irrespective of religious beliefs, this book will be highly beneficial to any one seeking happiness.