Recently during the course of a forced sabbatical from work (on account of some illness), I had occasion to read a classis — “The Book of Joy” which is a series of conversations between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams (the Author) when they got together in Dharamshala on the occasion of the Dalai Lama’s 80th Birthday. Written in on easy going, free- flowing prose, the book is a veritable store-house, nee treasure, of the world view and thoughts of these two revered, respected, admired (need I say with utmost humility) knowledgeable thinkers (to call them just religious leaders- would be, to my mind, a mockery of their stature and belittle their contribution), who, in spite of having led a life full of struggle, adversity, laced with obstacles have left their mark on the world stage with their erudition, equanimity in the face of adversity and their continued and relentless fight for peace, equality and efforts towards a world free of discrimination and prejudices of each and every kind.

The book attempts to channelize the thought process of these leaders on how to get joy back into a society ruled by strife and driven largely by regional, racial, religious or other prejudices and biases with its related exponential effect on interpersonal relations and societal tensions. While each and every letter in the book is a treasure-trove of wisdom, certain thoughts that left an indelible impression on my mind are the focus of this blog.

The foremost point the dialogues seek to emphasize is that irrespective of any persons’ religion, or even for an atheist, from the moment of birth, every human being desires happiness and avoids suffering (the Foundation of Joy). This being the common purpose of all human life, where is there any cause or need for envy, jealousy, strife, conflict or any tension whether inter-religion, intra/inter-country, inter-racial or any other sub-sect of human beings. When all lives, without exception, are designed to achieve happiness, is it not our bounded duty to act in a manner as to create and spread joy not only for ourselves but for everybody else who comes into our lives, whether intimately, proximately or even remotely. While at the risk of sounding cliched, simply being thankful for the things that you have, in fact can and does help.

Delving on the issue of envy, which he describes as a poison tinged with guilt and self-esteem, the His Holiness dwells on the practice of “MUDITA” the practice of rejoicing in others good fortune. Putting it very tellingly, first as parents can rejoice in the good fortune of their children, by recognizing our shared humanity, we can rejoice in the good fortune of others when we expand our identity to include them and when we open our heart to experience their joy as our own. The thoughts, seemingly idealistic and the practice appearing difficult is within the realms of human endeavour, requiring only the broadening of vision and expanding one’s heart to others, and their seemingly good fortune. The joy that this would generate would be boundless and its effects instant.

The following few lines, also quoted in the Book, from the traditional Tibetan prayer of the Four Immeasurables (qualities that we can cultivate infinitely which include MUDITA which is the anti-dote to envy, the other three immeasurables being loving-kindness, compassion and equanimity) should serve as a true guide in this process: -

“May all beings attain happiness

May all beings be free from suffering

May all beings never be separated from joy

May all beings abide in equanimity”

The Archbishop, while giving his own view, emphasizes gratitude”, “motivation” and “reframing” as powerful remedies for envy. Gratitude is the feeling of I am fortunate just to be alive -the recognition of all that holds us in the web of life and all that has made it possible to have the life that we have and the moment that we are experiencing. While motivation might not bring true joy or lasting happiness, it would certainly be better than the envy of somebody else. However, in the Archbishop’s view, the most effective remedy to deal with envy is “reframing” — of being able to ask yourself as to what your needs are and why do I need any of those luxuries whereby instead of being your enemy it becomes your ally.

To conclude, a reference to verse in a well-known ancient Tibetan Text by the first Panchen Lama would be in order.

As for suffering, I do not wish even the slightest;

As for happiness, I am never satisfied;

In this, there is no difference between others and me;

Bless me, so I may take joy in other’s happiness.


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