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The eight pillars of joy

The eight pillars of joy

  • Working with the mind during sickness
  • Interacting with others joyously
  • Joy coming from wishing happiness for others
  • Eight qualities needed to cultivate joy

A few weeks back I came down with the flu. I was in bed for a few days and wondering how to manage my mind so I could keep it uplifted and focused on virtue. I remembered that I had seen a copy of The Book of Joy by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, with Douglas Abrams, in the library here. So I got out of bed, walked to the library, checked out the book and went back to bed. As soon as I looked at the book I knew I had done the right thing. I mean, look at the cover, it just automatically brings a smile to one’s face. To see two beloved and respected spiritual leaders looking at each other and smiling—well it’s so uplifting—you don’t even have to read the book—just focus on the faces and the mind transforms. I looked at this cover in bed for a while and let that feeling sink in before I started reading it.

The great respect, admiration, and love the authors have for each other, and for all beings, became obvious to me as soon as I started reading this book. They joked with each other, laughed with each other, supported each other, shared their wisdom and their difficult moments, and in the process provided an example to all of us of how to interact with one another.

As Archbishop Desmond Tutu explained:

Yes, The Dalai Lama and I tease each other, but it is a statement of trust in the relationship. It’s an indication that there’s enough of a reservoir of goodwill…

I thought this was a beautiful way to frame their friendship.

When they had a similar insight, they expressed their agreement and expanded upon it, amplifying it and building upon each other’s wisdom in a very synergistic way. When they voiced different approaches they did so with respect, camaraderie and loving understanding of the other’s perspective.

His Holiness and Archbishop Tutu both describe joy as deriving from a genuine concern about the happiness of others rather than our own. Basically, we open the door to joy when we get out of our self-centered ways and focus on the needs of others. It was clear from their perspective that true joy takes into account our interdependent nature and recognizes that we are impacted by other’s unhappiness.

It is clear, I think, that the authors really embody “joy” despite the difficulties they both have faced in their lives. So that makes the book and their perspective on joy very compelling.

The book outlines eight pillars, or qualities, needed to cultivate joy, which are: perspective, humility, humor, acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, and generosity.

  1. Perspective is looking at the situation from different angles. His Holiness says in the book:

    For every event in life, there are many different angles. When you look at the event from a wider perspective, your sense of worry and anxiety reduces and you have greater joy.

  2. Humility. Here they say that thinking of ourselves as something special keeps us isolated. The Archbishop noted that sometimes we confuse humility with timidity. He explained that humility allows us to celebrate the gifts of others without denying our own gifts. So, in essence, not denying the qualities of others while still holding on to our self-confidence.

    His Holiness shared a story about an interfaith meeting in Delhi. There was a spiritual leader sitting next to him, very rigid, with scowling face. This spiritual leader said that his seat should be higher than the others, so the organizers had to put bricks under the legs of his chair to raise it and make him higher than the others. Needless to say, this is not an example of humility.

  3. Humor is learning to laugh at ourselves and our self-centered ways. Humor can be very healing when we learn to laugh with each other, and not at each other. We can learn to use humor as a healing tool and not as way to make fun of others, hurt, criticize or disparage them.

    As explained by Archbishop Tutu, the kind of humor referred to here is the kind “that does not belittle either of us but rather the kind of humor that allows us to recognize and laugh about our shared humanity, our shared vulnerabilities and our shared frailties.”

  4. Acceptance. It is the opposite of resignation and defeat. We can accept our situation while at the same time working constructively to change it. As Archbishop Tutu expressed, the question is not how can we escape our situation but rather how can we transform it into something positive. His Holiness added that when we see people doing harmful actions, the compassionate thing to do is to try to stop them because they are harming themselves as well as others.

  5. Forgiveness. There are several stories in the book related to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa at the end of Apartheid which explain what forgiveness means:

    In this group of mothers, the one who was speaking on their behalf got up and went across the room to this guy who had been responsible for the killing of their sons and embraced him and said ‘my child.

    Archbishop Tutu told another story about a young woman, Amy Biehl, who was killed in a township. “Her parents came all the way from California to South Africa to support the granting of amnesty to the perpetrators who had been sentenced to heavy terms of imprisonment…they set up a foundation in their daughters’ name and employed these men, who had murdered their daughter, in the project to help that township.”

  6. Gratitude. This chapter is so rich, especially because His Holiness and Archbishop Tutu have both faced great obstacles in their lives yet they are grateful for every moment. There is a quote from David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine Monk, that I think puts gratitude in perspective. It reads “It is not happiness that makes us grateful. It is gratefulness that makes us happy. Every moment is a gift. There is no certainty you will have another moment, with all the opportunity it contains.”

  7. Compassion. His Holiness explained that human beings “are social animals, our survival depends on others, therefore if you want a happy life, with fewer problems, you have to develop a serious concern for the well-being of others.” Psychologist Paul Gilbert is quoted as saying: “Compassion is one of the most difficult and courageous of all our motivations, but is also the most healing and elevating.”

  8. Generosity. The book tells the story of a very rich man who pledged stock worth 30 million dollars to charity. Shortly thereafter, the stock market crashed and he lost most of his fortune. All he had left was the stock he had pledged. Despite being counseled to keep his money, he decided to keep his word instead, and give the pledged stock to charity. This man said, “At that moment, I realized that the only way money can bring happiness is to give it away.”

The book also has a generous section of practices and meditations to increase joy. And don’t miss the back cover showing His Holiness and Archbishop Tutu doing some dancing! From cover to cover, this book is a joy to read.

Venerable Thubten Nyima

Ven. Thubten Nyima was born in Colombia and has lived in the United States for over 35 years. She became interested in Buddhism in 2001 after meeting a tour of monks from the Ganden Shartse Monastery. In 2009 she took refuge with Ven. Chodron and became a regular participant in the Exploring Monastic Life retreat. Ven. Nyima moved to the Abbey from California, in April of 2016, and took Anagarika precepts shortly thereafter. She received sramanerika and shiksamana ordination in March 2017. Ven. Nyima has a B.S. degree in Business Administration/Marketing from California State University, Sacramento and a Masters degree in Health Administration from the University of Southern California. Her career spans both private and public sectors, including 14 years of management-level work for Sacramento County’s Child Protective Services. She has a young adult daughter who lives in California. Ven. Nyima contributes to Sravasti Abbey’s administrative functions by thanking donors, helping with community planning meetings and facilitating SAFE courses. She also works on the vegetable garden and enjoys working in the forest when needed.

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