[Book Review] The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living, by the Dalai Lama XIV

As an entry into the basics of Eastern and Tibetan Buddhist thinking, this is a nice doorway. It is not, however, enough simply to read this book. To derive anything from it, one must read, consider, and apply.

The Art Of Happiness: A Handbook For LivingThe Art Of Happiness: A Handbook For Living by Dalai Lama XIV

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For many, many years I have considered reading works by the Dalai Lama. Going hunting for them, I found more volumes than I could possibly buy all at once, and so kind of went for a blind stab in the dark with The Art of Happiness.

It was a deeply interesting read, and a fast one: I finished it in only a few sittings.

However, if you are looking for a book written by the Dalai Lama, this is not one. Yes, a lot of the sentiments are direct quotes. Yes whole tracts of it originate with the Dalai Lama. But it was not authored by His Holiness.

It is, in fact, a book that was written by someone else who had hoped to gain from the Tibetan leader a handbook for happiness. Do this, this, and that, and bam! Happy. It was not the case that it ended up this way. As a result, the book is rather more like a work of creative non-fiction, where we follow the actual author around behind the Dalai Lama, and experience the author’s frustrations with Buddhist philosophy. We also gain commentary that unpacks a lot of the Dalai Lama’s teachings.

While it is dishonest in some respects that the book is promoted as being by the Dalai Lama, one could argue that it is the essence of the book that is by His Holiness, and that part of it is what counts.

This work steps you through the basic tenets of Buddhist philosophy, on a compare/contrast basis with Western philosophy and scientific thinking. In many aspects, the two are complementary – even supporting each other – though the Buddhist thinking is far simpler, far more elegant. Despite this simplicity, it will cause you to stop and consider. There were many points throughout this book at which I stopped and stared at the wall in contemplation.

More importantly, if you apply the principles to yourself, you will find yourself calmer, and you will find yourself yielding better relations with people around you, seemingly without effort.

As an entry into the basics of Eastern and Tibetan Buddhist thinking, this is a nice doorway. It is not, however, enough simply to read this book. To derive anything from it, one must read, consider, and apply.

Applying any of the principles presented in this book takes enormous effort, because it requires you to challenge your default reactions, and to focus on compassion – even when you’re reeealllyyy annoyed or angry. When you start to get a grip on it, your relationships with people will all improve: You start to relate to people as humans, rather than as how you perceive them to be.

I guess the question really is whether any Western reader has the stamina to apply it, or is willing to relinquish his or her pleasure in favour of happiness. Chase happiness rather than pleasure, connect with all people as humans, practice compassion. It doesn’t sound like much at all, yet the impact is enormous.

There is much to consider in this book. In fact, almost two days later, I am still ruminating on its argument. And that alone is a measure of a book that needs to be shared.

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