On the one hand, we might wish that the Dalai Lama had written his own book, and see Cutler as a screen between us and the Dalai Lama. But Cutler does add some things to the book: (1) He asks the questions that a Westerner would ask. At times they seem like stupid questions, but on the whole Cutler and the Dalai Lama form a Watson/Holmes pair. As in Castaneda's Don Juan books, the narrator is probably not as simple-minded as he sometimes makes himself appear. (2) He summarizes Western scientific research that supports points the Dalai Lama makes. (3) He illustrates the Dalai Lama's teachings by examples from his personal life and his practice as a psychiatrist. (4) He can testify to the Dalai Lama's sincerity, and describe the Dalai Lama's reactions objectively. He can be impressed by the Dalai Lama in a way that would be obnoxious for the Dalai Lama to communicate in his own voice.
The current Dalai Lama was born in 1935 and installed in his office in 1940. He fled to India following a failed rebellion against the Chinese in 1959. He is the leader of the Tibetan government in exile centered in Dharmsala, India. In 1989 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his nonviolent efforts to liberate his homeland.
The Dalai Lama has written several books about his own life and traditional life in Tibet: My Land and People (1962), Freedom in Exile (1990), and My Tibet (1990). He also has written many books about the doctrines and practices of Tibetan Buddhism.
1. The Right toHappiness. Happpiness is the goal of our lives, and it is a worthwhile, achievable goal.
2. The Sources of Happiness. Our happiness may be influenced by what we have and what happens to us, but the ultimate source of long-term happiness is mental.
3. Training the Mind for Happiness. Since the source of happiness is mental, the most effective way to seek happiness is by training our minds in the ways of happiness. This is a gradual, lifelong process. "The practice of Dharma is a constant battle within, replacing previous negative conditioning or habituation with new positive conditioning. ... Through training we can change; we can transform ourselves." [page 43]
4. Reclaiming our Innate State of Happiness. "I believe that every one of us has the basis to be happy, to access the warm and compassionate states of mind that bring happiness. In fact it is one of my fundamental beliefs that not only do we inherently possess the potential for compassion, but I believe that the basic or underlying nature of human beings is gentleness." [page 52]
5. A New Model of Intimacy. The Dalai Lama bases his relationships not on the specifics of people's personalities, but on the general aspects of the human condition: All people want to be happy and escape suffering. By developing compassion for the human condition, a person can relate to anyone and need never be lonely or lack for companionship.
6. Deepening our Connection to Others. Relationships based on compassion (on desiring that all people be happy and escape suffering) are based on unchanging aspects of the human condition, and so are more stable than relationships based on status, common interests, wealth, sex, or romance.
7. The Value and Benefits of Compassion. Developing the ability to view all people with compassion is a key component of having healthy, stable relationships with others and being happy.
8. Facing Suffering. Though specific pains and misfortunes are avoidable, pain and misfortune in general are not. A healthy outlook is not to be surprised when pain and misfortune occur. We transform misfortune into suffering by our mental reactions. Learning to tolerate misfortune is the first step on the path towards liberation from suffering.
9. Self-Created Suffering. This chapter examines some of the specific ways that we increase our suffering: by replaying painful or humiliating scenes in our minds, stoking up our negative feelings; by refusing to recognize the impermanence of things, expecting them to remain the same rather than evolving through their natural stages.
10. Shifting Perspective. Nothing and no one is bad from every possible perspective. By learning to shift our perspective we can escape viewpoints that increase our suffering.
11. Finding Meaning in Pain and Suffering. Pain and suffering are easier to endure if we find meaning in them. Our own suffering gives us empathy with the suffering of others and increases our compassion. It also motivates us to progress on the path of liberation.
12. Bringing About Change. The Dalai Lama describes a five step process for changing oneself: Learning, conviction, determination, action, and effort. It is possible to train yourself to habitually respond to the world with positive mental states rather than negative ones, but it is a long, gradual process.
13. Dealing With Anger and Hatred. The ideas of the previous chapter are put into practice in a discussion of anger and hatred. One fights anger and hatred by cultivating the antidote mental states of patience and tolerance.
14. Dealing With Anxiety and Building Self-Esteem. The ideas of Chapter 12 are applied to anxiety and self-hatred. Cultivating sincere motivation decreases anxiety. Honesty and compassion are antidotes to self-hatred, and build a healthy form of self-esteem.
15. Basic Spiritual Values. Religious beliefs form one level of spirituality. "But then there's another level of spirituality. That is what I call basic spirituality -- basic human qualitities of goodness, kindness, compassion, caring. Whether we are believers or non believers, this kind of spirituality is essential. I personally consider this second level of spirituality to be more important than the first." [page 307]
"Underlying all the Dalai Lama's methods there is a set of basic beliefs that act as a substrate for all his actions: a belief in the fundamental gentleness and goodness of all human beings, a belief in the value of compassion, a belief in a policy of kindness, and a sense of commonality among all living creatures." [page 8]
"But is happiness a reasonable goal for most of us? Is it really possible?" "Yes. I believe that happiness can be achieved through training the mind." [page 14] The Dalai Lama goes on to explain that "mind" in this context is a poor translation of the Tibetan word Sem, which "includes intellect and feeling, heart and mind". The method he describes sounds very Western: "One begins by identifying those factors which lead to happiness and those factors which lead to suffering. Having done this, one then sets about gradually eliminating those factors which lead to suffering and cultivating those factors which lead to happiness." [page 15]
"Isn't a life based on seeking personal happiness by nature self-centered, even self indulgent? Not necessarily. In fact, survey after survey has shown that it is unhappy people who tend to be the most self-focused." [pages 16-17]
Chapter 2. The Sources of Happiness. "Happiness is determined more by one's state of mind than by external events. Success may result in a temporary feeling of elation, or tragedy may send us into a period of depression, but sooner or later our overall level of happiness tends to migrate back to a certain baseline." [pages 20-21]
"Happiness is not a simple thing. There are many levels. In Buddhism, for instance, there is a reference to the four factors of fulfillment, or happiness: wealth, worldly satisfaction, spirituality, and enlightenment. Together they embrace the totality of an individual's quest for happiness." [page 24]
"Of course we enjoy ... our material facilities, success, and so on. But without the right mental attitude, without attention to the mental factor, these things have very little impact on our long-term feelings of happiness. For example, if you harbor hateful thoughts or intense anger somewhere deep down inside yourself, then it ruins your health, thus it destroys one of the factors. Also, if you are mentally unhappy or frustrated, then physical comfort is not of much help. On the other hand, if you can maintain a calm, peaceful state of mind, then you can be a very happy person even if you have poor health. Or, even if you have wonderful possessions, when you are in an intense moment of anger or hatred, you feel like throwing them, breaking them. At that moment your possessions mean nothing. ... The same can be said of your friends too. When you are in an intense state of anger or hatred, even a very close friend appears to you as somehow sort of frosty, or cold, distant, and quite annoying. All of this indicates the tremendous influence that the mental state, the mind factor has on our experience of daily life." [pages 24-25] "As long as there is a lack of the inner discipline that brings calmness of mind, no matter what external facilities or conditions you have, they will never give you the feeling of joy and happiness that you are seeking. On the other hand, if you possess this inner quality, a calmness of mind, a degree of stability within, then even if you lack various external facilities that you would normally consider necessary for happiness, it is still possible to live a happy and joyful life." [page 26]
"I can't see how wanting or buying a more expensive car leads to problems for an individual, as long as he or she can afford it. Having a more expensive car than your neighbors might be a problem for them -- they might be jealous and so on -- but having a new car would give you, yourself, a feeling of satisfaction and enjoyment." "No. ... All the nonvirtuous actions -- lying, stealing, sexual misconduct and so on -- are committed by people who may be feeling a sense of satisfaction at the time. The demarcation between a positive and a negative desire or action is not whether it gives you an immediate feeling of satisfaction but whether it ultimately results in positive or negative consequences. For example, in the case of wanting more expensive possessions, if that is based on a mental attitude that just wants more and more, then eventually you 'll reach a limit of what you can get; you'll come up against reality. And when you reach that limit then you'll lose all hope, sink down into depression, and so on. That's one danger inherent in that type of desire." [page 28] This implies a theory that immoral desires and actions eventually impact the actor negatively. Do you believe this? This is one place where a doctrine of reincarnation is useful, because it often appears that people escape the ultimate consequences of their desires and actions by dying before the chickens come home to roost.
"The true antidote of greed is contentment." [page 29]
"One method [for achieving inner contentment] is to obtain everything we want and desire. ... The second, and more reliable method, is not to have what we want but rather to want and appreciate what we have." [page 29]
"Another internal source of happiness, closely linked with an inner feeling of contentment, is a sense of self-worth." [page 30] "On the one hand, you can have a wealthy, successful person. ... If that person's sense of dignity and self-worth is only material, then so long as his fortune remains, maybe that person can sustain a sense of security. But the moment the fortune wanes the person will suffer because there is no other refuge. On the other hand you can have another person enjoying similar economic status and financial success, but at the same time, that person is warm and affectionate and has a sense of compassion. Because that person has another source of worth, another source that gives him or her a sense of dignity, another anchor, there is less chance of that person's becoming depressed if his or her fortune happens to disappear. Through this type of reasoning you can see the very practical value of human warmth and affection in developing an inner sense of worth." [page 32]
"Although there are no easy solutions to avoiding ... destructive pleasures, fortunately we have a place to begin: the simple reminder that what we are seeking in life is happiness. ... If we approach our choices in life keeping that in mind, it is easier to give up the things that are ultimately harmful to us, even if those things bring us momentary pleasure." [page 36]
3. Training the Mind for Happiness. "The first step in seeking happiness is learning. We have to learn how negative emotions and behaviors are harmful to us and how positive emotions are helpful. And we must realize how these negative emotions are not only very bad and harmful to one personally, but harmful to society and the future of the whole world as well." [page 38] "Once you harbor feelings of hatred or ill feeling towards someone, once you yourself are filled by hatred or negative emotions, then other people appear to you as also hostile. So as a result there is more fear, greater inhibition and hesitation, and a sense of insecurity." [pages 39-40]
"I would regard a compassionate, warm, kindhearted person as healthy." [page 40] "I liked the fact that rather than classifying mental states, emotions, or desires on the basis of some externally imposed moral judgment such as 'Greed is a sin' or 'Hatred is evil,' he categorizes emotions as positive or negative simply on the basis of whether they lead to our ultimate happiness." [page 41] I wonder if we could define the health of a culture based on whether an individual's ultimate happiness in the culture is found in a life lived according to the culture's moral code. Compare Chekhov's Gooseberries, in which a man achieves his goal of happiness by living a life that is small-minded and self-centered.
"Achieving genuine happiness may require bringing about a transformation in your outlook, your way of thinking, and this is not a simple matter. ... There are a lot of negative mental traits, so you need to address and counteract each one of these. That isn't easy. It requires repeated application of various techniques and taking the time to familiarize yourself with the practices. It is a process of learning." [pages 41-42]
"The practice of Dharma is a constant battle within, replacing previous negative conditioning or habituation with new positive conditioning. ... Through training we can change; we can transform ourselves." [page 43]
"If I receive some tragic news, at that moment I may experience some disturbance within my mind, but it goes very quickly. Or I may become irritated and develop some anger, but again, it dissipates very quickly. There is no effect on the deeper mind. No hatred. This was achieved through gradual practice; it didn't happen overnight." [page 44] Cutler points out the recent theories of the plasticity of the brain supports the idea that fundamental changes in patterns of thought and reaction are possible.
"If these wholesome behaviors naturally lead to happiness and we want happiness, shouldn't that occur as a natural process? Why should we need so much education, training, and discipline for that process to occur?" [pages 47-48] Dalai Lama replies that our academic education process is arduous, but we don't doubt that it contributes to a happy life. "Although I personally believe that our human nature is fundamentally gentle and compassionate, I feel that it is not enough that this is our underlying nature; we must also develop an awareness of that fact. And changing how we perceive ourselves, through learning and understanding, can have a very real impact on how we interact with others and how we conduct our daily lives." [pages 48-49] "One problem with our current society is that we have an attitude towards education as if it is there simply to make you more clever. ... The most important use of knowledge and education is to help us understand the importance of engaging in more wholesome actions and bringing about discipline within our minds. The proper utilization of our education and our knowledge is to effect changes from within to develop a good heart." [pages 50-51]
4. Reclaiming our Innate State of Happiness. "I believe that every one of us has the basis to be happy, to access the warm and compassionate states of mind that bring happiness. In fact it is one of my fundamental beliefs that not only do we inherently possess the potential for compassion, but I believe that the basic or underlying nature of human beings is gentleness." [page 52] When challenged by Cutler, the Dalai Lama attributed his belief both to Buddhist doctrine and to observation that people are happier when they live gently. Seems circular to me: We know we can be happy because it is our underlying nature; we know it is our underlying nature because we're happier that way.
"If our essential nature is kind and compassionate, I'm just wondering how you account for all the conflicts and aggressive behaviors that are all around us." ... "Anger, violence, and aggression may certainly arise, but I think it's on a secondary or more superficial level; in a sense, they arise when we are frustrated in our efforts to achieve love and affection." [pages 54-55]
"I believe that our underlying or fundamental nature is gentleness, and intelligence is a later development. And I think that if that human ability, that human intelligence, develops in an unbalanced way, without being properly counterbalanced by compassion, then it can become destructive. It can lead to disaster. But I think that its important to realize that if human conflicts are created by misuse of human intelligence, we can also utilize our intelligence to find ways and means to overcome these conflicts. When human intelligence and human goodness or affection are used together, all human actions become constructive." [page 55]
Pages 56-62 are Cutler's analysis of the history of Western ideas about human nature. "Beginning in the earliest days of modern scientific psychology, there was an underlying assumption that all human motivation is ultimately egoistic, based purely on self-interest. .. In recent years, however, the tide appears to be turning on this profoundly pessimistic view of humanity, coming closer to the Dalai Lama's view." [pages 57-58] Cutler recounts research saying that humans are not innately aggressive or violent, and that we have a tendency towards altruism. He describes how the behavior of an infant can be used to "prove" either point of view, depending on how it is interpreted.
"Let us reflect on what is truly of value in life, what gives meaning to our lives, and set our priorities on the basis of that. The purpose of our life needs to be positive. We weren't born with the purpose of causing trouble, harming others. For our life to be of value, I think we must develop basic good human qualities -- warmth, kindness, compassion. Then our life becomes meaningful and more peaceful -- happier." [page 64]
Cutler mentions research saying that lonely people tend to lack certain social skills, and that they can become less lonely if they improve those skills. "The Dalai Lama's strategy, however, seemed to bypass working on social skills or external behaviors, in favor of an approach that cut directly to the heart -- realizing the value of compassion and then cultivating it." [page 71]
Cutler realizes the number of people involved in making the shirt he is wearing and then "It occurred to me that virtually every aspect of my life came about as the results of others' efforts. My precious self-reliance was a complete illusion, a fantasy. As this realization dawned on me, I was overcome with a profound sense of the interconnectedness and interdependence of all beings. I felt a softening. Something. I don't know. It made me want to cry." [pages 74-75]
"Being separated from your family, being raised as a monk from an early age, and as a monk never marrying and so on -- didn't all these things contribute to a feeling of separation from others? Do you ever feel that you missed out on developing a deeper level of personal intimacy with others or with one special person, such as a spouse?" [page 76] The Dalai Lama says no, and goes on to explain that he has never felt a lack of people with whom he can share things -- experiences, good news, worries, and so on. How satisfying is that response? Personally, I think that sharing things with strangers is a completely different experience from sharing them with a person who is an integral part of my life and knows me as well as is humanly possible.
Cutler recounts research on the benefits of intimacy with other people: better survival rates after diagnosis with heart disease or cancer, better immune function, etc. "Perhaps the most striking feature of even a cursory review of the various studies on intimacy is the wide diversity of definitions and theories about exactly what intimacy is." [pages 79-80] The definitions vary from direct physical contact to "the experience of connectivity", which includes feeling connected to inanimate objects, even distant ones like the stars. "Concepts of the most ideal form of intimacy also vary throughout the world and history. The romantic notion of that 'One Special Person' with whom we have a passionate intimate relationship is a product of our time and culture." [page 81]
Cutler surveys the different kinds of intimacy that are looked for in other cultures, and have been looked for in our culture in the past. He concludes that we could seek intimacy in many more forms than we are currently aware of. "At this very moment we have vast resources of intimacy available to us. Intimacy is all around us. ... If what we seek in life is happiness, and intimacy is an important ingredient of a happier life, then it clearly makes sense to conduct our lives on the basis of a model of intimacy that includes as many forms of connection with others as possible. The Dalai Lama's model of intimacy is based on a willingness to open ourselves to many others, to family, to friends, and even strangers, forming genuine and deep bonds based on our common humanity."
6. Deepening Our Connection to Others. Empathy is an important factor in developing compassion. Dalai Lama describes an exercise where you imagine the suffering of some animal or person. "Whenever I meet people I always approach them from the standpoint of the most basic things we have in common. We each have a physical structure, a mind, emotions. We are all born in the same way and we all die. All of us want happiness and do not want to suffer. Looking at others from this standpoint rather than emphasizing secondary differences such as the fact that I am Tibetan, or a different color, religion, or cultural background, allows me to have a feeling that I'm meeting someone just the same as me. I find that relating to others on that level makes it much easier to exchange and communicate with each other." [page 90]
The Dalai Lama tells Cutler to try to understand the background of people, and to be more honest and open. Cutler finds this advice simplistic, but then changes his mind when he puts it into practice. "Sometimes it is the most basic and straightforward of advice, the kind that we tend to dismiss as naive, that can be the most effective means of enhancing communication." [page 93]
The Dalai Lama says that to understand a relationship and analyze its conflicts, you need to understand the underlying basis of the relationship. "Some friendships are based on wealth, power, or position. In these cases your friendship continues as long as your power, wealth, or position is sustained." [page 99] Marriages whose underlying basis is sexual attraction are vulnerable in the same way. "If one is seeking to build a truly satisfying relationship, the best way of bringing this about is to get to know the deeper nature of the other person and relate to her or him on that level, instead of on the basis of superficial characteristics. And in this type of relationship there is a role for genuine compassion." [102-103]
Finally, the Dalai Lama has a low opinion of relationships based on romance. "The idealization of this romantic love can be seen as an extreme. Unlike those relationships based on caring and genuine affection, this is another matter. It cannot be seen as a positive thing. It's something that is based on fantasy, unattainable, and therefore may be a source of frustration." [page 104] Cutler initially thinks that the Dalai Lama has dismissed romance too quickly. He summarizes psychological theories about where the intensity of the falling-in-love response comes from, then reviews a case history where romance is distraction from working on depression. At the end of the chapter he seems reluctantly to agree with the Dalai Lama's position.
7. The Value and Benefits of Compassion. "Compassion can be roughly defined in terms of a state of mind that is nonviolent, nonharming, and nonaggressive. It is a mental attitude based on the wish for others to be free of their suffering, and is associated with a sense of commitment, responsibility and respect towards the other." [page 114] He distinguishes between "genuine" compassion and compassion "tinged with attachment -- the feeling of controlling someone, or loving someone so that the person will love you back. ... A relationship based on that alone is unstable. That kind of partial relationship, based on perceiving and identifying the person as a friend, may lead to a certain emotional attachment and a feeling of closeness. But if there is a slight change in the situation ... then all of a sudden your mental projection changes; the concept of 'my friend' is no longer there. Then you'll find the emotional attachment evaporating, and instead of that feeling of love and concern, you may have a feeling of hatred." [page 114] "Genuine compassion is based on the rationale that all human beings have an innate desire to be happy and overcome suffering, just like myself. And, just like myself, they have the fundamental right to fulfill this aspiration. ... With this as a foundation, you can feel compassion regardless of whether you view the other person as a friend or an enemy. It is based on the other's fundamental rights rather than your own mental projection." [page 115]
Cutler protests that the two forms of compassion would correspond to the same emotion, but the Dalai Lama denies this. Cutler brings up a hypothetical example of a person successful in all the major areas of life -- work, family, friends -- who didn't recognize the feeling of compassion as the Dalai Lama had described it, and didn't feel that anything was missing from his life. The Dalai Lama doubts that such a person would be really happy deep down. "I think that it is conceivable that up to a certain point, even without feeling human warmth and affection, he may not experience a feeling of lacking anything. But if he felt that everything was OK, that there was no real requirement for developing compassion, I would suggest that this view is due to ignorance and shortsightedness. ... [Other people] may be influenced by his wealth and power and relate to that rather than to the person himself. ... They may be contented; they may not expect more. But what happens if his fortune declined, then that basis of the relationship would weaken. Then he would begin to see the effect of not having warmth and immediately begin to suffer. However, if people have compassion, that's naturally something they can count on; even if they have economic problems and their fortune declines, they still have something to share with fellow human beings." [page 121] So compassion is more reliable than money or power -- do you agree?
The chapter ends with a meditation on compassion. You begin by asserting that you do not want to suffer and that you want to be happy. Then you think about someone close to you and assert the same about them. Then you keep thinking about people farther removed and less sympathetic.
"Our attitude towards suffering becomes very important because it can affect how we cope with suffering when it arrives. Now, our usual attitude consists of an intense aversion and intolerance of our pain and suffering. However, if we can transform our attitude towards suffering, adopt an attitude that allows us greater tolerance of it, then this can do much to help counteract feelings of mental unhappiness, dissatisfaction, and discontent." [page 140] "If your basic outlook is that suffering is negative and must be avoided at all costs and in some sense is a sign of failure, this will add a distinct psychological component of anxiety and intolerance when you encounter difficult circumstances, a feeling of being overwhelmed. On the other hand, if your basic outlook accepts that suffering is a natural part of your existence, this will undoubtedly make you more tolerant towards the adversities of life. And without a certain degree of tolerance towards your suffering, your life becomes miserable." [page 141]
"Reflection on suffering is so important because there is a way out; there is an alternative. There is a possibility of freedom from suffering. By removing the causes of suffering, it is possible to attain a state of Liberation, a state free from suffering. According to Buddhist thought, the root causes of suffering are ignorance, craving, and hatred. ... Within a Buddhist context, when one reflects on the fact that one's ordinary day-to-day existence is characterized by suffering, this serves to encourage one to engage in the practices that will eliminate the root causes of one's suffering. Otherwise, if there was no hope, or no possibility of freedom from suffering, mere reflection on suffering just becomes morbid thinking, and would be quite negative." [pages 142-143]
The Dalai Lama makes the following observations on dealing with the death of a loved one: (1) its natural to be sad, but the feeling goes away in time; (2) worrying about the situation ruins your health without benefiting the departed person; (3) better to try to carry out the wishes of the dead person (which presumably would include going on to have a good life yourself); (4) a belief in rebirth is comforting; (5) thinking about other people who have suffered similar tragedies prevents feelings of isolation and self-absorption.
Cutler observes that in the West we have the ability to minimize suffering, and to put most of the suffering that occurs out of sight. Consequently we come to think of suffering as unnatural, a sign that something has gone wrong. "Most people in modern Western society tend to go through life believing that the world is basically a nice place in which to live, that life is mostly fair, and that they are good people who deserve to have good things happen to them. These beliefs can play an important role in leading a happier and healthier life. But the inevitable arising of suffering undermines these beliefs and can make it difficult to go on living happily and effectively. In this context a relatively minor trauma can have a massive psychological impact as one loses faith in one's basic beliefs. ... As long as we view suffering as an unnatural state, an abnormal condition that we fear, avoid, and reject, we will never uproot the causes of suffering and begin to live a happier life." [pages 147-148]
9. Self-Created Suffering. "All too often we perpetuate our pain, keep it alive, by replaying our hurts over and over again in our minds, magnifying our injustices in the process." [page 150] "To a large extent, whether you suffer depends on how you respond to a given situation. ...Although you may not always be able to avoid difficult situations, you can modify the extent to which you suffer by how you choose to respond to the situation." [pages 151-152]
Cutler and the Dalai Lama discuss the Dalai Lama's regret over not being present at his brother's death. Cutler, in witnessing the way the Dalai Lama discusses the subject is struck "by the very real possibility of a human being's fully facing life's tragedies and responding emotionally, even with deep regret, but without indulging in excessive guilt or self-contempt. The possibility of a human being's wholly accepting herself or himself, complete with limitations, foibles, and lapses of judgment." [pages 161-162]
Cutler describes the importance of the Buddhist doctrine of impermanence, the idea that all things are in constant change. He concludes that Westerners would do well to place more importance on this idea as well. "Life is change. And to the extent that we refuse to accept this fact and resist the natural life changes, we will continue to perpetuate our own suffering." [page 164] "If we define our self-image in terms of what we used to look like or in terms of what we used to be able to do and can't do now, it is a pretty safe bet that we won't grow happier as we grow older." [page 165] He gives a second example of this idea in terms of romantic relationships: Relationships naturally go through stages, but if we think they should stay the same, we might suffer from the idea that something has gone wrong.
10. Shifting Perspective. The Dalai Lama illustrates the importance of being able to shift perspectives by considering what are the beneficial effects of losing Tibet to the Chinese. "If things were okay, then on a lot of occasions you merely go through the motions, you pretend. But when you are passing through desperate situations, there's no time to pretend. So from that angle, this tragic experience has been very useful to me. Also, being a refugee creates a lot of new opportunities for meeting with many people. People from different religious traditions, from different walks of life, those who I might not have met if I had remained in my own country." [page 173]
"Even though when you are angry at someone you might feel that the person has no positive qualities, the reality is that nobody is 100 percent bad. ... The tendency to see someone as completely negative is due to your own perception based on your own mental projection, rather than the true nature of that individual." [page 176] Cutler tries this idea out on a difficult former boss. "It wasn't hard. I knew him to be a loving father, for instance. ... And I had to admit that my run-ins with him had ultimately benefited me -- they had been instrumental in my decision to quit working at that facility, which ultimately led to more satisfying work. While these reflections didn't immediately result in an overwhelming liking for this man, they unquestionably took the bite out of my feelings of hatred with surprisingly little effort." [page 177]
"In Buddhism in general, a lot of attention is paid to our attitudes towards our rivals or enemies. This is because hatred can be the greatest stumbling block to the development of compassion and happiness. If you can learn to develop patience and tolerance towards your enemies, then everything else becomes much easier -- your compassion towards all others begins to flow naturally. ... From this standpoint we can consider our enemy as a great teacher, and revere them for giving us this precious opportunity to practice patience. ... Just as having unexpectedly found a treasure in your own house, you should be happy and grateful towards your enemy for providing that precious opportunity." [pages 178-179] This is not totally foreign to Western thought. In the award winning science fiction novel Ender's Game, for example, one of Ender's trainers says "There is no teacher but the enemy."
Flexibility of mind is important for more than just individual psychology. "Of course, change must come from within the individual. But when you are seeking solutions to global problems, you need to be able to approach these problems from the standpoint of the individual as well as from the level of society at large. So, when you're talking about being flexible, about having a wider perspective and so on, this requires the ability to address problems from various levels: the individual level, the community level, and the global level." [page 189]
"Higher stages of growth and development depend on an underlying set of values that can guide us. ... The question is how can we consistently and steadfastly maintain this set of underlying values and yet remain flexible? The Dalai Lama has seemed to achieve this by first reducing his belief system to a few fundamental facts. ... It is the ability to reduce our value system to its most basic elements, and live from that vantage point, that allows us the greatest freedom and flexibility to deal with the vast array of problems that confront us on a daily basis." [pages 192-193]
The chapter ends with a discussion of balance. The Dalai Lama presents a view of Buddhist practices that seems to imply that they are not good in themselves, but they are good relative to where you are when you do them. "For instance, if we find ourselves becoming arrogant ... then the antidote is to think more about one's own problems and suffering, contemplating the unsatisfactory aspects of existence. And on the contrary, if you find that reflecting on the unsatisfactory nature of existence, suffering and pain and so forth, makes you feel quite overwhelmed by the whole thing, then ... it's important to be able to uplift your mind by reflecting on your achievements, the progress that you've made so far, and your other positive qualities." [page 194]
11. Finding Meaning in Pain and Suffering. Cutler begins by affirming the importance of finding meaning in suffering, and reviews the ways in which various religious traditions find such meaning: karma, God's plan, growth in response to suffering, and so forth. The Dalai Lama describes the Buddhist visualization practice of Tong-Len "in which one visualizes taking on another's pain and suffering, and in turn giving them all of your resources, good health, fortune, and so on. ... So, in doing this practice, when you undergo illness, pain, or suffering, you can use that as an opportunity by thinking, 'May my suffering be a substitute for the suffering of all other suffering beings.' ... So you use your suffering as an opportunity for the practice of taking others' suffering upon yourself." [pages 203-204] There is a similar Catholic meditation in which one imagines one's suffering lessening the suffering of Jesus on the cross. Tong-Len is described in more detail at the end of the chapter.
"When you are aware of your pain and suffering, it helps you develop your capacity for empathy, the capacity that allows you to relate to other people's feelings and suffering. This enhances your capacity for compassion towards others. So as an aid in helping us connect with others, it can be seen as having value." [page 206]
Cutler summarizes some Western research on the value of pain. "After a lifetime of working with patients suffering from pain and those suffering from lack of pain, Dr. Brand gradually came to view pain not as the universal enemy as seen in the West, but as a remarkable, elegant, and sophisticated biological system that warns us of damage to our body and thus protects us." [pages 207-208] "In developing an approach to dealing with pain, we can of course work at the lower levels of pain perception, using the tools of modern medicine such as medication and other procedures, but we can also work at the higher levels by modifying our outlook and attitude." [page 210]
"The Dalai Lama's approach points towards slow growth and maturity. He believes in the tremendous, perhaps even unlimited power of the mind -- but a mind that has been systematically trained, focused, concentrated, a mind tempered by years of experience and sound reasoning. It takes a long time to develop the behavior and habits of mind that contribute to our problems. It takes an equally long time to establish the new habits that bring happiness." [page 231]
"It's important to make a clear distinction in your mind between your ideals and the standards by which you judge your progress. ... Holding full Enlightenment as your ideal of achievement is not an extreme. But expecting to achieve it quickly, here and now, becomes an extreme. Using that as a standard instead of your ideal causes you to become discouraged and completely lose hope when you don't quickly achieve Enlightenment." [page 232]
"Some people suggest that anger, hatred, and other negative emotions are a natural part of our mind. They feel that since these are a natural part of our makeup, there is no way to really change these mental states. But that is wrong. Now, for example, all of us are born in an ignorant state. In this sense, ignorance is also quite natural. ... If we leave ourselves in a 'natural state' without making an effort to dispel it, then the opposing factors or forces of education and learning do not come naturally. ... Through proper training we can reduce our negative emotions and increase positive states of mind such as love, compassion, and forgiveness." [pages 233-234]
He says that these negative states of our mind can be thought of as parts of ourselves with which we can do battle. Buddhist doctrine gives three reasons for believing that this battle can be won: (1) negative states of mind are based on illusion, while the positive states have a solid basis in reality; (2) the positive states can act as antidotes to the negative states; and (3) the underlying nature of consciousness is pure, it is the "Buddha nature". "Negative mental states are not an intrinsic part of our minds; they are transient obstacles that obstruct the expression of our underlying natural state of joy and happiness." [page 242] These three points are actually quite similar to the key doctrines of Christian Science: that the perception of evil is fundamentally an error on the part of the perceiver, the underlying nature of reality being without evil. The goal of eliminating negative states of mind also has a history in the West, most notably among preChristian schools of philosophy like the Epicureans and the Stoics.
13. Dealing with Anger and Hatred. This chapter takes the general ideas of the previous chapter and applies them to the specific negative states of anger and hatred. The Dalai Lama recognizes that sometimes anger can provide energy that a person can use for a constructive purpose, but "that energy is also blind, so it is uncertain whether it will become constructive or destructive in the end. ... Generally speaking, anger leads to ill-feeling and hatred. And as far as hatred is concerned, it is never positive." [page 249]
One fights anger and hatred by cultivating their antidotes: patience and tolerance. The beginning of this cultivation is to raise enthusiasm around gaining patience and tolerance. "Letting it out" as a strategy for dealing with anger or hatred can be useful occasionally, but "generally speaking, hatred and anger are the type of emotions which, if you leave them unchecked or unattended, tend to aggravate and keep on increasing. If you simply get more and more used to letting them happen and just keep expressing them, this usually results in their growth, not their reduction. ... The only factor that can give you refuge or protection from the destructive effects of anger and hatred is your practice of tolerance and patience. ... If you respond to situations with anger and hatred, not only does it not protect you from the injury or harm that has already been done to you ... but on top of that you create an additional cause for your own suffering in the future. However, if you respond to an injury with patience and tolerance, then although you may face temporary discomfort and hurt, you will still avoid the potentially dangerous long-term consequences." [pages 252-256]
"True tolerance or patience has a component or element of self-discipline and restraint -- the realization that you could have acted otherwise, you could have adopted a more aggressive approach, but decided not to do so. On the other hand, being forced to adopt a certain passive response out of a feeling of helplessness or incapacitation -- that I wouldn't call genuine humility. That may be a kind of meekness, but it isn't genuine tolerance." [pages 257-258]
"I believe, however, that you can take a strong stand and even take strong countermeasures out of a feeling of compassion, or a sense of concern for the other, rather than out of anger. ... One of the reasons why there is a need to adopt a very strong countermeasure against someone is that if you let it pass ... then there is a danger of that person's habituating in a very negative way, which, in reality, will cause that individual's own downfall." [page 258]
The chapter ends with two meditations on anger.
"An end result, or a product of patience and tolerance, is forgiveness. When you are truly patient and tolerant, then forgiveness comes naturally." [page 259]
14. Dealing with Anxiety and Building Self-Esteem. "If the situation or problem is such that it can be remedied, then there is no need to worry about it. ... It is more sensible to spend the energy focusing on the solution rather than worrying about the problem. Alternatively, if there is no way out, no solution, no possibility of resolution, then there is also no point in being worried about it, because you can't do anything about it anyway." [page 268]
"I've found that sincere motivation acts as an antidote to reduce fear and anxiety. ... If you develop a pure and sincere motivation, if you are motivated by a wish to help on the basis of kindness, compassion, and respect, then you can carry on any kind of work, in any field, and function more effectively with less fear or worry, not being afraid of what others think or whether you ultimately will be successful in reaching your goal. Even if you fail to achieve your goal, you can feel good about having made the effort. But with a bad motivation, people can praise you or you can achieve goals, but you still will not be happy." [pages 270-272] Cutler observes "In the Dalai Lama's system of training the mind and achieving happiness, the closer one gets to being motivated by altruism, the more fearless one becomes in the face of even extremely anxiety-provoking circumstances." [page 273]
"When we are dealing with 'self-confidence' you need to look at what is the underlying sense of 'self'. I think one can categorize two types. One sense of self, or 'ego', is concerned only with the fulfillment of one's self-interest, one's selfish desires, with complete disregard for the well-being of others. The other type of ego or sense of self is based on a genuine concern for others, and the desire to be of service. In order to fulfill that wish to be of service, one needs a strong sense of self, and a sense of self-confidence. This kind of self-confidence is the kind that leads to positive consequences." [page 279]
"The more honest you are, the more open, the less fear you will have, because there's no anxiety about being exposed or revealed to others. So, I think that the more honest you are, the more self-confident you will be." [page 280] "For me to realize that I cannot perform miracles -- that does not lead to loss of confidence, because I never believed myself to have that capacity in the first place. I don't expect myself to be able to perform functions like the fully enlightened Buddhas -- to be able to know everything, perceive everything, or do the right thing at any and all times. So when people come to me and ask me to heal them or perform a miracle or something like that, instead of making me feel a lack of confidence, it just makes me feel quite awkward." [page 281]
Cutler is dismayed to find that the Dalai Lama has only just heard of the concept of self-hatred, and is having trouble understanding it. Cutler speculates that if the Dalai Lama's definition of loving someone is to wish for their happiness an release from suffering, even most of those suffering from self-hatred do indeed love themselves as well. "This idea suggests a powerful antidote to self-hatred: we can directly counteract thoughts of self-contempt by reminding ourselves that no matter how much we may dislike some of our characteristics, underneath it all we wish ourselves to be happy, and that is a profound kind of love." [pages 286-287] "For those engaged in Buddhist practice, the antidote to self-hatred would be to reflect upon the fact that all beings, including oneself, have Buddha Nature -- the seed or potential for perfection, full Enlightenment -- no matter how weak or poor or deprived one's present situation may be." [page 287] "So long as we know and maintain an awareness that we have this marvelous gift of human intelligence and capacity to develop determination and use it in positive ways, in some sense we have this underlying mental health. An underlying strength, that comes from realizing we have this great human potential. This realization can act as a sort of built-in mechanism that allows us to deal with any difficulty, no matter what situation we are facing, without losing hope or sinking into self-hatred." [page 289]
After admitting that his own daily devotions take as much as four hours, the Dalai Lama recommends that anyone should be able to find a half hour a day for meditation, or perhaps a half hour in the morning and another half hour at night. But "you should not confine your understanding of spiritual practice to terms of some physical activities or verbal activities, like doing recitations of prayers and chanting. ... If you understand spiritual practice in its true sense, then you can use all twenty-four hours of your day for your practice. True spirituality is a mental attitude that you can practice at any time." [page 299] Compare St. Paul's admonition: "Pray without ceasing."
Religious beliefs form one level of spirituality. "But then there's another level of spirituality. That is what I call basic spirituality -- basic human qualitities of goodness, kindness, compassion, caring. Whether we are believers or non believers, this kind of spirituality is essential. I personally consider this second level of spirituality to be more important than the first." [page 307]
"[External religious] practices or activities are secondary to your conducting a truly spiritual way of life, based on the basic spiritual values, because it is possible that all of these external religious activities can still go along with a person's harboring a very negative state of mind. But true spirituality should have the result of making a person calmer, happier, more peaceful. ... Whether one leads a spiritual life depends on whether one has been successful in bringing about that disciplined, tamed state of mind and translating that state of mind into one's daily actions." [pages 308-309]
For example, when he discusses the acceptance of suffering [pages 155-157], he points out that believing in the Buddhist doctrine of Karma makes it easier to accept suffering, but that a Christian belief in God's plan also makes it easier to accept suffering. A nonbeliever can accept suffering more easily by analyzing the situation objectively and seeing how he himself has contributed to the unfolding of events. The acceptance of suffering is the important point to the Dalai Lama -- how your particular belief system justifies and supports this acceptance is secondary.
"The idea that everyone should be a Buddhist is quite extreme. And that kind of extreme thinking just causes problems. ... Now, when confronted with another religion, initially a positive feeling, a comfortable feeling will arise. We'll feel if that person finds a different tradition more suitable, more effective, then that's good!" [page 197]
Contrast this with traditional Christianity, where the important question is whether or not you believe that Jesus died for your sins. It is hard to imagine a Christian leader saying that if someone has found a way to live without Christ, that's good. Contrast the Dalai Lama's view also with Western philosophy, which through its history has placed great emphasis on deciding which beliefs are true. The Dalai Lama's attitude is not unknown in the West, but it tends to be underground. For example, the occultist Peter Carroll has said, "Belief is a tool for achieving effects; it is not an end in itself."
The kind of intimacy and affection that the Dalai Lama presents in this book would do little to support a Westerner's self-image. Being loved because you are a sentient being, by a partner who loves all other sentient beings in more-or-less the same way, would be deeply unsatisfying to most Westerners. It is a secure affection, and it causes no distress, but does little or nothing to support your individuality.
I believe that a proper Buddhist answer to this objection would be that Westerners put altogether too much effort into maintaining their self-images, and that they would be better off if they stopped doing so. There are many Buddhist exercises that train a person to lessen his or her attachment to ego. This is perhaps the part of Buddhist training that is most arduous for a Westerner. Cutler does us a disservice by not saying more about it, and by not calling attention to the ways that this diminished sense of individuality is implied by the rest of the Dalai Lama's teachings.
Try this experiment: When you read one of the passages where the Dalai Lama seems to be putting forward simple common sense, imagine hearing the exact same words from the Pope or Dr. Laura or a TV evangelist. When I tried this, I could feel my cynicism rising. The same words that sounded like elegant wisdom from the Dalai Lama seemed to be sanctimonious, simplistic crap when they came from a more familiar source.
In my opinion, we in the West have poisoned the well of common sense by so often using it as the basis of a rationalization or an attempt to manipulate others. When a Western religious figure tells us that spiritual values are more important than money, for example, we harden ourselves against pitch for money that seems certain to follow. When a Western leader talks about compassion, we steel ourselves against being manipulated into eliminating the right to abortion out of compassion for the unborn, or releasing dangerous criminals from prison, or using public money to support dysfunctional behaviors. We wonder if we're being conned into not defending our positions, when our opponents will not be conned into stopping their attacks.
I believe that many of us in the West are looking for an outsider who can remind us of what we all have known for a long time. We can't hear the message from each other because we have so much distrust, so we hope that someone will come in from the outside and set us straight. In addition to his obvious virtues, the Dalai Lama benefits from fitting so well into our collective fantasy.