Truly, a Book of Incredible Joy

It’s not often that you pick up a book that immediately rockets to the top of your all-time favorite list. In fact, by definition, this will probably only happen a few times in a long life of earnest reading. The Book of Joy is that good!

For a start, who could resist the front-cover image of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, peering with characteristic humor into each other’s faces? The image promised a celebration of life, with the confluence of two ancient religions and the tangible interlocked humanity of these two immense spiritual leaders.

This would always be a personal journey for me.

I grew up under apartheid in the old South Africa. I was confirmed into the Anglican faith by Bishop Desmond. This ritual has the holy leader placing his hands on the head of the young Christian who kneels at his feet. Tutu is a diminutive physical figure, yet I remember clearly the immense power that seemed to flow through his mighty hands. Later, I fought against the evil of apartheid, a tiny soldier in the just army that liberated our people and restored democracy. He was our peaceful, loving leader, whose strident, relentless voice and bold actions helped clear the way for the return of our great general, Nelson Mandela.

At the same time, I have a deep reverence for the gentle, yet mighty Dalai Lama, largely unrecognized by his birth name Tenzin Gyatsu, who has inspired his persecuted nation for over 50 years while exiled in neighboring India. His deep human relevance transcends the political and human rights tragedy he has survived in his native Tibet. His universal wisdom, tangibly contrasted by his powerful humility, serves as a beacon for all of us, regardless of faith or background.

My only apprehension … how could anyone, even the extraordinarily talented Douglas Abrams, coordinate a literary work that did justice to this once-in-a-lifetime event? With masterful literary leadership, Abrams all but disappears in understated humility as he allows the lights of the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu to brightly shine.

The Book of Joy is a mission of love to bring the best thinking of two of the current world’s spiritual greats into our hearts, heads and hands. The narrative is cleverly woven around the week-long meeting between the two in the Dalai Lama’s home in Dharamsala, India. We, the spectator, can engage both in the meeting of two close friends, and in their profound spiritual discussion. This makes it both an easy read, and a deep personal journey. I will keep this book close, to revisit the numerous lessons that are too weighty to digest in a single sitting.

The subject of the dialogue is Joy. Not brief, transient happiness, but profound lasting Joy. Both men have endured incredible suffering, both personally, and through the oppression of their people. By any standards, Joy that breaks through these extreme hardships must be the real thing.

Abrams neatly steers the conversation into a logical intellectual framework. We first explore the nature of Joy, before delving more deeply into specific obstacles to Joy, and then exploring the 8 Pillars of Joy. After its poignant conclusion, we find practical exercises based on the habits of the two clerics to help us embrace Joy in our own lives.

The weighty dialogue is always warm, funny, and intensely personal. We get to know these two global luminaries as real human beings. Meeting the regular people behind the heroes gives us all hope. It introduces the possibility that we too can achieve spiritual greatness in our lives. We too can achieve true Joy.

In keeping with the keen intellect of the Dalai Lama, and the journalistic curiosity of Abrams, the transcendent narrative is punctuated with modern scientific opinion. This close approximation celebrates the narrowing gap between science and spirituality.

With customary humility, the authors draw on other examples of Joyful leadership, often acquired and demonstrated through extreme hardship. Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr, and Mahatma Gandhi are three of the more familiar illustrations.

Anthony Ray Hinton spent 30 years on death row for a crime he didn’t commit. When asked if he was angry towards those who condemned him to this painful isolation, he said “No, if I’m angry and unforgiving, they will (also) have taken the rest of my life from me.”

Lopon-La, a Tibetan monk and long-time friend of the Dalai Lama spent 18 years in Chinese torture camps. He eventually fled to India where he shared with the Dalai Lama that there were several occasions when he found himself in grave danger. When pressed on the specific nature of the peril, the holy man joyfully described how he had narrowly escaped losing compassion for his Chinese captors—a shameful outcome, happily avoided!

By deflecting admiration towards these other heroes, Bishop Desmond and the Dalai Lama palpably walk the humility talk. Their selflessness shines through in all their conversations, and is perhaps my most enduring teaching. The Dalai Lama frequently insists that he is only 1 of the earth’s 7 billion occupants. This modest reference is starkly contrasted by the intense belief with which he warns us against the dangers of either elevating ourselves above others, or subjugating ourselves below others. He frequently asserts that this (often defensive) separation is an inescapable source of deep loneliness and sadness. This is the very antithesis of Joy. In contrast, the path to lasting Joy is in embracing our common humanity.

You should read The Book of Joy. I will be recommending it to all my clients, who regardless of their stated need, come to see me in search of Joy.

Finally, if you’re able to read the story of the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday celebration without shedding a tear, then you’ve never been a child or a parent—and I don’t know a single person who fits this description. This is a book of universal relevance, littered with powerful insights and enduring treasures for each and every one of us.

I am deeply grateful to the dear client who gifted me with this life-changing book. I am deeply grateful that these two immense spiritual leaders agreed to collaboratively share their messages of hope and Joy.

Please read it!

And, have fun,

Roddy

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