This book took me a few weeks to finish- its the kind of book you read, then put down and linger over passages. When you read a book with the sage conversation of two of the world’s great spirits, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, you realize how much there is to learn. There is also so much joy to be found in the world- and each other.
There were passages that left me yearning to be as free from ego as these holy masters. And I’m really touched by how they honor each other’s traditions. They recognize that not everyone is going to adapt to any religion, but that we can all adapt caring practices and look out for one another. This a book people who are religious, spiritual, agnostic or atheist can read and be inspired by.
From the first page, the duo’s friendship, shared humanness, and sense of humor shine through. They tease each other and find laughter in the most serious conversations. And yes, the conversations are serious, but brim with light.
I’ve always been drawn to these two people- but had no idea how close friends they are. The Dalai Lama is the leader of the Tibetan Buddhist people. Archbishop Tutu, an anti-apartheid activist and Anglican leader. They’ve both suffered enormously- the one through continuous exile and fleeing the violent state of China, the other fighting apartheid in South Africa, then healing that nation. But they maintain that suffering and loss are the ingredients for developing compassion. Most of us think that we grow despite our pains and troubles, but these two gentleman share that it is those very things that cause us sorrow that also make us in care for others and depth of presence. The world will always be filled with problems- that is reality. But what heals us is our concern and compassion for one another:
A compassionate concern for others’ well-being is the source of happiness.
– The Dalai Lama
And how is this true? When you suffer, you can relate to and unite with what other people are feeling. You are not alone in your troubles. Thinking of how others have survived and thrived can both help you grow, and remind you to help your brothers and sisters in the world.
The theme of interconnectedness and interdependence is a strong one in this book. To think of others and take on the perspective is a valuable tool. When we feel annoyed in traffic we can consider that everyone is in the same situation; when our children are sick, we can ponder how children around the world face calamities. But both the Dalai Lama and Demond Tutu stress the need for action as well. It is not enough to sit on the sidelines- we must do for others.
Spiritual life that lives in a vacuum is empty; while there are numerous examples in the book of practices to increase awareness and overcome obstacles to joy*, the main lesson is to use our grief and concern to do for others. Even anger has a place according to Tutu: “Righteous anger is usually not about oneself. It is about those whom one seeing being harmed and whom one wants to help.”
The practices that are described in the book, which I can best describe as increasing kindness and compassion, helped me this week with others and myself. Tutu and the Dalai Lama teach that while we can’t help the emotions that arise, we must exert effort to control how we act upon feelings.
A few sad, distressing things occurred this week, from the loss of an inspiring neighbor, to visiting my Mom, who has dementia and possibly Alzheimer’s. How do I use my grief to be a better person? That’s a clear question in trying to live a life on the path. And this crushingly beautiful book answers: feel your grief fully, know that other people suffer too, and let that grief generate a greater sense of purpose to help heal the world.
I would like to end with a quote from the Dalai Lama in the book that broke my heart open,
“The way through the sadness and grief that comes from great loss is to use it as motivation and to generate a deeper sense of purpose.”
Amen- find your joy.
I urge you to read this book- run to your library or local bookstore.
*More on this in part 2 of my review