A handbook for living

H H Dalai Lama & Howard C. Cutler M.D.

“An intriguing encounter between East and West” – Mail on Sunday

Coronet Books

In this unique and important book, one of the world’s great spiritual leaders offers his practical wisdom and advice on how we can overcome everyday human problems and achieve lasting happiness.

The Art of Happiness is a highly accessible guide for a western audience, combining the Dalai Lama’s eastern spiritual tradition with Dr Howard C. Cutler’s western perspective. Covering all key areas of human experience, they apply the principles of Tibetan Buddhism to everyday problems and reveal how one can find balance and complete mental and spiritual freedom.
For the many who wish to understand more about the Dalai Lama’s approach to living, there has never been a book which brings his beliefs so vividly into the real world.

About the authors

His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people. He has resided in exile in Dharamsala, India, since 1959 when Chinese forces invaded Tibet. His tireless efforts on behalf of world peace and human rights have brought him international recognition, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.

Dr Howard C. Cutler runs a psychiatric practice in Phoenix, Arizona. He first met the Dalai Lama in 1982 while visiting India on a research grant to study Tibetan Medicine.


Author’s Note

1. The Purpose of Life
Chapter 1: The Right to Happiness
Chapter 2: The Sources of Happiness
Chapter 3: Training the Mind for Happiness
Chapter 4: Reclaiming Our Innate State of Happiness

2. Human Warmth and Compassion
Chapter 5: A New Model for Intimacy
Chapter 6: Deepening Our Connection to Others
Chapter 7: The Value and Benefits of Compassion

3. Transforming Suffering
Chapter 8: Facing Suffering
Chapter 9: Self-Created Suffering
Chapter 10: Shifting Perspective
Chapter 11: Finding Meaning in Pain and Suffering

4. Overcoming Obstacles
Chapter 12: Bringing about Change
Chapter 13: Dealing with Anger and Hatred
Chapter 14: Dealing with Anxiety and Building Self-Esteem

5. Closing Reflections on Living a Spiritual Life
Chapter 15: Basic Spiritual Values


Author’s Note

In this book, extensive conversations with the Dalai Lama have been recounted. The private meetings with the Dalai Lama in Arizona and India which form the basis of this work took place with the express purpose of collaborating on a project that would present his views on leading a happier life, augmented by my own observations and commentary from the perspective of a Western psychiatrist. The Dalai Lama generously allowed me to select whatever format for the book I felt would most effectively convey his ideas.

I felt that the narrative format found in these pages would be most readable and at the same time impart a sense of how the Dalai Lama incorporates his ideas into his own daily life. With the Dalai Lama’s approval, I have organized this book according to the subject matter, and thus at times, I have chosen to combine and integrate material that may have been taken from several different conversations. Also, with the Dalai Lama’s permission, where I deemed necessary, for clarity or comprehensiveness, I have woven in material from some of his public talks in Arizona. The Dalai Lama’s interpreter, Dr. Thupten Jinpa, kindly reviewed the final manuscript to assure that there were no inadvertent distortions of the Dalai Lama’s ideas as a result of the editorial process.

A number of case histories and personal anecdotes have been presented to illustrate the ideas under discussion.

In order to maintain confidentiality and protect personal privacy, in every instance I have changed names and altered details and other distinguishing characteristics so as to prevent identification of particular individuals. Howard C. Cutler MD


I found the Dalai Lama alone in an empty basketball locker room moments before he was to speak before a crowd of six thousand at Arizona State University. He was calmly sipping a cup of tea, in perfect repose. ‘Your Holiness, if you’re ready…’

He briskly rose, and without hesitation he left the room, emerging into the thick backstage throng of local reporters, photographers, security personnel, and students — the seekers, the curious, and the skeptical. He walked through the crowd smiling broadly and greeting people as he passed by.

Finally passing through a curtain, he walked on stage, bowed, folded his hands, and smiled. He was greeted with thunderous applause. At his request, the house lights were not dimmed so he could clearly see his audience, and for several moments he simply stood there, quietly surveying the audience with an unmistakable expression of warmth and goodwill. For those who had never seen the Dalai Lama before, his maroon and saffron monk’s robes may have created a somewhat exotic impression, yet his remarkable ability to establish rapport with his audience was quickly revealed as he sat down and began his talk.

‘I think that this is the first time I am meeting most of you. But to me, whether it is an old friend or a new friend, there’s not much difference anyway, because I always believe we are the same; we are all human beings. Of course, there may be differences in cultural background or way of life, there may be differences in our faith, or we may be of a different color, but we are human beings, consisting of the human body and the human mind. Our physical structure is the same, and our mind and our emotional nature are also the same. Wherever I meet people, I always have the feeling that I am encountering another human being, just like myself. I find it is much easier to communicate with others on that level.

If we emphasize specific characteristics, like I am Tibetan or I am Buddhist, then there are differences. But those things are secondary. If we can leave the differences aside, I think we can easily communicate, exchange ideas, and share experiences.’

With this, in 1993 the Dalai Lama began a week-long series of public talks in Arizona. Plans for his visit to Arizona had been first set in motion over a decade earlier. It was at that time that we first met, while I was visiting Harms, India, on a small research grant to study traditional Tibetan medicine.

Harms is a beautiful and tranquil village, perched on a hillside in the foothills of the Himalayas. For almost forty years, this has been the home of the Tibetan government-in-exile, ever since the Dalai Lama, along with one hundred thousand other Tibetans, fled Tibet after the brutal invasion by Chinese forces. During my stay in Harms, I had gotten to know several members of the Dalai Lama’s family, and it was through them that my first meeting with him was arranged.

In his 1993 public address, the Dalai Lama spoke of the importance of relating as one human being to another, and it was this very same quality that had been the most striking feature of our first conversation at his home in 1982.

He seemed to have an uncommon ability to put one completely at ease, to quickly create a simple and direct connection with a fellow human being. Our first meeting had lasted around forty-five minutes, and like so many other people, I came away from that meeting in great spirits, with the impression that I had just met a truly exceptional man.

As my contact with the Dalai Lama grew over the next several years, I gradually came to appreciate his many unique qualities. He has a penetrating intelligence, but without artifice; a kindness, but without excessive sentimentality; great humour, but without frivolousness; and as many have discovered, the ability to inspire rather than awe.

Over time I became convinced that the Dalai Lama had learned how to live with a sense of fulfillment and a degree of serenity that I had never seen in other people. I was determined to identify the principles that enabled him to achieve this.

Although he is a Buddhist monk with a lifetime of Buddhist training and study, I began to wonder if one could identify a set of his beliefs or practices that could be utilized by non-Buddhists as well — practices that could be directly applied to our lives to simply help us become happier, stronger, perhaps less afraid.

Eventually, I had an opportunity to explore his views in greater depth, meeting with him daily during his stay in Arizona and following up these discussions with more extensive conversations at his home in India. As we conversed, I soon discovered that we had some hurdles to overcome as we struggled to reconcile our different perspectives: his as a Buddhist monk, and mine as a Western psychiatrist.

I began one of our first sessions, for example, by posing to him certain common human problems, illustrating them with several lengthy case histories. Having described a woman who persisted in self-destructive behaviors despite the tremendous negative impact on her life, I asked him if he had an explanation for this behavior and what advice he could offer. I was taken aback when after a long pause and reflection, he simply said, ‘I don’t know,’ and, shrugging his shoulders, laughed good-naturedly.

Noting my look of surprise and disappointment at not receiving a more concrete response, the Dalai Lama said, ‘Sometimes it’s very difficult to explain why people do the things they do… You’ll often find that there are no simple explanations. If we were to go into the details of individual lives, since a human being’s mind is so complex, it would be quite difficult to understand what is going on, what exactly is taking place.’

I thought that he was being evasive. ‘But as a psychotherapist, my task is to find out why people do the things that they do…’

Once again, he broke into the laugh that many people find so extraordinary — a laugh saturated with humor and goodwill, unaffected, unembarrassed, beginning with a deep resonance and effortlessly climbing several octaves to end in a high pitch of delight.

‘1 think that it would be extremely difficult to try and figure out how the minds of five billion people work,’ he said, still laughing. ‘It would be an impossible task! From the Buddhist viewpoint, there are many factors contributing to any given event or situation.

There can be so many factors at play, in fact, that sometimes you may never have a full explanation of what’s going on, at least not in conventional terms.’

Sensing some discomfort on my part, he observed, ‘In trying to determine the source of one’s problems, it seems that the Western approach differs in some respects from the Buddhist approach.

Underlying all Western modes of analysis is a very strong rationalistic tendency — an assumption that everything can be accounted for.

And on top of that, there are constraints created by certain premises that are taken for granted. For example, recently I met with some doctors at a university medical school. They were talking about the brain and stated that thoughts and feelings were the results of different chemical reactions and changes in the brain.

So, I raised the question: Is it possible to conceive the reverse sequence, where the thought gives rise to the sequence of chemical events in the brain? However, the part that I found most interesting was the answer that the scientist gave. He said, “We start from the premise that all thoughts are products or functions of chemical reactions in the brain.” So it is simply a kind of rigidity, a decision not to challenge their own way of thinking’.

He was silent for a moment, then went on, ‘I think that in modem Western society, there seems to be powerful cultural conditioning that is based on science.

But in some instances, the basic premises and parameters set up by Western science can limit your ability to deal with certain realities. For instance, you have the constraints of the idea that everything can be explained within the framework of a single lifetime, and you combine this with the notion that everything can and must be explained and accounted for. But when you encounter phenomena that you cannot account for, then there’s a kind of a tension created; it’s almost a feeling of agony.’

Even though I sensed there was truth in what he said, I found it difficult to accept at first. ‘Well, in Western psychology when we come across human behaviors that on the surface are difficult to explain, there are certain approaches that we can use to understand what’s going on. For example, the idea of the unconscious or subconscious part of the mind plays a prominent role.

We feel that sometimes behavior can be a result of psychological processes that we aren’t consciously aware of — for instance, one might act in a certain way so as to avoid an underlying fear. Without being aware of it, certain behaviors may be motivated by the desire to not allow those fears to surface in the conscious mind, so we don’t have to feel the discomfort associated with them.’

Reflecting for a moment, he said, ‘In Buddhism, there is the idea of dispositions and imprints left by certain types of experiences, which is somewhat similar to the idea of the unconscious in Western psychology.

For instance, a certain type of event may have occurred in an earlier part of your life which has left a very strong imprint on your mind which can remain hidden, and then later affect your behavior. So, there is this idea of something that can be unconscious — imprints that one may not be consciously aware of. Anyway, I think that Buddhism can accept many of the factors that the Western theorists can come up with, but on top of that it would add additional factors.

For example, it would add conditioning and imprints from previous lives. In Western psychology, however, I think that there may be a tendency to overemphasize the role of the unconscious in looking for the source of one’s problems.

I think that this stems from some of the basic assumptions that Western psychology starts with: for instance, they do not accept the idea of imprints being carried over from a past life. And at the same time there is an assumption that everything must be accounted for within this lifetime. So, when you can’t explain what is causing certain behaviors or problems, the tendency is to always attribute it to the unconscious.

It’s a bit like you’ve lost something and you decide that the object is in this room. And once you have decided this, then you’ve already fixed your parameters; you’ve precluded the possibility of its being outside the room or in another room. So you keep on searching and searching, but you are not finding it, yet you continue to assume that it is still hidden somewhere in the room!’

When I initially conceived of this book, I envisioned a conventional self-help format in which the Dalai Lama would present clear and simple solutions to all life’s problems. I felt that using my background in psychiatry, I could codify his views in a set of easy instructions on how to conduct one’s daily life. By the end of our series of meetings, I had given up on that idea. I found that his approach encompassed a much broader and more complex paradigm, incorporating all the nuance, richness, and complexity that life has to offer.

Gradually, however, I began to hear the single note he constantly sounded. It is one of hope.

His hope is based on the belief that while attaining genuine and lasting happiness is not easy, it nevertheless can be done. 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.

As his message unfolded, it became increasingly clear that his beliefs are not based on blind faith or religious dogma but rather on sound reasoning and direct experience.

His understanding of the human mind and behavior is based on a lifetime of study. His views are rooted in a tradition that dates back over twenty-five hundred years, yet tempered by common sense and a sophisticated understanding of modem problems.

His appreciation of contemporary issues has been forged as a result of his unique position as a world figure, which has allowed him to travel the world many times, exposing himself to many different cultures and people from all walks of life, exchanging ideas with top scientists and religious and political leaders. What ultimately emerges is a wise approach to dealing with human problems that are at least optimistic and realistic.

In this book, I have sought to present the Dalai Lama’s approach to a primarily Western audience. I have included extensive excerpts from his public teachings and our private conversations.

In keeping with my purpose of trying to emphasize the material that is most readily applicable to our daily lives, I have at times chosen to omit portions of the Dalai Lama’s discussions that concern some of the more philosophical aspects of Tibetan Buddhism. The Dalai Lama has already written a number of excellent books on various aspects of the Buddhist path. A bibliography of some of his works can be found on page 269, and those interested in a more in-depth exploration of Tibetan Buddhism will find much value in these books.

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