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Dalai Lama, Religious Leaders Discuss Meaning of Happiness

By Christina White Posted: 10/18/2010
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Despite living as an exile, happiness radiates from University Presidential Distinguished Professor His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama, especially from his laughter. The Buddhist religious leader joined in conversation with religious minds from the traditions of Christianity, Islam and Judaism to discuss the meaning of happiness and the means by which to achieve it in a series of programs during the Dalai Lama’s three-day visit to the University.

“If we could only learn one thing from you [the Dalai Lama], which is how to laugh the way you do, I think we’d increase the happiness in the world,” Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth Jonathan Sacks, a member of the discussion, said.

Participants in the Interfaith Summit on Happiness included Sacks; the Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, who is the 26th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church; and George Washington University Professor and Islamic scholar Seyyed Hossein Nasr.

The discussion was moderated by Krista Tippett, the host and producer of the public radio program “Being,” which deals with matters pertaining to faith.

The Dalai Lama said that the purpose of life is to be happy.

“I see happiness mainly in the sense of deep satisfaction,” he said.  

He added that happiness consists of both physical happiness and experiential happiness of the mind.

He expressed concern that the nature of happiness has changed throughout humanity’s time on earth, with an increasing focus on materialism.

“There is no guarantee about happiness with material,” he said.

The Dalai Lama added that the view of happiness stemming from material goods and money is “fundamentally wrong,” and that the “real source [of happiness] is from within.”

Sacks agreed with the Dalai Lama and added that consumerism makes people aware of what they lack, instead of allowing them to be grateful for what they do have, causing “the manufacture and distribution of unhappiness.”

“The consumer society is constantly tempting us to spend money we don’t have, to buy things we don’t need, for the sake of a happiness that won’t last,” he said.  

He emphasized that only spiritual happiness is true, lasting happiness and that it must be shared among the community.

“Spiritual happiness is the greatest source of renewable energy we have,” he said.

Hebrew has two words for happiness, Sacks said. “Osher” is the happiness felt on one’s own, while “simchah” is the happiness one finds with others, such as between a husband and a wife or among a community during a festival.

“Simchah only exists as the virtue of being shared,” he said.  

Schori added that cooperation among people will lead to greater happiness.

“Happiness in the right relationship means using the blessings of this world for the benefit of all,” Schori said. “None of us can be truly happy unless we all are.”

She said that true happiness in the afterlife is not solely about finding joy in death.

She added that happiness also comes from the knowledge that greater happiness is possible for everyone.

“There’s this ongoing tension between seeing happiness as communion with God that is only possible in the afterlife and the insistence that human beings are created to be happy, that happiness is possible in this life,” she said.

The word for happiness in the Quran is identified with the state of paradise, Nasr said.

“We never leave the pursuit of happiness, which in itself means that we are not really made for this world alone,” he said. “Every happiness that we seek outside of spiritual happiness comes to an end, and the ending is always sadness.”

He added that one of the core values of all major religions in the world revolves around the ongoing idea that one can not only pursue happiness but also attain it.

He said the path to attaining happiness must begin within individuals, adding that life’s main goal is self-discovery.

“Once we know who we are, we are happy,” he said. “But very few people in the world know who they are.”

Tippett then asked the Dalai Lama how he is able to maintain both his spiritual and mental happiness, especially while enduring ongoing suffering alongside the Tibetan people.

The Dalai Lama said that when he sees a problem or a tragedy, he looks holistically at the situation instead of focusing on the details of the problems.

He explained that his perspective stems from the knowledge that the possibility of happiness cannot be abandoned.

He added that happiness can come out of a tragedy despite its initially tragic beginnings.

“Of course, my life wasn’t easy. That is correct,” the Dalai Lama said. “We lost our country. It’s sad, but that brings different and new opportunities.”

The Dalai Lama posited that life is ultimately based on hope, especially a hope that the future will turn out for the better.

“Therefore, our life depends on hope, hope for better, for happiness,” he said. “Happiness does not come from the sky. Happiness must be created within us and our family.”

He added that once the body is fit, then the mind is better positioned to be fit.

He noted, however, that mental happiness is significantly more important than the physical component of happiness.

“Sufficient food and sleep — all these lead to satisfaction, which is happiness,” the Dalai Lama said.

After fasting, one may feel hungry but the hardship can be overcome by mental fortitude, he said.

“Mental satisfaction can subdue physical difficulties,” he added. “Mental pain cannot be subdued by physical comfort.”

Sacks said that it is not always necessary to pursue happiness in order to achieve it.

“Sometimes the deepest happiness comes when you’re least expecting it,” he said.

He added that the Sabbath is a day for allowing blessings to catch up.

“Sometimes we don’t need to pursue happiness,” he said. “We just need to pause and let it catch up with us.”

— Contact Christina White.

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