Reviewed by Don Clark
The warm April sun streams bright through my open office window. The sounds of children playing and balls bouncing and motorcycles revving are all music to my awaiting ears. Outside, brown squirrels and blue jays perch on my high wooden fence, like heralds of the dawn, while flowers bloom over lawns all across this fair land. Yes my friends, spring has finally sprung. So today, I find myself overflowing, beaming even with one thing and one thing alone: joy. But it’s not due to the change of season, it’s from a book.
The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World (Avery, September 2016), is His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s, gift to the world.
And by gift, I mean absolute treasure.
Co-authored by Douglas Abrams, who’s worked with the Archbishop on projects ranging back a decade, the book explores how to live a joyous and full life amid all the chaos, depravity, and sorrow encountered in our everyday lives.
First off, let me say this. For those who might be intimidated by a spiritual book from two of the planet’s highest religious practitioners, I tell you this book was written specifically with you in mind. There are no lengthy theological debates, no exegeses of complex religious texts, and above all no condescension toward any faith at all (or lack thereof). In fact, there isn’t a lick of negativity to be found anywhere within these pages.
What is found, though, are bowls and bowls of light.
Bright, happy, and beautiful, joy-filled light.
The novel is a record of the weeklong conversation held between the Dalai Lama and the Archbishop at the Dalai Lama’s residence in Dharamsala, India, April 2015. The discussion also commemorates His Holiness’s eightieth birthday. During the week, Abrams asked questions ranging from what is the true nature of joy, to how to find it in today’s world, to how can one be joyous in the midst of such world chaos as we have today, and everything else in-between. These questions were not Abrams own, but an aggregate of a world-wide questionnaire asking people what they wanted to know from these two holy men. The results, as you might imagine, are quite illuminating.
The Dalai Lama’s incredible humanity and connection to all life shows through like bright stars throughout the book, as does the Archbishop’s amazing capacity for love, compassion, and understanding of all human suffering. There are poignant moments on every page, and a few times I had to pick my jaw up from the basement because I was astounded by these men’s gift and ability to understand the whole human drama on such a succinct and full level.
For example. When the Dalai Lama is asked how he could be so joyful after being exiled from his home land of Tibet so long ago, which is still under Chinese occupation today, he answers “wherever you have friends that’s your country, and wherever you receive love, that’s your home.” Or when the Archbishop describes his own struggles with the Apartheid, or his abusive alcoholic father, or his ongoing battle with prostate cancer—he manages to approach each day filled with joy, going so far as to say these struggles bind us together. He even calls the person who struggles a “masterpiece in the making.”
There’s not one person on the planet that doesn’t need to hear that.
And that’s what makes this book so unique; it appeals to all humanity, not just a specific sect or denomination. The themes of overcoming loss, loneliness, depression, and so forth are all areas common to the human experience. The Dalai Lama and the Archbishop understand this, and they want to help. That’s what this book really is—a guide to help one find joy.
Another wonderful thing about The Book of Joy is how it makes one feel while reading it. I challenge anyone not to smile when the archbishop pokes fun at reincarnation, or when the Dalai Lama says he’s probably going to Hell according to the Christian tradition. We laugh, because they’re laughing, too. I noticed about half-way through I was smiling more, thinking of others more, and certainly laughing more than I had in a while. These two holy men’s personalities are contagious, and believe me when I tell you, you want what they have.
Abrams is the glue that brings the whole story together, weaving scientific fact into the spiritual aspects to help solidify what the men are saying. This has varying results at times, and there were a few moments when I thought it was too much. But, if you need the science behind joy to help you feel joy, it’s there for the taking.
The Book of Joy is the next great gift book of our time, destined to be up there with Oh, the Places You’ll Go at graduation, or Who Moved My Cheese? during times of great change. But, this could be given for any occasion, happy or sad, no matter. It’s the only book I have in both print form and audio form on my bookshelf, and both are equally wonderful.
I guess I need all the joy I can get.
How about you?