The Book of Joy takes two of the most beloved spiritual leaders in the world, the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and gives us their funny, heartwarming, and thought-provoking discussion on joy. Over the five day conversation in Dharamsala, which is home to many Tibetan refugees including the Dalai Lama, the two talk about their definition of joy, the obstacles to joy, and the 8 pillars that will help bring joy to the world. The main focus of the book is the discussion that the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu have (with asides to additional scientific literature that supports their claims), but what makes it so accessible is that this discussion really is more of a conversation between two friends. Throughout their conversation, you can clearly see the jovial nature of both men and the friendliness they share with each other, with the others in the room, and even with the readers they have never met. Another thing that makes their message so accessible is their inclusivity. It would be easy to assume that a Buddhist and a Christian would each believe that the everlasting joy is available to only those belief systems, but they recognize that joy is not beholden to a single religion or even to religion itself. Believers and non-believers of all walks of life can and should be able to experience joy in their life.
But most importantly, the book is so accessible because you see that they are living what they have preached. It’s of great significance that both men are leaders of countries that have gone through very trying times. In Tibet, it was the fight over their sovereignty from China that led to the expulsion of many Tibetans, including the Dalai Lama. In South Africa, it was the apartheid, where Desmond Tutu’s rank in the church allowed him to preach for justice without fear of arrest, though not fully without fear for his life. Neither men could be blamed if they see the world through a cynical lens given their history, but both have chosen to embrace the joyfulness in the world, hoping for joy not only among their people, but among the enemies of their people. Because they live their message, you are compelled to believe them.
Something that stuck out to me in this book is that they say that we are responsible for most of our suffering, and given that suffering is an obstacle to joy, they also conclude that we are responsible for most of our joy. And after reading the book, I believe that this is true. While I would not describe this as a self-help book, it does give you principles that you can build on and practices you can use to strengthen these principles. But there is also a necessary conviction that cannot be found by simply following these steps, and both men recognize that it is in our nature as humans to fall out of these practices and lose sight of our joy. But if we fall back on these principles and practices, we can return to a joyous state.
Another thing that has led to a lot of reflection on my part is the thought that all people are deserving of joy. It’s hard to think that way when you see some of the atrocities and disgusting actions we’ve seen in the last year. But all 7 billion people on Earth deserve joy, even if they have conflicting points of view from you or if they have wronged you in the past or if they have committed a crime. That’s a hard truth to swallow, but it is an important truth to recognize.
I would definitely recommend this book to others. It was quite a perfect book to start the new year, where it is natural to find new beginnings and start living in the principles that the Dalai Lama and the Archbishop have preached. There will be parts where you disagree with them. There was a section on how we can combat sadness and depression through mental immunity that I feel flies in the face of healthy treatments for depression. But even if you find it difficult to agree with every word, there is a truth to the overall message, which is that we can control whether we have joy or not and that this joy should be shared with all people on Earth.