ASSIGNMENT: What follows is part of the text of a discussion of “Happiness” by four representatives of different religious traditions. As best you can, write a one-sentence summary of what each of the four speakers defines as “happiness.”
Ms. Tippett: "Pursuing Happiness with the Dalai Lama." I'm Krista Tippett. This is On Being from APM, American Public Media.
The Interfaith Summit on Happiness, as it was called, was convened by the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University on October 17, 2010. It took place before 4,000 people in a basketball arena transformed by flowers and by the festive energy that does seem to follow His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet wherever he goes. The court was decked with black carpet and white chairs. Monks sat on cushions alongside an incandescently lit stage. The Dalai Lama sat next to his translator, Geshe Thupten Jinpa, and conferred with him constantly, as you'll hear. Joining them were Professor Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr of George Washington University, the Most Reverend Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori of the Episcopal Church, and Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks of the British Commonwealth.
Ms. Tippett: So I'd like to ask each of you one question and then have us interact. And if you have questions of each other, I'd also welcome that. Your Holiness, as several people have already mentioned, you radiate happiness. You seem to embody happiness and you also have a wonderful sense of humor. And yet, you are familiar with suffering. Your life has unfolded on a canvas that is marked by gravity and the fate of your people and your tradition. So how does your understanding of happiness, your notion of happiness, encompass suffering and the hardness of life and speak to that?
The Dalai Lama: Of course, my life not easy. That is clear. I think perhaps — I think firstly when I see some problem, some tragedy, I always look from different angle. And sometimes a tragedy, one aspect tragedy, but that same event may also may have some positive thing. So when I look more holistically, then that event not 100 percent so negative. There are also part of positive.
Now one example, I usually telling people we lost our own country, itself sad, but that brings different and new opportunity; there's immense benefit. Sort of like that there's one thing. Second, when we face some sort of sad thing, if you look very closely and it looks unbearable, look from distance. There's not that much that's unbearable.
Then another thing, as one Buddhist master — eighth century — mentioned, when we face some problem, think or analyze the problem, situation. If the situation can overcome eventually, then no need worry. Make effort. So these things I usually do. And also, if a friend spend I think one week together, then you may notice a certain period my sadness [laugh] or with my anger some time also due to some irritation. That also as a human being is impossible. But overall, OK. [laugh]
Ms. Tippett: And I think it can be very interesting for this next hour or so if we not only honor and enjoy the echoes of similarity, but also the differences. So I wonder — and I pose this to you, Rabbi Sacks, it seems to me that the Hebrew Bible, let's say the Psalms, really wallow in sadness and suffering and anger as a way through those human experiences. So I wonder how do you respond to this idea and how might you see it differently or what might you add to that approach to sadness? And, Rabbi Sacks, I know that you have just finished sitting shiva at the death of your mother. So you've been in a period of grief and mourning, which is very much lived and embodied.
Lord Sacks: Yeah. It is true that if you read the Jewish literature and you read Jewish history, happiness is not the first word that comes to mind [laugh]. We do degrees in misery, post-graduate angst, and advanced guilt, and we do all this stuff, you know. And yet somehow or other when all of that is at an end, we get together and we celebrate. And where I love what His Holiness has just said, how he himself has lived a story that I resonate with, the story of suffering and exile, and yet he has come through it still smiling. And that to me is how I have always defined my faith as a Jew.
The definition of a Jew, Israel is at it says in Genesis 34, one who struggles, wrestles, with God and with humanity and prevails. And Jacob says something very profound to the angel. He says, "I will not let you go until you bless me." And that is how I feel about suffering. When something bad happens, I will not let go of that bad thing until I have discovered the blessing that lies within it.
When my late father died — now I'm in mourning for my late mother — that sense of grief and bereavement suddenly taught me that so many things that I thought were important, externals, etc., all of that is irrelevant. You lose a parent, you suddenly realize what a slender thing life is, how easily you can lose those you love. Then out of that comes a new simplicity and that is why sometimes all the pain and the tears lift you to a much higher and deeper joy when you say to the bad times, "I will not let you go until you bless me." Thank you. [Applause]
Ms. Tippett: To that word "blessing" and "blessed," Bishop Jefferts Schori, you talk about the many words in Christian tradition, in biblical Greek, that add up to happiness, and blessing is one of those. And yet I think — yes. So, Rabbi Sacks, you've also written about the Oy Vey theory of Jewishness [laugh]. And I think there's been a temptation in Christianity — not a temptation, a tendency, to think about happiness that will only be complete after this life, right? In the pure unmediated presence of God. Talk to me about how you work with that tendency and how you see that evolving in the imagination of Christians now.
Dr. Schori: There's this ongoing tension between seeing happiness as joining with God, as communion with God, that's only possible in the afterlife, and the insistence that human beings are created to be happy, that happiness is possible in this life. There's the particular piece of Christianity that insists that sometimes suffering is a route to happiness for the larger community. That kind of suffering may not be chosen, but it contains blessing within it. The sense that our goal is this fully restored creation at right relationship with all that is and sometimes the journey there requires us to enter into suffering and to demand, to insist, that there is blessing in the midst of that, wrestling with the angel. It must be there. You have created us to be happy, you have created us to be good, now show us. Show us the way through this. Show us the possibility for which all that is is created.
Ms. Tippett: Professor Nasr, it seems to me that a distinctive word that Islam brings to this discussion of happiness, happiness and virtue, is the notion of beauty. You've written a great deal about that, and I'd love for you to say a little bit more about the link you understand between beauty and virtue and happiness.
Dr. Nasr: First of all, in the Arabic language, the word for beauty and virtue is the same, and goodness, all three. In the Islam — Muslim mind, they're not separated from each other. In the deepest sense, goodness — in the ordinary sense, these were external actions. In a deeper sense, virtue is within us. Beauty can deal also with external forms and it can deal with beauty of the soul, beauty of the spirit, within us. But beauty in a sense is more interiorizing. Beauty is what draws us directly to the Divine, to the Divine reality. It's presumptuous to talk in front of His Holiness about Buddhist sayings, but the Buddha says that the beauty of my image saves. So the beauty of celestial beauty that is the center of the sacred art of various traditions is salvific. It's a way of salvation. And ugliness, which is the opposite of beauty, in Arabic, also means evil. The ugly is the evil. One of the signs we live in an evil world is the ugly ambiance we've created for ourselves.
And look at the remarkable predominance of beauty in nature. Take us human beings out and look at nature. Remarkable predominance of beauty, from the fish that swim under the sea in coral reefs that we're now destroying so rapidly in the Gulf of Mexico to the great mountains where snows are melting, thanks to the fact that we're driving too many cars. I think what is happening is proof precisely of the error of our worldview. When we look at nature, look how beautiful it is. And many people today in the West who are atheists are the greatest protectors of nature. It is central to Islamic spirituality and Islamic spirituality sees even morality in terms of spiritual beauty. We're created in beauty. We're drawn to beauty and our soul is drawn to beauty. So, yes, there's a very deep nexus between beauty and happiness, and happy is the person who realizes inner beauty. [Applause]