03 May Pico Iyer
We can’t change the world except insofar as we change the way we look at the world — and, in fact, any one of us can make that change, in any direction, at any moment. The point of life, in the view of the Dalai Lama, is happiness, and that lies within our grasp, our untapped potential, with every breath.
Not all Tibetans can be quite so sanguine and far-sighted, of course, and in terms of a resolution of Tibet’s political predicament with China, the Dalai Lama has made no visible progress in 50 years. Beijing is only coming down harder and harder on Tibet, as he frankly admits. But when I watch him around the world, I see that he’s visiting other countries and traditions in part to offer concrete, practical tips for happiness, or inner health, the way any physician might when making a house call. Think in terms of enemies, he suggests, and the only loser is yourself.
Concentrate on external wealth, he said at Town Hall, and at some point you realize it has limits — and you’re still feeling discontented. Take his word as law, he constantly implies, and you’re doing him — as well as yourself — a disservice, as you do when assuming that any physician is infallible, or can protect his patients from death in the end.
None of these are Buddhist laws as such — though in his case they arise from Buddhist teaching — any more than the law of universal gravitation is Christian, just because it happened to be formulated by Isaac Newton (who said, “God created everything by number, weight and measure”). I’ve been spending time for 18 years in a Benedictine monastery, and the monks I know there have likewise found out how to be delighted by the smallest birthday cake. Happiness is not pleasure, they know, and unhappiness, as the Buddhists say, is not the same as suffering. Suffering — in the sense of old age, sickness and death — is the law of life; unhappiness is just the position we choose — or can not choose — to bring to it.
Not long ago, I was traveling with the Dalai Lama across Japan and another journalist came into our bullet-train compartment for an interview. “Your Holiness,” he said, “you have seen so much sorrow and loss in your life. Your people have been killed and your country has been occupied. You have had to worry about the welfare of Tibet every day since you were four years old. How can you always remain so happy and smiling?”
”My profession,” said the Dalai Lama instantly, as if he hardly had to think about it. His answer could mean many things, but one of the better things it meant to me was that that kind of happiness is within the reach of almost anyone. We can work on it as we work on our backhands, our soufflés or our muscles in the gym. True happiness, in that sense, doesn’t mean trying to acquire things, so much as letting go of things (our illusions and attachments). It’s only the clouds of short-sightedness or ignorance, the teachers from the Dalai Lama’s tradition suggest, that prevent us from seeing that our essential nature, whether we’re Buddhist or not, is blue sky.