The Dalai Lama and retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who have been friends for more than two decades, recently collaborated on The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World. It’s a book they wrote with the help of Santa Cruz native Doug Abrams.
Abrams grew up in a family of book publishers. Once an editor at Harper Collins, he now owns his own book and media agency called Idea Architects. Abrams has authored two novels and spent more than ten years working with Archbishop Desmond Tutu on his books for children and adults.
To create The Book of Joy, Abrams organized a week long meeting between Tutu and the Dalai Lama where they tried to answer the question, how do we find joy in the face of life’s suffering? He says the idea for the book came while at a birthday party for Archbishop Tutu’s wife.
Doug Abrams (DA): I was there with another friend and client who was the Chairman of the Dalai Lama Foundation. And he asked, "what do you think about these two guys writing a book together?" And I said, "Wow. What would it be about?" We both thought for a second, and we looked at each other and we said, "joy". Because these are two of the most extraordinarily joyful people on the planet. And so I turned over to Archbishop Tutu, and I said, "Hey, Arch," as he's often called, "you want to write a book with the Dalai Lama?" and he said, "I'd do anything with that man." Because they love each other and they're just fantastic friends.
Rick Kleffel (RK): This book is a deep dive into how we can achieve joy, as these men have, in a life and world filled with suffering. What's the single most important component of their vision of joy?
DA: Actually, compassion was such a theme in the dialogues that I almost thought we were going to have to call it “The Book of Compassion”. Their description of compassion being important to joy was fascinating. I also think it's a development in our culture right now, and in our you know, human consciousness is that development of extending the fundamental empathy and compassion that we have expanding that into others beyond our immediate circle of family and friends. They talked about that as absolutely essential. The Dalai Lama even said that if you do a compassion meditation in the morning that it brings joy for 24 hours. And I said, "really? Before coffee?" And he said, "Yes, before coffee." So I do think it's so fundamental to both of these men's practices and orientations, and I fundamentally think it's a major part of why they are such wellsprings of joy.
RK: Where does their understanding of joy diverge?
DA: I think there were some interesting and subtle differences. Like For example, the Dalai Lama was a big exponent of what he called mental immunity, the ability to prevent ourselves from catching the cold if you will of negative emotions like fear, anger and sadness. And Archbishop Tutu, while I think he also agreed that through these practices we can minimize those experiences in our lives, what we call the joy practices or the eight pillars that we present in the book, the eight pillars of joy, he was also very understanding of the frailties and vulnerabilities and weaknesses of our humanity. And really was quite a strong advocate for not beating up on ourselves when we fall into the patterns and emotions that we grapple with on a daily basis.