The Barnes & Noble Review
In recent months, numerous new books have attempted to draw connections between the traditions of East and West, particularly between Buddhist philosophy and spiritual practice and contemporary psychological thought. Most of these books have been written by conventionally educated Western psychologists and psychiatrists who have sought to fill in what are perceived as gaps in their practices the sense that their scientific and medical knowledge just can't explain everything by turning to some aspect of Eastern spiritual practice, whether meditation or Zen or other forms of Buddhist philosophy.
Dr. Howard Cutler, an Arizona-based psychiatrist and the author of The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living, is no exception to this trend. What makes his book unique, however, is Dr. Cutler's source for the Buddhist thought he explores: his coauthor, Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, the spiritual and temporal leader of the people of Tibet.
Through a series of in-depth conversations with the Dalai Lama, and through a number of the Dalai Lama's public addresses, Dr. Cutler explores what Tibetan Buddhism might have to offer to Western conceptions of happiness. Dr. Cutler begins with the Dalai Lama's words on the subject:
"I believe that the very purpose of our life is to seek happiness. That is clear. Whether one believes in religion or not, whether one believes in this religion or that religion, we are all seeking something better in life. So, I think, the very motion of our life is toward happiness..."
As their furtherconversationreveals, however, Western notions of happiness have become confused with pleasure and the satisfaction of desire. Only by separating happiness from less durable forms of contentment can we truly achieve the happiness that the Dalai Lama believes is the goal of our lives:
"...from my point of view, the highest happiness is when one reaches the stage of Liberation, at which there is no more suffering. That's genuine, lasting happiness. True happiness relates more to the mind and heart. Happiness that depends mainly on physical pleasure is unstable; one day it's there, the next day it may not be."
Attaining this kind of happiness, according to Buddhist thought, requires training. The Art of Happiness, through sections on intimacy and compassion, on transforming suffering, and on overcoming the obstacles to happiness, attempts to provide the reader with a thoughtful basis for the work of finding a peaceful, happy existence in the world. Through their conversations, Dr. Cutler and the Dalai Lama seek common ground in their understandings of human anger and aggression, of self-esteem, and of love. The book closes with a section on spiritual values, a call to take this pursuit of happiness to a higher and more personal level.
The Art of Happiness provides an ideal introduction to the philosophical and spiritual connections of East and West, while at the same time offering the reader already acquainted with these traditions fresh insight from the wisdom of the Dalai Lama. Dr. Cutler admits in his introduction that he had originally hoped to produce a traditional self-help-style book, but what he has created in The Art of Happiness is something more indeed it is, as the subtitle claims, truly a handbook for living.