The 8 Pillars of Joy According to the Dalai-Lama

“Give the world your love, your availability, your aura, but give also your joy. This too is an immense gift”

A moment of friendship was organized for the 80th birthday of the Dalai-Lama: a week with his fellow Peace Nobel Price Desmond Tutu, in the aim to philosophize about joy and how to be happy on a planet plagued by suffering.

Stemming from this magical encounter, The Book of Joy, covering dialogues between these two spiritual masters and offering little gems of wisdom. The major learning that stayed with me and has become a recurrent theme in my meditation is the teaching of the 8 pillars of Joy. 4 are qualities of the spirit, and 4 are qualities of the heart.

1) Perspective

Observing a same event from two steps back and from different angles makes us less anxious and happier. The Dalai Lama recommends to study each situation from at least 6 different points of view to have a more complete and fair vision of reality, and to orient more appropriate actions. A same event can appear as a tragedy or as an opportunity, and we are invited to find the benediction in the malediction, to find the learning in the failure, to find the joy in the pain.

Concretely, one way to change perspective is to shift from “I” to “us”. Egocentrism actually appears as the best indicator of a short life expectancy — people who use most “I”, “me” and “my” in their day risk to die younger of heart attack and to suffer more from depression. This effect is even stronger than smoking, cholesterol or hypertension!

Vishen Lakhiani from MindValley presented a fun metaphore in which he remembers how his parents told him to eat his vegetables, as a kid. He didn’t like the taste, but his parents knew better what was good for him. He suggests to switch perspective when life serves us events we don’t like: what if there is a higher consciousness that tells us to “eat our vegetables”? Losing someone we love is one of the hardest lessons in life, but also one of the highest teachings, intense reminder to enjoy every moment of life, and that few things matter more than connection. It teaches compassion to others who are going through the same hardship. It bears its share of benediction if we can welcome it.

2) Humility

Embracing our unity, our similarity to one another heals our solitude and anxiety. We were conceived for interdependency and mutual aid. The term humility, as humanity and humour, comes from humus. We all come from the same dirt and will go back to it.

Real arrogance comes from insecurity: the need to feel superior to others comes from a panic to be inferior.

Humility can be practiced through awareness, through exercise and through humour. The ability to laugh of our own limitations is an essential part of our propensity to joy.

A Tibetan prayer goes “Each time I see someone, may I not feel superior. In the depth of my heart, may I appreciate the individual in from of me”.

3) Humour

An unexpected statement from Douglas Abrams who coordinated the writing of the Book of Joy is

“After working with a number of spiritual leaders, I am tempted to say that a sense of humour is a universal indicator of spiritual elevation.

A sincere laugh is the most direct path connecting two people. Humour translates the trust that we love each other and do not aim to belittle or offense one another.

When we are capable to laugh of the absurdity of our own prejudice and hate, we are able to communicate with sincerity and compassion. It is the best way to fight contempt, cruelty and incertitude.

Like everything else, humour is a quality that requires cultivating, and we should start with self-derision and recognizing that the stupid things we go through happen to everyone.

4) Acceptation

My favorite quote is this one:

“Accept what you can’t change and change what you can’t accept”

Accepting what happens to us is a sign of elevation in spiritual life, it is about going with the flow of life instead of being in opposition with the reality. It allows to see more clearly and react to life in more appropriate ways. In combination with perspective, acceptation is also powerful to see the goodness in everything that happens.

“The snow is falling, every flake in its right place”

Acceptation is practiced in the ability to detach ourselves and our satisfaction of life from the realization of an objective. We need a goal to be inspired and grow, but we need no impatience and thirst of success in the pursuit of this goal.

When we accept what happens to us, we are more curious, open and trustful of the future.

5) Forgiveness

We all have the potential to feel sorrow and compassion for those who disfigure their humanity. No one is unable to forgive, and no one is unforgivable. After all the hardship that Chinese officials caused the Dalai-Lama and his people, the leader always aims to keep his compassion and solicitude for the Chinese representatives. He continuously practiced tonglen, imagining to take anger or fear from others, and to give them love and forgiveness.

Importantly, forgiveness doesn’t mean acceptance of bad actions nor acceptance of a certain person in our life. It is crucial to condemn and stop the bad action, and to protect ourselves from certain peoples’ destructiveness, while avoiding to nourish hate for the person who committed it. “Forgiveness is the only way to heal and release the past and free ourselves from it” according to the Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

We can also cultivate forgiveness by looking at the context that promoted a poor reaction. Nobody was born cruel or vindicative, but circumstances can feed anger, ignorance and narrowmindedness. Shifting our focus from the bad action to the history that led to it allows to look at our enemies with compassion.

Neale Donald Walsch, author of the Conversations with God, goes a step further. He says there is no need, ever, to forgive, and what we should aim for instead is to understand. To understand that every act comes from an act of love. If a 3-years-old, excited about the birthday cake, reaches forward to it and spills all the juice on the table, we don’t feel the need to forgive the child for the mess, he illustrates. We understand, instead, that the emotion was overwhelming and got the best of her concentration and self-control. In the same way, when someone puts their own interests forward, maybe they were so excited about a potential gain that their emotions also got the best of their focus or morale. It was their love of themselves, or of their close ones, that encouraged to behave in opposition to common good, such as in cases of corruption. This is a tough exercise, but even looking at the worst actions, they were committed in defense of something loved. The person who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima or Nagasaki certainly did it for the sake of their homeland, or for the greater scope of peace.

6) Gratitude

“Every morning, as you wake up, think of how lucky you are to be alive”.

Gratitude is a spiritual pleasure which consists in recognizing all that maintains us in the network of life and all that enabled us to lead the existence we are leading now.

“It is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratitude that makes us happy”. David Steindl-Rast

In the Tibetan tradition, monks are taught that the best way to create a good karma with a minimum of efforts is to rejoice in our good actions and those of others. Grateful people are also perceived as more generous, empathetic and useful to the people around them.

Every moment is a present that will never present itself again, this is the promise offered by our own mortality. Gratitude signifies embracing reality. Embracing the positive side of every moment, joy and hardship that the universe throws at us. Reflecting on all that the people around us and before us brought to us is an exercise we can practice anywhere, anytime — with gratitude for our parents, teachers, inventors in the history of humanity, job providers, doctors, weavers of our clothes, bakers of our bread, builders of our homes, writers of our laws, creators of our art, pollinators of our flowers, regulators of our ecosystems… We have infinite things to be grateful for.

7) Compassion

To care for someone else’s wellbeing is source of happiness — when you feel useful for someone you love, your own distress shrinks away.

Buddha is thought to have said:

“What is it that when you have, provides you all other virtues? It is compassion.”

Compassion is what connects the sense of empathy to the acts of kindness, of generosity and other altruistic expressions. Even when we are in a moment of distress, asking “how can I help you?” is a motor that transforms our pain in satisfaction, even euphory. Compassion is contagious, and witnessing a compassionate act elevates us morally. That’s why videos of people risking their lives to save an animal go viral. They elevate and inspire all of us.

Compassion should be directed and expressed to others, but also to ourselves, with love, care for our needs, acceptance of the package that we are, with our qualities and weaknesses.

Self-compassion does not mean we don’t have to expect highly of ourselves, but these times we fail to meet such expectations, to accept that we did our best and just learn the lesson. To treat ourselves as we would treat a good friend.

8) Generosity

We shall give, and we shall receive. This is how the flow of energy naturally goes. Generosity is the natural prolongation of compassion, and neuroscience now demonstrates that generosity is one of the 4 fundamental neural circuits for long-term happiness. Generosity boosts health and longevity.

Charity is an important aspect of all religions, often with an unwritten rule to spend 10% of our income for our community. That, at the scale of the planet, could represent a whole lot of money and a really better world. And importantly, money can make happiness, when it is spent for others. Have you ever regretted a beautiful gift you bought, or a generous donation you made? There are so many non-for-profit organizations because we are naturally motivated to participate to a better world.

In Buddhist teaching there are three forms of generosity:

  • The material gift
  • Freeing from fear (which can be offered by protection, advice, consolation)
  • Spiritual gift — transmitting wisdom, moral and ethical teachings, helping people towards more autonomy and happiness

Our Western modern society often appears as promoting individualism, and the lockdown has a huge impact on mental wellbeing with the limitation of our capacity to be physically present for each other, to be useful to each other, to feel that our life has a meaning. It is a great time however to practice more awareness and actively reflect, brainstorm and act towards our own joy. Joy, like love, is one of these magic essences that grows when shared. Cultivating our own joy is a present to our soul and to everyone around us.

Thank you spiritual masters for guiding us with your wisdom.

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Nina Vinot

Nina Vinot

My Education is in Biology, Agronomy and Nutrition My Career is in Health-Promoting Bacteria My Passion is to Benefit Life, Happiness and the Planet