Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Just Be Happy!

The Dalai Lama

By Lisa Maliga

We all want to be happy. If we can just be happy, then all our problems will disappear. Despite the tragedies that sometimes overwhelm us, what we see on TV, online, or read in a newspaper, against difficult odds, we still persevere in our quest for that elusive and seemingly fleeting state of happiness.

I received an e-mail with the subject heading proclaiming: "I'm not happy." My initial thought was that it was the sender's problem, and not mine. After perusing the missive, which was sent to several others, I came to the conclusion that the person chose to be unhappy about a temporary situation. It certainly wasn't as serious as the death of a loved one, but for some reason I was reminded of a passage I had read in a book by the Dalai Lama entitled 'The Art of Happiness.' The Dalai Lama recalls: "…I have lost my most respected tutor, my mother, and also one of my brothers. When they passed away, of course, I felt very, very sad. Then I constantly kept thinking that it's no use to worry too much, and if I really loved these people, then I must fulfill their wishes with a calm mind. So I try my best to do that. So I think if you've lost someone who is very dear to you, that's the proper way to approach it. You see, the best way to keep a memory of that person, the best remembrance, is to see if you can carry on the wishes of that person."

No matter how much death and misfortune we've encountered, we all wish to be free from suffering. To achieve happiness, we can go about it in a couple of different ways. We can constantly pursue every material possession, or we can just appreciate what we have. The Dalai Lama writes: "So, the first step to seeking happiness is learning. We first have to learn how negative emotions and behaviors are harmful to us and how positive emotions are helpful. And we must realize how these negative emotions are not only very bad and harmful to one personally but harmful to society and the future of the whole world as well. That kind of realization enhances our determination to face and overcome them. Once we realize that, we become determined to cherish, develop, and increase those positive emotions no matter how difficult that is…now the secret to my own happiness, my own good future, is within my own hands."

The above referenced book was first published in 1998. A few years after having read it, I attended a public talk by the Dalai Lama. Being located near good old Hollywood, California, the event was emceed by the actress, Sharon Stone, who had to do some improvisation whilst the audience awaited the delayed arrival of the Dalai Lama, who was stuck in traffic. She even read the words 'peace' and 'compassion' from the dictionary she had brought along with her, and it struck me as a bit surreal. Almost as strange as the fact that the event was held inside the museum's auditorium at the Forest Lawn cemetery – the final resting place of such household names as: George Burns and Gracie Allen, Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable and Walt Disney. While I had read many of the Dalai Lama's books, seen movies about him, and watched interviews, seeing him walking towards the small stage just a few feet from where I sat was awe inspiring. There was the maroon and gold robed Tibetan Buddhist monk, looking as friendly and wise as ever. I felt very happy, because the happiest man from Tibet was in the room!

After giving a short speech about his favorite subjects, peace and compassion, he spent more time answering questions that people had written down on cards beforehand. The first questioner wanted to know if violence was ever necessary? The Dalai Lama simply answered, "No!" But that answer wasn't enough so he elaborated a bit.

However, the next questioner was with a group of teens from a detention camp. Most of them were from gang-ridden areas of South Central Los Angeles. A teenager stood amidst her peers and read aloud her question. I don't recall it verbatim, but two words stood out: cruel world. She then wanted to know what to do when someone got in her face. The Dalai Lama replied that Buddha himself didn't have it easy. And he, having to leave Tibet, didn't have a simple life. He told of how the Tibetan people were viewed by the occupying Chinese as inferior. He mentioned a meeting with a black man in South Africa and strongly emphasized that we are all the same. His Holiness looked at the cluster of camp kids and wished he could spend more time with them. The Dalai Lama called for the teen that had asked the question and sprung up from his chair and hurried over to her. An attending monk escorted the African-American girl over, and the Dalai Lama hugged the embarrassed and giggling girl. It was the most spontaneous show of genuine compassion that I had ever witnessed. 

Sometimes I still act impulsively and angrily, temporarily forgetting what I had seen. But after a while, I calm down and recall that wonderful scenario set inside a cemetery on a midsummer day. A man, revered by his countrymen as a God-King, had been so moved by a young person's anguish that he only thought to offer comfort. I think of how that teen was hugged and helped, and so were all the others gathered there.

If something can be put right
Why be unhappy?
If a thing cannot be put right,
What good is being unhappy?