His Holiness speaks
The Dalai Lama's words transcend spiritual, geographical and psychological borders.
BY ELLIS WIDNER
October 19, 2002
Americans can't seem to get enough of the Dalai Lama. To Amy Hertz, editor of his best-selling book, The Art of Happiness, the reason is fairly simple: "He is deeply at peace, no matter what is going on. And that's what people really need help with."
Lynn Wade, a Fayetteville attorney and frequent host of Buddhist teachers, says the Dalai Lama "is like Mother Theresa. He walks his talk and a lot of people get that. He's real."
Sidney Piburn, editor-in chief of Snow Lion Publications, says the Dalai Lama "lives his spirituality as something practical ... being a good human being. His emphasis on basic human values, cherishing others, compassion, empathy and so forth strikes a chord. "And he offers methods for cultivating these qualities and overcoming destructive emotions."
The Tibetan Buddhist leader has an undeniable charisma, says Henry Tsai, professor of history and director of Asian studies at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. "He is a man of wisdom and can present many aspects of life. His life is peace and loving other people," Tsai says. "This is very attractive and very refreshing for Americans."
That appeal crosses religious lines. The numbers of interested Christians, Jews and adherents of other religions who appreciate the Dalai Lama's wisdom total far more than the small number of Tibetan Buddhists in the West. "Americans are hungry for spiritual experience," Tsai says. "A majority of Americans go to Christian churches, but there's still a hunger among a segment of that group. It's not enough."
One testament to the Dalai Lama's appeal has been the enormous success of The Art of Happiness, a book written with Arizona psychiatrist Howard C. Cutler. That book spent several months on the best seller lists and has sold more than 1.1 million copies. Hertz, executive editor at Riverhead Books, says the book's success came as a surprise to her. "I wasn't thinking blockbuster. I didn't think it would sell a lot of copies," she says. "[But] I love what the Dalai Lama stands for. It's important for the world to hear a message of compassion."
Hertz says The Art of Happiness continues to ship several thousand copies a week, and four years after its release, it has yet to be issued in paperback. She also edited and published the Dalai Lama's Ethics for the New Millennium, which has sold more than 300,000 copies.
Before The Art of Happiness, most of the Dalai Lama's books were transcriptions of public teachings that sold modestly - around 10,000 to 25,000 copies, publishing sources say. His Holiness usually produces the material for several books a year, ranging from collections of quotations to specific teachings directed at Buddhist practitioners to titles aimed at a general reader. His books are published by several publishers, including Snow Lion, Wisdom, Little/Brown, Riverhead and others.
Piburn, a founder of Snow Lion, says sales have increased with the Dalai Lama's popularity. "His popularity increased tremendously when he won the Nobel Peace Prize [in 1989]." After the Nobel was awarded, Piburn edited Snow Lion's best seller - The Dalai Lama: A Policy of Kindness, an anthology of writings by, and about, His Holiness.
"His trips to America and Hollywood's movies - Seven Years in Tibet and Kundun- also have helped. This caused larger publishers to jump in with their immense marketing clout. We think this is very good because it helps to get His Holiness' message to a larger audience."
Piburn says the success of Snow Lion's Dalai Lama titles (such as Kindness, Clarity and Insight) allows the company, which focuses on Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan culture, to publish "English translations of important Tibetan texts that we couldn't afford to publish otherwise."
Tsai says the Dalai Lama's popularity also has gotten a boost from celebrities. "Some are searching for the real meaning of life, and they know the silver screen is artificial," Tsai says. "The Dalai Lama's teachings are very meaningful, and the stars' attraction to him spreads his popularity." Among the Dalai Lamas celebrity admirers are Harrison Ford, Goldie Hawn and Richard Gere.
Robert Neralich, humanities and Asian studies teacher at Fayetteville High School, has several of the Dalai Lama's books on his students' Asian studies reading list. "I think he presents a view that brings balance to our rampant materialism. Money is our religion; our large buildings are dedicated to commerce. That balance he represents is such a relief for a lot of people," Neralich says.
Tsai says wealth doesn't necessarily bring happiness. "Money can also bring people worries, stress and unhappiness," he says. "The achievement became empty and they started looking for spiritual solace." Besides that, Neralich says, the meditation techniques the Dalai Lama teaches work. "If you do the meditations, you will get results. And you don't have to be a Buddhist to benefit, as the Dalai Lama points out. He discourages conversion. These meditation techniques can make a person a better Christian, a better Jew, a better person, period."
CONTENTMENT 101 Hertz says there's another reason for the success of The Art of Happiness. She says it was the first book "to take the reader by the hand in understanding the Dalai Lama. "He says amazing things, but we don't know how to implement them to make a difference in our lives. Howard [Cutler] was the bridge to that understanding." In the book, Cutler kept asking questions, pushing for explanations and elaborations, and His Holiness responded. Cutler added scientific studies and his own professional experience, and what Cutler regards as a revolutionary psychology emerged. It was psychology that fit - and appealed to - the Western reader.
Through this intersection of Buddhism and psychology, the reader is shown ways to conquer a bad mood, day-to-day depression, anxiety, jealousy and fear. The book arrived on Hertz' desk as "1,000 pages of notes," she says. Its original title was The Handbook for Living. "Howard knew he needed help. But it was all there. I outlined the book and saw, in the middle of a paragraph, the words 'the art of happiness.' I knew that had to be the title."
COMPASSION PERSONIFIED Another factor that adds to the Dalai Lama's appeal is his status as the world's best-known refugee. The Dalai Lama fled his homeland in 1959 when communist China took full control of the country following a Tibetan uprising. Since China's occupation, an estimated 1.6 million Tibetans have died, and more than 6,000 monasteries have been destroyed. The Dalai Lama has not been allowed to return. So instead, he has traveled the world seeking support for Tibet, focusing on what he and human rights watchers say is an all-out assault on Tibet's language, culture and religion. He constantly advocates a non violent path as a solution for all global disagreements, an approach that led to his being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Wade, the Fayetteville attorney, saw the Dalai Lama in San Jose, Calif., at his first public appearance after winning the prize. "All 5,000 people stood up as he walked in. The applause was thunderous and endless; it was a real outpouring. "Look what's happened to him and his people and his country. He's never struck back in anger. How does a person do that? That's one of the things about him I've always been moved by. He embodies compassion at the core of his being." Tsai visited Tibet in 1999. "You can feel the awe, the mysticism of that country. We visited a few families, almost every one had the Dalai Lama's portrait, although they could be jailed for that."
Many Americans seem to yearn for a place that has been untouched by human greed and power struggles. Some of The Dalai Lama's popularity could be linked to a long and deep fascination in Western culture with the romanticized idea of Tibet as a haven from the world's problems - a Shangri-La that is a refuge of peace and good will. "Tibetan Buddhism is mystical, and the words 'Dalai Lama,' which is a Mongolian term, also sound mystical," Tsai says. "Mysticism appeals in every society."
That idealized notion was one fed by Hollywood films such as Frank Capra's Lost Horizon, based on the 1933 best seller by James Hilton, and modern films such as Seven Years in Tibet and Martin Scorsese's Kundun. Unrealistic views of Tibet have been discredited by the Dalai Lama and Tibetan scholars.
Which brings Hertz to another point in understanding the appeal of a man who describes himself as "a simple Buddhist monk." "It's also about independent mindedness, developing your own critical thinking and the ability to analyze, the cherishing of each individual. That's at the heart of American democracy and the heart of what the Dalai Lama does and says ... the emphasis on individual wisdom ... it is the revolution within that changes everything else."
MORE TO COME Hertz says she is grateful to be part of the landmark that The Art of Happiness has become. "I'm not interested in publishing for a Buddhist audience," she says. "I'm interested in those who might find [these books] helpful. It's the highlight of my publishing career to have this be a commercial success and to be something I can get totally behind. It's 100 percent integrity; I believe in everything that's in that book." Hertz' career path was set at Harper San Francisco, a previous employer. There, she brought the writings of another Tibetan Buddhist teacher, Sogyal Rinpoche, to press. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying became one of the first Tibetan Buddhist bestsellers. "I was involved in political memoirs and literary fiction before Rinpoche's book," she says. "It never occurred to me that I'd be publishing in spirituality and religion."
At Riverhead, Hertz "greenlighted" a translation of St. John of the Cross' poem Dark Night of the Soul; the best seller Kitchen Table Wisdom; David A. Cooper's God Is a Verb: Kabbalah and the Practice of Mystical Judaism; No Death, No Fearby Thich Nhat Hanh and Faith by Sharon Salzberg. She is particularly excited about Comfort, by Father Brett Hoover, which is due in about 18 months. "Father Hoover's book focuses on our desire for comfort and the problems it poses," she says.
And yes, she has more Dalai Lama books coming. "There will be a second volume of The Art of Happiness," Hertz says. "It's more than a year away. The Dalai Lama is also working on a book about Buddhism and modern science, the connection between physics and metaphysics. I'm very excited about this, but it's several years away from publication." Hertz says the thing that surprises her is "that I did what I set out to accomplish, to do books that would reach a mainstream audience. I never in my wildest dreams thought it would go this big."
Books can illuminate path to Tibetan wisdom, peace
BY ELLIS WIDNER
October 19, 2002
Where to begin? The Dalai Lama has written a multitude of books, many of which are edited from his talks and retreats. They range from very basic reflections on compassion and meditation to very complex elucidations on specific meditation practices. Here's a closer look at several, with comments that reflect the books' accessibility.
The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living, with Howard C. Cutler (Riverhead, $23.95). Can Buddhist thought help non-Buddhists find happiness? This common-sense wisdom from His Holiness, coupled with psychiatrist Cutler's strong Western-oriented writing, helps people get a handle on day-to-day fears, anxiety, anger and distress.
The Dalai Lama's insights and teaching coupled with Cutler's case examples make this a remarkable, accessible guide through life's challenges, from relationships and loss to materialism and finding true happiness. Yes, there is an art to happiness. No wonder this book has sold more than a million copies. A great place to start. This book is appropriate for beginners.
Ethics for the New Millennium(Riverhead, $13.) There seems to be an abundance of negative trends in our world today. The solution? The Dalai Lama gets right to the point: ethics. "I have come to the conclusion that whether or not a person is a religious believer does not matter much. Far more important is that they be a good human being." His Holiness calls for a spiritual - not religious - revolution, one that calls for "a radical reorientation away from our habitual preoccupation with self ... it recognizes others' interests alongside our own." He speaks eloquently of the common human religion - love and kindness. This is a compelling vision for the planet suitable for all readers.
An Open Heart: Practicing Compassion in Everyday Life, edited by Nicholas Vreeland (Little/Brown, $22.95). After The Art of Happiness and Ethics for the New Millennium, this should be the next read. Vreeland is a skillful editor, and this book's practical approach bridges the realities of everyday life and spiritual living. Methods of analytical and settled meditation are presented to help people develop their minds and hearts. His Holiness again transcends religious boundaries with this wonderful compilation of lectures directed to Americans. This book is for beginners to intermediate level.
A Compassionate Life (Wisdom, $19.95). The content is similar to An Open Heart. The Dalai Lama states the need for the compassion that is genuinely altruistic and not generated by one's own desires, gradually expanding that vision to a global view. Compassion, he says, is the underpinning of all faiths. The book moves to Buddhist beliefs and practices and comments on "The Bodhisattva Way" to explain why Buddhism emphasizes the happiness of others. This title offers a simple, but not simplistic, scholarly depth. It is for those with a little more experience in Buddhist studies.
The Good Heart: A Buddhist Perspective on the Teachings of Jesus (Wisdom, $14.95). The search for common ground and mutual respect among people of different faiths, The Good Heart is the product of a Buddhist-Christian dialogue at the John Main Seminar organized by the World Community for Christian Meditation. The book is organized around the Gospels, passages such as The Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount. The Dalai Lama's very insightful comments point out similarities and differences in Christian and Buddhist thought. There also is a dialogue among the participants, who include Laurence Freeman, O.S.B.; Robert Kiely, professor of English and American Literature at Harvard University and a Benedictine oblate; and Sister Eileen O'Hara. A remarkable interreligious dialogue for everyone.
Essence of the Heart Sutra: The Dalai Lama's Heart of Wisdom Teachings, translated and edited by Geshe Thupten Jinpa (Wisdom, $22.95). Perhaps the most beloved of all the sutras, the Heart Sutra plays a key role in the Buddhism of Tibet, Korea, China and Japan, where it is chanted, studied and meditated upon. His Holiness' lucid teachings illustrate this sutra (or scriptural narrative) as an important road map to enlightenment itself, the union of wisdom and compassion. This book is for intermediate readers.
Answers: Discussions with Western Buddhists, edited by Jose Ignacio Cabezon (Snow Lion, $12.95). This is an interesting book but useful primarily for people who are Buddhist or have some knowledge of Buddhism.
Kindness, Clarity and In - sight, translated and edited by Jeffrey Hopkins and Elizabeth Napper (Snow Lion, $12.95). This cogent collection of talks focuses on familiar topics such as kindness, compassion and basic Buddhist tenets such as the Four Noble Truths. It is a mixture of accessible teachings for beginners with somewhat more advanced material interspersed.
How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life, with Jeffrey Hopkins (Pocket, $20). At its heart, this Dalai Lama book is a sort of advanced take on The Art of Happiness. It shows how day-to-day life is a spiritual practice. It starts easily enough on familiar topics of compassion and suffering and climbs to higher and more complex concepts. The rewards are here, but the going could be tough for beginners.
Books focusing on quotes and sayings of The Dalai Lama can also be useful for reflection. The Pocket Dalai Lama (Shambhala, $6.95), Ocean of Wisdom (Clear Light, $14.95) and The Path to Tranquility(Penguin, $14) are three examples of thought provoking collections.
Many of these titles are also available on audiocassette or CD.
Particularly impressive in its abridged audio presentation is The Path to Tranquility (Simon and Schuster, $18 cassette, $23.50 on CD).
Based on the book of the same title, a selection of quotes for each day of the year, the audio version is reorganized into 12 sections designed for meditation and reflection. The presentation is enhanced with appropriate music. The quotations are read by singer Laurie Anderson, writer Robert Thurman and playwright B.D. Wong.
Books by the Dalai Lama at Amazon.com
Click on picture:
The Art of Happiness
Ethics for the New Millennium
How to Practice; The Way to a Meaningful Live
An Open Heart: Practicing Compassion in Everyday Life
Essence of the Heart Sutra: The Dalai Lama's Heart of Wisdom Teachings