Nobel Peace Prize winners His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu spent five days together to celebrate His Holiness's 80th birthday and to answer one timeless question—how do we find joy in the face of life's inevitable suffering? The result of their time together is The Book of Joy, co-written by Douglas Abrams, who interviewed both men and serves as narrator. In this exclusive excerpt, they explain how acceptance is one of the eight pillars of joy
When we had visited the Tibetan Children's Village in January, we noticed a wall displaying a quote that the Dalai Lama referenced in the dialogues. It was a translation of Shantideva's famous questions that His Holiness had mentioned, only in a slightly different translation: "Why be unhappy about something if it can be remedied? And what is the use of being unhappy if it cannot be remedied?" In this short teaching is the profound essence of the Dalai Lama's approach to life. It was at the root of his stunning ability to accept the reality of his exile without, as the Archbishop put it, being morose.
Once we can see life in its wider perspective, once we are able to see our role in its drama with some degree of humility, and once we are able to laugh at ourselves, we then come to the fourth and final quality of mind, which is the ability to accept our life in all its pain, imperfection, and beauty.
Acceptance, it must be pointed out, is the opposite of resignation and defeat. The Archbishop and the Dalai Lama are two of the most tireless activists for creating a better world for all of its inhabitants, but their activism comes from a deep acceptance of what is. The Archbishop did not accept the inevitability of apartheid, but he did accept its reality.
"We are meant to live in joy," the Archbishop explained. "This does not mean that life will be easy or painless. It means that we can turn our faces to the wind and accept that this is the storm we must pass through. We cannot succeed by denying what exists. The acceptance of reality is the only place from which change can begin." The Archbishop had said that when one grows in the spiritual life, "You are able to accept anything that happens to you." You accept the inevitable frustrations and hardships as part of the warp and woof of life. The question, he had said, is not: How do we escape it? The question is: How can we use this as something positive?
The Archbishop's prayer practice involves reading quotations from the scriptures as well as quotes from the saints and spiritual masters throughout history. One of his favorites is the Christian mystic Julian of Norwich, whose Revelations of Divine Love, penned shortly after she recovered from a life-threatening illness in 1373, is believed to be the first book written by a woman in the English language. In it, she writes,
…deeds are done which appear so evil to us and people suffer such terrible evils that it does not seem as though any good will ever come of them; and we consider this, sorrowing and grieving over it so that we cannot find peace in the blessed contemplation of God as we should do; and this is why: our reasoning powers are so blind now, so humble and so simple, that we cannot know the high, marvelous wisdom, the might and the goodness of the Holy Trinity. And this is what he means where he says, "You shall see for yourself that all manner of things shall be well," as if he said, Pay attention to this now, faithfully and confidently, and at the end of time you will truly see it in the fullness of joy.
Acceptance—whether we believe in God or not—allows us to move into the fullness of joy. It allows us to engage with life on its own terms rather than rail against the fact that life is not as we would wish. It allows us not to struggle against the day-to-day current. The Dalai Lama had told us that stress and anxiety come from our expectations of how life should be. When we are able to accept that life is how it is, not as we think it should be, we are able to ease the ride, to go from that bumpy axle (dukkha), with all its suffering, stress, anxiety, and dissatisfaction, to the smooth axle (sukha), with its greater ease, comfort, and happiness.
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