October 19, 2010

'The real source of happiness is within'

Religious leaders address theme of happiness from faith traditions

By Suzi Brozman

Is happiness a basic human right? That’s the question His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama posed in the Oct. 17 “Interfaith Summit on Happiness” with major religious leaders.

Offering his own answer, he said the purpose of our existence is happiness. Our lives depend on hope for the better. We must make a happy life, creating it within ourselves and our families, since the real source of happiness is within, he said.

Nearly 4,000 people filled the floor and bleachers in the Woodruff Physical Education Center to hear the Dalai Lama, Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church; Lord Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom; and Seyyed Hossein Nasr, University Professor of Islamic Studies at George Washington University address the theme of happiness from within their own religious traditions. Krista Tippett, host of National Public Radio’s “Being” (formerly “Speaking of Faith”), moderated the session.

The Dalai Lama noted that the nature of happiness has changed because human nature has changed. He compared peace of mind with physical comfort, saying inner peace results from mental satisfaction.

These comments introduced a continuing theme of internal versus external causes of happiness as panelists discussed materialism, greed, individual versus social happiness, and the place of God in the equation.

The exiled secular and religious leader of the Tibetan people reflected on his life, which he said had not been easy. But, he added, he looks at things holistically, so the image is not 100 percent negative.

“Happiness consists of having a right relationship with God and others, putting God first because nothing can replace God,” said Schori. “We feel all of existence is prayer, blessing whatever we do, a simple awareness of God’s presence in each moment.”

Sacks described a folk story in which a man was running after happiness, when another man said “perhaps happiness is behind you, and you have to stop and let it catch up with you.” This story led to a discussion of meditation and prayer, how they fit into and shape one’s existence.

The Dalai Lama's laughter

“Happiness has to start within ourselves,” said Nasr. “Islam says to be happy is to be ourselves, and our life’s goal is to discover who we are. I want not to want—that is the epitome of happiness.”

One way to achieve happiness, many agreed, was to be able to listen to the Dalai Lama’s laugh of pure joy, which erupted at unexpected moments throughout the two-hour afternoon session.

Nasr lamented that hatred in the Western world now is directed toward Islam. “The hatred used to be against extremism, now it is against Islam itself.” The Dalai Lama responded that it is unfair, wrong to blame a few individuals’ misbehavior on the whole religion.

The discussion continued after the summit, with scholars from the Emory Center for the Study of Law and Religion’s Pursuit of Happiness project sharing their reflections on the Dalai Lama's interfaith dialogue, and a major academic conference at Emory Law that explored “The Pursuit of Happiness in Interreligious Perspective.”

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