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Merry Happy: “A Buddhist, a Christian and a Jew walk into a bar,” Douglas Abrams writes in his introduction to “The Book of Joy,” a dialogue between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu that has spent eight weeks so far on the hardcover nonfiction list. (It’s currently No. 14.) Abrams, who conceived and helped write the book, is taking some liberties here in the name of comedy — he actually identifies as secular despite his Jewish roots, and the participants really met not in a bar but in the Dalai Lama’s residence in Dharamsala, India, over the course of a week last year. But when the subject is joy, a little humor is allowed. “See if you can chuckle at your problem, at your shortcomings, at your frailties,” the book advises toward the end. “Even if it is a very grave or serious situation, there is often some humor that can be found. The human drama is often a comedy, and laughter is the saving grace.” (O.K., so those sentences are themselves strikingly earnest and humorless. But do as they say, not as they do.)
In all, the book’s prescriptions are sound, if unsurprising: Stay humble, help others, practice gratitude and forgiveness. “Everyone seeks happiness, joyfulness, but from outside,” the Dalai Lama notes at one point, “from money, from power, from big car, from big house. Most people never pay much attention to the ultimate source of a happy life, which is inside, not outside. Even the source of physical health is inside, not outside.”
He continues in that vein for a few more moments until Tutu interrupts: “It’s very difficult to follow your very profound pronouncements,” he says.
As this suggests, the archbishop comes across as the more gently mischievous of the two. Early in the book, for instance, remembering a joint appearance they made in Seattle, Tutu says of the Dalai Lama, “There were 70,000 people who wanted to come hear this man, and he can’t even speak English properly.” The Dalai Lama laughs — joyfully, no doubt — and Tutu adds: “It’s really not nice. You really need to pray that I become a little more popular like you.”
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