Happiness is an Inside Job by Sylvia Boorstein and the joy of reading books by The 14th Dalai Lama

Sylvia Boorstein’s Happiness is an Inside Job is an easy-reading distillation of the key components of Buddhist thought and practise shared through a lifetime of experiences.

The Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama

“We’ll start as the Buddha did in his declaration of what is fundamentally true about life, with the premise that challenges in life are inevitable and that suffering, the mind in contentious mode with its experience, is the instinctive response of the untrained mind.

These premises are the first two of the famous Four Noble Truths regarded as the summation of the Buddha’s teaching.

The third truth is the definite promise that a peaceful mind, one not in contention with anything, is a possibility for human beings.

The fourth truth is the Buddha’s training program for developing that kind of mind.”

That training is basically about how to cultivate what we call ‘equanimity’, that ability to be in a situation and at the same time, be outside the situation observing it happening and our response to it, learning to use that ability to shape how we respond, from one of the great Buddhist intellects living today.

Boorstein’s book (reviewed below) talks us through the various components of developing and nurturing that wisdom, using examples from her and her friend’s lives. Before reviewing that text, and to give it context from my own personal reading, I share below a few enlightened books I’ve read over the years that penetrate this wisdom with clarity, insight and offer helpful and realistic suggestions for their practical application.

The 14th Dalai Lama

Some of my favourite books are those written by the 14th Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibet, holder of the Nobel Peace prize, philosopher, intellectual, a genuinely altruistic man of great wisdom and compassion.

Many of them I pass on to others as they are too full of penetrating insights and ideas for changing our thinking in a positive way, to let waste away on a dusty shelf.  I thought I’d share three that come immediately to mind, because they each had a significant impact when I read them:

Transforming the MindTransforming the Mind: Teachings on generating compassion – this one is based on an edited series of lectures and is full of excellent practical advice and mind training on how to modify our perceptions to create a more compassionate view. This is his most important work in my opinion, it has some philosophical sections that are a little harder to grasp, but it is so worth persevering to get to the real wisdom within.

I remember when I read it, how well it resonated and how much I learned and was able to apply, it was quite a revelation the first time I read it. Such a gift.

Ancient WisdomAncient Wisdom, Modern World Ethics for the New Millennium was published just before the millennium, a beautiful, small hard-cover book that reached out to all beings, not just those interested in Buddhism, addressing the spiritual void in a non-religious way and bringing attention to ethics and to finding new ways of living that avoid destroying nature and the environment, protecting our shared inheritance.

I remember that this was the first book of his, that I felt completely comfortable handing on to almost anyone, it surpassed belief and spoke to us all, no matter what our faith or spiritual inclination, this is an important and accessible message for humanity.

How to See YourselfHow to See Yourself As You Really Are – this book is a lighter, practical guide to understand the nature of self, examining how many of the things we currently believe to be solid are an illusion and that by appreciating this, we can learn how to minimise suffering.

His older books tend to be more philosophical and can at times be a challenge to understand the way of thinking, all of which is encouraged in Buddhist thought – that we should question in order to understand – however this book is more of a modern interpretation, written not for the scholar or practitioner but for anyone with an interest in self-improvement and understanding the mind.

By the time I read this one, I recognised much of the message, it wasn’t so new to me, I was already living it, but we always need reminding and encouraging, as the path is littered with obstacles!

Review: Happiness is an Inside Job

HappinessThis book was a delightful Christmas gift I was promised I would enjoy, described by Publishers Weekly as:

‘a small, polished gem of a book’

I had not heard of Sylvia Boorstein, one of the co-founding teachers at Spirit Rock Meditation Centre in California. She has written a number of books on Buddhist thinking, meditation, mindfulness and kindness.

In Happiness is an Inside Job, she shows how mindfulness, concentration, and effort–three elements of the Buddhist path to wisdom–can lead us away from anger, anxiety, and confusion, and into calmness, clarity, and the joy of living in the present.

Split into sections on equanimity, wise effort (and speech), mindfulness, and concentration it uses anecdotes and examples in everyday life to illustrate how to put this philosophy of compassion into practice.

It sounds like common sense and indeed it is, however the mind often loses track and imagines, worries, obsesses and does everything but choose the path of common sense and we often need to be reminded of the most simple observations to declutter it.

She reminds us that much that happens in our lives is external to us and beyond our control, but that our response to it is within our ability to manage and there is much we can do to help ourselves by learning how to respond in a way that will calm and nurture us, that we can choose to respond in a way that veers more toward the path of happiness.

‘Speech that compliments is, by definition, free from derision, which clouds the mind with enemies and makes it tense. Kind speech makes the mind feel safe and also glad.’

It’s a book to read a chapter at a time, not all at once, an alternative to the demands of fiction, more nourishing than television, food for the soul. Recommended as an introduction to Buddhist thought and the benefits of practising compassion.

“My practise is remembering that although whatever is happening, including my emotional response to it, is the lawful consequence of myriad causes that are beyond my control, the relationship I hold toward it all is within my control. I can choose on behalf of happiness.”

20 thoughts on “Happiness is an Inside Job by Sylvia Boorstein and the joy of reading books by The 14th Dalai Lama

  1. Hi Claire, Thank you very much for sharing such great insights, and your thoughts on intriguing reads. I have always been fond of literature on Buddhism, and books on mindfulness. I am adding all of these to my TBR. Many thanks.🙂

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    • Thanks Deepika, having read Sylvia Boorstein’s book, I wanted to share the initial books I read years ago that were influential. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. There’s always something in them for us and it’s good when we come across an author, whose thinking resonates.

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      • I am so glad you shared the initial books you read years ago, Claire. My father is a fan of Osho’s books. So, I have read quite a few of Osho’s, and a couple of contemporary ones like ‘The Dalai Lama’s Cat’. Your recommendations sound wonderful. Once I remove my book-buying ban, I am surely going to splurge on these.🙂

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      • Our favourites are ‘Krishna: The Man and His Philosophy’, and ‘The Message Beyond Words’. They are too long, Claire. Sometimes, he seemed to have rambled. If we are patient, we would surely find some rare gems in his books (which are from his discourses).

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  2. Beautiful review, Claire. I loved this sentence from your review – “how to cultivate what we call ‘equanimity’, that ability to be in a situation and at the same time, be outside the situation observing it happening and our response to it,” It is a beautiful and a hard thing to be inside a situation, be passionate about it but not be attached to it at the same time and look at it from outside. I think a lifetime is not enough to master that art. Thanks for sharing your list of favourite books on Buddhist thought. It was so informative to read about them.

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    • I think I first learned how to do this when I was travelled in India for the first time Vishy, there were so many different experiences and I remember having the feeling of watching what was happening to us at the same time that we experienced it, back then I didn’t have a name for it, I related it to that expression of “having your wits about you”, I never really knew what y wits were until I experienced equanimity!

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    • Oh how sad! I often look for the bright side in things, it’s the balancing factor and brings us back to equilibrium more quickly than dwelling on the dark and negative, of course that’s not to say that difficult and dark things don’t exist, just that we have to learn how to accept and detach from them, the only thing we can control often is our response, so whatever it takes to bring us back equilibrium should be the strategy.

      And as for happiness, perhaps happiness is merely fleeting moments, they pass us by and we have to enjoy them when they alight on us – or are in front of us – thankfully nature provides some of the best moments!

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  3. Oh, dear Claire — how often you strike a deep chord in me😉 Familiar and enamored as I am with Sylvia Boorstein via interviews and essays, I have yet to pick up a book of hers. This sounds like a wonderful place to start. As to the Dalai Lama himself, again it’s those glimpses into his writings that open me to his luminous spirit and the Buddhist way of being in this world that so often has me out of sorts.

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    • Thank you Deborah, I’m so pleased to hear you’re familiar with Sylvia Boorstein and have read her interviews and essays, she seems like a remarkable and gifted woman, sharing her learning with so many. And yes, the words of the Dalai Lama are special indeed, we are so fortunate he has been so prolific in publishing them, they are a gold mine for the mind, he has an answer for everything and a wonderful sense of humour to go with it.

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  4. Hi, Claire. I think it is so amazing you have written a post about these books. I am such an admirer of the Dalai Lama, and I have been to Spirit Rock twice, once for a 7 day meditation/silent retreat and another time for a creativity (writing and painting) retreat. It is absolutely beautiful there and I would recommend anyone who would like an introduction to meditation and can manage the trip – this is the place to go. Jack Kornfield, one of the founders, is a favorite writer of mine. I’m interested a new book called After Buddhism: Rethinking the Dharma for a Secular Age. I am interested in how Buddhism, Christianity and other spiritual traditions can help us live today and solve some of our greatest problems such as inequality and climate change.

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    • Funny to read your comment just now Valorie as I just listened to a message from him to the Tibetan community, telling them all not to worry about him while he undergoes prostrate treatment in the US.

      I think Buddhism or at least its spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, suggests that many problems of today can be improved and worked towards resolution if we shift our focus towards helping others, towards actually wanting others to be happy, healthy and that we all learn the incredible good that can come about by shifting the focus away from the self. Then I guess we can transfer that thinking not just towards humanity, but towards nature, the planet, our limited environmental resources.

      I know that when I think of the way we puncture and fracture the earth’s surface and drain it of it’s life blood, it feels so destructive and short-sighted and that eventually nature is going to rebel and will recover, though humanity, I’m not so sure. We have to bring it down to the level of the individual.

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      • I did not know about the dalai lama coming here for treatment. It seems our culture is all wrapped up in self, and then there are those who give of themselves so much. Some of the reading I did as far back as 8 years ago in Buddhist circles calls for a radical change in human consciousness to save the earth and humanity. I can’t tell which way things will go but I hope for this. Thank you for this post and addressing these most important things.

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  5. I love this: “My practise is remembering that although whatever is happening, including my emotional response to it, is the lawful consequence of myriad causes that are beyond my control, the relationship I hold toward it all is within my control. I can choose on behalf of happiness.”

    That’s pretty much my life philosophy as well! So glad to have stumbled across your blog!

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