His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet , Jonathan Sacks , Seyyed Hossein Nasr , Et Al. —
Pursuing Happiness

The XIV Dalai Lama seems to many to embody happiness — happiness against the odds, a virtue that is acquired and practiced. Before a live audience in Atlanta, Georgia, Krista had a rare opportunity to mull over the meaning of happiness in contemporary life with him and three global spiritual leaders: a Muslim scholar, a chief rabbi, and a presiding bishop. An invigorating and unpredictable discussion exploring the themes of suffering, beauty, and the nature of the body.

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is the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet. He is the author of many books, including Ethics for a New Millennium.

is the former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth. He is the Ingeborg and Ira Rennert Global Distinguished Professor of Judaic Thought at New York University and the Kressel and Ephrat Family University Professor of Jewish Thought at Yeshiva University. He has also been appointed as Professor of Law, Ethics and the Bible at King’s College London. He is the author of several books, including The Dignity of Difference.

is University Professor of Islamic Studies at George Washington University. He's a prominent philosopher and scholar of Islam who has written many books, including The Heart of Islam and Man and Nature.

is the 26th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. She holds a doctorate in oceanography.

Pertinent Posts

Previous "On Being" guest, Adele Diamond, tells a story about meeting the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India at a Mind and Life Institute dialogue. We highlight some of the passages Adele Diamond presented to the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala — including texts from Rabbi Heschel, Bashevis Singer, Rachel Naomi Remen, and Henri Nouwen.

Video Interviews with Krista Tippett

In the Room with the Dalai Lama

Missed the live video stream? A front-row seat for a sold-out event at Emory University in Atlanta. Watch a dynamic discussion with four prominent religious leaders on the meaning of happiness.

About the Image

The XIV Dalai Lama with Krista Tippett on Sunday, October 17, 2010. Panelists discuss the nature of happiness on stage at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

(Photo by Bryan Meltz/Emory Photo)

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I would like to know how his holiness the Dalai Lama felt sharing the platform with a man whose ideology demanded the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas and the despoilation of the Indian subcontinent, where Buddha was born and where Buddhism flourished before the Muslim conquest arrived, a conquest estimated to have taken 80 million human lives.

A responsible host would never have allowed Seyyed Hossain Nasr his taqiyya definition of jihad. Jihad is, and has always been, primarily the demand that Muslim males must make war for Islam till everyone on the planet submits.

But then a responsible host, on NPR, would go the way of Juan Williams.

He is a Sufi. Not exactly the Taliban.

Dear sue brown,
as i was exploring some websites i got by keen eyes on it. I felt sorry to myself when you mentioned that lord buddha was born in india. Sigh !! Pleas be informed lord buddha was born in Nepal, lumbini and we Nepalese are still running a campaign all over the world to let them know - Lord buddha was born in Nepal not in india.

Thank you

Sue I think you totally missed the point of the panel and what was being shared.
And for the sake of argument we could talk about the bloody crusades and inquisition. But that would be against the message of the panel.
You also need to study more by yourself on Islam and its essence. Not to go by certain facts that are highlighted in history.
There is a lot more to Islam, than what we are shown on state controlled media.

If the words "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" don't include the right to experiment with your own consciousness, then the Declaration of Independence isn't worth the hemp it was written on. - Terence McKenna

Did anyone ackowledge that the phrase "pursuit of happiness" as it appears in the Declaration of Independence had quite another meaning at the time of its writing than is generally supposed today. While your inquiry with religious leaders would have its greater interest, no doubt, in the modern notion of an emotionally joyful or contented state, its meaning 235 years ago and now obsolete is not "joyful heart" at all but its precursor perhaps, "good circumstances." It is good fortune that we have the inalienable right to pursue, not any particular feelings. Fortunate circumstances. "Happiness" shares the root of "happen" and "perhaps." Happiness is when things go well. How you feel about it is a whole other issue. Happy is lucky. A person suffering misery, pain, and depression might be very happy. The avenue to happy feelings is appreciation. Which is why the old advice to overcome the blues is to "count your blessings."

I'm replying to your comment, Loren, because I was thinking about that phrase "pursuit of happiness", too, and thinking that what it meant in our Declaration of Independence is different from what happiness tends to mean to most people now. That idea of happiness 235 years ago was related to an ancient Greek idea, eudaimonia, that has more to do with living a good life and conducting yourself in such a way that you are responsible for good actions in the world. It had a lot to do with flourishing as a result of ethical/practical wisdom and that means a high level of responsibility to self and to others.

I think that there is a difference between JOY and HAPPINESS. I believe that joy can definitely be found in suffering by focusing on the beauty of life, which must include suffering. If it weren't for suffering, we would not appreciate the many delights of living. If I suffer, I know I am capable of feeling deeply, of living deeply. I know that after every period of suffering comes a period of relief; this knowing makes joy possible even during the suffering. My Christian faith reinforces my beliefs. Christ's suffering on the cross was necessary for the great joy and glory of the resurrection. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, "After every Good Friday, there is an Easter Sunday." The Bible tells us that "At nightfall weeping enters in,/But with dawn comes rejoicing." I watched my mother and my father endure much suffering with great dignity and acceptance. When I am suffering, I find joy in their examples, in the beauty of nature and life, in my Christian faith, in my belief that God can turn all things--even our suffering--into something good and wonderful and joyous. I'm not seeking happiness because I don't think we CAN seek it, but I'm always open to the spirit of joy that is part of our essential make-up. Joy is within us all--in our hearts, in our souls, in the fabric of our being. Like grace we need only to be open to it and grateful for it. If we are, it is given to us freely--even when we are suffering.

That was beautiful, especially the last bit! How wonderful to have that understanding of life.

Your "Happiness" program was inspiring and wonderful. I would love to hear an extended interview with Dr. Nasr. Thank you for a beautiful show!!

I really enjoyed listening to your spiritual guests discuss HAPPINESS. It was interesting to enter their individual worlds of spirituality.
I'm a former catholic priest who left the ministry in 1970 and have studied world religions to see just how much they agree, as opposed to disagree, and found that the closer to the divinity they each become, the more similiarity exists among them. However, the closer you come to their religious practices, the more diverse (and even antagonistic) they are .
In the 70's I entered the church of Scientology
and came to yet another discovery, i.e. that we are all essentially, not just a brotherhood of humans, but each of us is a spiritual being, and in in a very real way we share the divinity, which becomes a further motive for all of us to love and respect one another.

WE are indeed all children of God, and our individual different paths to love Him should be respected and validated.

I was disappointed today as I listened to your interviews with the honorable religious leaders from your show recorded at Emory. When Ms. Tippett asked H.H. the Dalai Lama about hatred, she had a good question--except for her introductory remarks. She basically equated strong political feeling and disagreement with hatred. I don't see it that way, and I believe Ms. Tippett does us all a disfavor when she colors her comments in this way. I'm more than happy to discuss, since I'm a scholar of interreligious understanding myself.

John B. Switzer, PhD
Assistant Professor of Theology
Director of Graduate Theology & Ministry
Chair of Trialogue for Mobile (Muslims, Jews & Christians Together in Conversation)

I've found happiness in preparing food. No other activity grounds me more fully and alights all my senses and keeps me in the "now". Mincing and dicing soothe me. Reading cookbooks excite me. Taste testing keeps me present. I love the colors and the aromas. I love supermarkets. I'm addicted to farmer's markets. In the past week I cooked chicken stir fry for 140 women at Rosie's Place in the South End of Boston, prepared farmer's market tamales for my wife on Halloween night, and prepared an autumnal salad with roasted delicata squash as part of a potluck dinner for my besties -- nothing brought me greater joy.

Your itemizing your joy, brought me gulping in my joy.

Happiness is subjective and because of that, it depends a lot on your perspective.As the Dalai Lama explained, even the saddest circumstance will not seem so bad from afar. Sure, it may not bring happiness, but suffering can be reduced. If we bring that to the everyday, a change in perspective can help us to become happy. Find the beauty, the humor, and the calm in the present and then appreciate it. Often discovering just one of these qualities is happiness itself.

I listened to the interview with Rabbi Jonathon Sacks & watched the Video of the 'Spiritual Leaders' at Emory & am inspired to comment. I come from a lineage which investigates all spiritual traditions. By this I mean, my mother, raised Catholic, & I as a child, visited many different kinds of Christian churches; especially those that were more progressive such as Unitarian back then; as well as entertaining an openness to Judaism, Greek Orthodox, and all spiritual persuasion; which set me on a path of spiritual curiosity; the practice continuing through early adulthood in the teachings of Western Hinduism with Ram Dass; finding 'Unity Churches' particularly open to expansive, inclusive idealism; a study of the comparison of the three major religions of Christian, Judaism, & Islam; going deeper into philosophy of each through Sufi teachings, Kabbalah teachings, & St John of the Cross; feeling deeply the American Indian, Ancient Mother, & Chinese tradition of finding the sacred in the energies represented by each directions & elements of the natural world; and through all this used my knowledge of Buddhism, gained through martial arts and wonderful associations with monks from Thailand, & Vietnam, to create a mindfulness with-in my actions and a lovingness through my actions to find happiness. I was not always successful and therein lies the truth. Fortunately or unfortunately depending on one's point of view, we all have to reckon with the flaws of being human; having human parents; caregivers; teachers; circumstances; & ideas; all presented to us, caring for us, & expressed within us of often less than loving 'language'...used in the broadest terms, (the language of life). I say not to worry about all the setbacks and circumstances, good or bad, that made us who we are, 'only human', because after all, what is life if not the struggle to find out what being human really means? If we have reached a point in our life where we can say I have learned much on this journey in humanity, so far; how not to act inhumane most of the time; have at my fingertips a good instruction book, (some tradition), on what being human really gets at; what it means to the rest of humanity if I am able to touch that place in me where happiness resides; and by so doing share my love and joy & resources, with those I come in contact with, in person, on the phone, in a text, email or in service here or across a continent; then I know I have a "yes" in me, to dry the sad tears and turn them into tears of laughter at the otter inexplicable, mysterious, miraculous, and often magical experience that is this life. Happiness? What provokes it: The beauty in nature does, being mindful helps enormously, practicing loving kindness brings an unmatchable kind of inner happiness to one's whole being, family members & friends which support us in our uniqueness give us courage to be the best we can be, pets with their unconditional love help us forgive ourselves, but I think Rabbi Jonathan Sacks is right too, that we must heal through conversation, leave the past behind, and do good for others. Happiness is a result but remember, if and when 'the blues' come to call, to tip one's cup, one more time and say, "oh gosh, all right, yes, OK life, Yes!.. and I await the blessing, as Rabbi Sacks so profoundly instructed us."
Your interview with Rabbi Sacks was beautifully meaningful. Another favorite was Joanna Macy and ;A Wild Love For The World'. I've listened over & over during the weeks since, and it always brings a big smile into my heart. Thank you for your service to 'Being'. Suzan Newman, R.N.-humanitarian-mother-environmentalist

I have not "found" happiness. When I have felt it, experienced it, it is because I have allowed it to surface; I have removed the barriers to its coming, namely, resentment, bitterness, and many other forms of fear. The method for removing the barriers is based on my ability to shift my perception at a given moment, becoming conscious of what I choose to focus on. When I choose love, forgiveness, happiness appears, where it has always been, waiting for me.

I found Happiness a personal experience, sometimes decision, this strange mix of sharing what you cherish and value with people and also in solitude and having some time alone, it's very important to look in yourself and be aware what's important and what's not, Happiness comes from gratitude and a noble degree of acceptance and it's also a bless from God. in Islamic tradition there is a teaching that says God will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves, this is the greater Jihad -for those who bring it up- and it's something that is a common ground between all religions..the other "well exposed" use of "lesser Jihad" has other aspects which includes warfare and needs lots of historical and sociological knowledge to get into discussing it..and of course some misuse it..you can think about it misusing it as someone trying to force karma -in their understanding- to occur.this is an act of Ego as well as generalizing.

To suffer is an obvious truth that you have to accept you'll experience it in some way, but there is also compassion and beautiful patience to try your best to yield and let it happen and you could grief it in a prayer for example and keep your trust to God. if sometime Islam translates into "submission" it's true, but if it works for you you could call it "peaceful acceptance"..here we have to mention Beauty, there is another dimension or Islam that's called Ihsan which does mean goodness, virtue and beauty a the same time, you could call it "beautification" :), being mindful and understanding enough to have this enthusiasm after acceptance to make things the best way they could to reach happiness and God. Charity even with a smile is an act of Ihsan.

This applies for a lot of traditions so I just wanted to express the Islamic point of view, so thanks for the opportunity.

Salam all (peace:))

On a recent interview you were talking about how we find happiness in a world full of violence and staggering losses, random and intended harm. A few years back I was at an awards ceremony at the Los Angeles Book Fair. The poet who was chosen to receive an award was someone whose work I didn't know; Jack Gilbert. He was unable to attend and so they had pre-recorded him reading one of his pieces.

The question of how can we remain hopeful and aware in the face of sorrow, whether political or personal, is one that I have wrestled with, but not gone far enough it turns out. This poem answered that question so powerfully that I found myself gasping for breath with understanding and well, weeping openly...something I'm skilled at!

I wanted to send it your way.

Your program rounds out my week and my thinking.

Thanks,Claudette Sutherland


from Refusing Heaven---Jack Gilbert

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that's what God wants.

Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.

If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world.

To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.

We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafes and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.

(apologies to Mr.Gilbert. I couldn't get my formatting to work right!)

I'm sure this will be a very good program to listen to. But I do notice that there is no Catholic on the panel. Hmm. Anyway, theh Catholic belief is that we are made for happiness, happiness beyond what we can imagine, because God is so good. Happiness and eternal life is to know the Son whom the Father sent into the world, Jesus Christ. We are made to love and serve him, in freedom, in this world and the next.

The Catholic belief is also that the Catholic faith is the fullness of the truth: not a point of bragging, but one of responsibility, and it has the fullness because it is the Church established by God: 'On this rock I shall build My Church', not our church, His Church.

But, other religions have pieces of the truth. Some are pre-Christian, the Jewish faith being the pre-eminent and unique in relation to Catholicism, and others are post-Christian developments. But God is so humble that he guides people to Himself through religions that are not even his own, leading them to a moral life and communion to some extent with God.

But happiness in this world is no doubt to have God live in our hearts, and as Archbishop Dolan said recently, 'Having the life of God in our hearts is ours for the asking'.

Hello Ed, I am sure you are a very good man but the program was a conversation with 4 individuals from different backgrounds. Christians were represented. I suggest you listen to the conversation again and seek a deeper truth. I was moved by the Islamic concept that was discussed very early in the program- they have only one word for virtue, goodness, and beauty. The Dali Lama sought to teach us our minds reflect our inner beauty/truth/soul. I am not Catholic so I don't know how you feel. I am from a small town in NH and belong to a congregational church. The woman on the panel was an Episcopal which I always thought was pretty much like Catholic. I am sorry I really don't know. But we Christians all have the Bible. Jesus asked us to love one another so embrace the discussion and find the beauty, truth, and goodness in it. Smile. Be happy. Free yourself from the walls in your mind. The WORLD is God's creation in all it's forms. Look for it in others who are different from yourself and you will find it. Good Luck and God Bless.

Proof that we can sit and talk about great topics and not all be from identical backgrounds. I shed tears of joy into cookie dough I was making while listening. The way to get along is mutual respect. The panel made it sound so easy.

A favorite moment was when we were given the idea to slow down and let happiness overtake us. Wonderful.

I will listen to this program again. Thank you to the producers and Ms. Tippett for bringing hope to our old world. I still imagine a world where we can live and let live.

Thank you for your show and this program. I always enjoy programs when you have a round table on faith issues.
The thing for me to find happyness is not and goal, it a balance between the the mind, body and spiritual of the person. Sadly to say this is a life long process and I must work on this every day. From my studies of faith i have found that all have expressed this by differnt means according to it faith system. The problem is that I forget that this a daily problem that I must work towards every day.
All faith express a personal relationship with God, our selfs and to others. So being a inperfect human i must adress everyday( some times many times a day). This requires work and too often people dont want to adress because it means looking at yourself in totaly honest way( scary ).

I work a second job every Sunday, and I begin my morning by tuning into your program. Philosophy was one of my majors, so I am always interested in the expressions of ideas by those better schooled than myself in the esoterica of humans questioning their surroundings. Likewise, I am attentive to those who best express ways to trickle the enlightment of the educated upper echelon down to the average individual. My own belief is that through enlightened teaching a great deal of the cutural strife that plagues our planet can be minimized, if not eliminated.
I had my own crisis of faith decades ago, in my mid-teens. It left me feeling more lethargy than antipathy toward concepts like soul salvation and a life hereafter. I found my solace in the discourses of the great philosophical minds, primarily of the Western world.
Your New Year's Day program was entertaining, at the very least, and it was really quite comforting to listen to your guests expound. I look forward to many more hours of listening to your interviews and discussions.

i just want to express my deep gratitude for the many resources you provide with each episode. The transcript of this conversation, available free of charge, is a wonderful addition. The Dali Lama's accent is difficult for me to understand; transcripts make your program accessible to all.

In response to the right of happiness, the Dalai Lama said that happiness is indeed a right, and is the very purpose of existence. He believes that happiness doesn’t “come from the sky”, but that we must make and choose happiness in this life. I can identify very strongly with this. Happiness comes from your attitude and your choices to accept happiness, even through the struggles of life. You cannot just seek happiness, you much choose to be happy with your life, even though it may not be perfect.

Before I even listen, it's hard not to notice that all those being interviewed are male. Even with Krista as the interviewer, it is simply wrong to convene a panel on human experience and ignorance the wisdom and experiences of one half of the human family!

Trent Gilliss's picture

Hi Siddika. Thanks for voicing your concern. Besides Krista, Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori is also on the panel. I'd like to note that we attended the event at the invitation of Emory University, who carefully considered the panel on stage within the larger context of a multi-day conference that included an incredible diversity of men and women from many religious and spiritual backgrounds.

My mistake! There was one woman hidden in there!

Religion has evolved because of the nature of our needs. There is no "
god" , but only an understanding that we are all in this together.

I pray for Ms Brown and hope she comes to understand that letting go of hate is a good and necessary thing.

Having heard the broadcast on NPR thru Boston's WBUR this morning, I am so deeply convinced that the current state of religious fanaticism could be reduced to peaceful co-existence, if only the leaders and guardians speak out with one voice, After all, being HAPPY is not only the birthright of we humans, but the most desirable dream horizons, that travel through time and ages

This is a wonderful discussion that demonstrates the transcendent good that religion in its true sense aspires to and carries the human yearning for the true, the good, and the beautiful along a worthy path. So important when so much that calls itself religion in today's world is divisive and certainly not aimed at the transcendent good we so mistakenly anthropomorphize and in our limited ego frames try to own exclusively. Thank you to all the speakers. You show that diversity can be harmony and the conversation can be the music of the spheres.

A wonderful panel, but where is the Catholic? I'll have to supply a Catholic view. Pope Benedict stressed beauty very much during his papacy: beauty is one of the transcendentals, one of the attributes of God: infinite justice, infinite goodness, infinite truth, infinite beauty. Also beauty is an important element, Pope Benedict told us, in the task of evangelization: people are drawn to beauty

In the Catholic view we can enter into happiness even here, begin to live in heaven even here. That is done by God living within us, the indwelling of the Trinity.
Do we have a right to happiness? Even Aristotle told us that the purpose of life is happiness. Happiness can only be found in God, who is searching for us.

ISIS might be driving the different traditions, all of good will, even closer together.

Mary appeared in Rwanda about 10 years before the Rwandan Genocide, appearing several times, and her main theme was 'you must stop hating your neighbor'. People didn't really know what she was talking about, but now Immaculee has writtten a book about Our Lady of Kibeho which is called 'If only we had listened'. Beautiful verse from Moses.

Nothing can ever be exhaustive, but I felt the voice of the Native Americans (from the Americas, not only the USA) was missing in this conversation.

"If the Israelites had continued to hate their enemies, Moses would have taken the Israelites out of Egypt, but he would not have taken Egypt out of the Israelites. They would be slaves to their past, slaves to their feeling of pain and injustice and grievance."

Rabbi Sacks received hearty applause for these words. But, unfortunately, he and his fellow Jews in Israel fail to take these words to heart in regard to the Palestinian people. Israel remains a slave to its past in its relentless oppression of Palestinians -- people who bear no responsibility for the centuries of oppression endured by the Jews.

Why isn't Jesus mentioned?

Thank you for a rich and inspiring program! As I listen again, I am struck by what the Dalai Lama said about how physical pain can be lessened by the mind but how mental suffering cannot be subdued by comforts of the body,a powerful insight for a culture where substance abuse and over consumption of natural resources have reached a crisis state. Second,it was good to hear Bishop Jefferts Schori refer to the brilliant work of Walter Wink on "turn the other cheek," but what she said left out key information. Here is what Walter Wink actually says (especially top of p. 2): .

this is love