This is an unusual book but one which everyone found inspiring in both its subject matter and in the two people at the heart of the book. It tells of the meeting between two towering spiritual figures of the modern age – Archbishop Desmond Tutu and The Dalai Lama – and their observations about how one can find joy in the face of conflict and suffering.
The book stimulated a lot of discussion about the nature of joy, and of the attitudes that we need to cultivate, in order to experience joy in our own lives. It provided a self-help approach to developing a positive attitude towards the difficulties that we inevitably encounter, and gave us insights into how to find joy in even the most difficult of these circumstances. It did not gloss over the obstacles to joy, but saw these challenges as opportunities for growth.
There was some criticism of the structure of the book itself. The story was told through the eyes of Douglas Abrams, a Jew who was present at the meeting, and whilst this made it for a truly interfaith encounter, there was a feeling that we had too much of his observations and not enough of the two men at the heart of it. Also, the way that it was written tended to make it rather repetitive and it was not always clear which of the two men were speaking when their words were being reported. There was also some questioning of the scientific underpinning which the book claimed for its central message.
Despite this, everyone found it a good read and full of joy. The writing used straight-forward everyday language, which was easy to understand, and the message about looking for joy, which was seen as a creative attitude towards life and all its difficulties, rather than happiness which can be fleeting and dependent on externa factors, came through very clearly. Part of the book's attraction was the fact that it was based on the experiences of two people who had lived through very difficult times. This gave their opinions a validity that might otherwise be dismissed. They had every reason not to be joyful, but it was clear that they were two people who took great pleasure in each other's company and who had found a way of living that enabled them to be joyful in the face of hardship.
A significant part of the book was taken up with the difficulty of even arranging for Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama to meet, in order that they could celebrate the Dalai Lama's eightieth birthday together. It was probably the last time that these two would actually be together, which could have been a source of sadness, but the obvious pleasure that they took from each other's company obscured any such feelings, and it was laughter that filled the pages.
Some of the group wanted a bit more of a Christian message to have come across, but others were happy with the way it was. As a way of understanding more about Buddhism and the shared concern for building compassion in a world that often seems to lack this quality, it is hard to think how it could be bettered.