Golden buddha statue

Everyday Enlightenment, by His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa

Finding happiness is the easiest thing in the world if you put others first, writes the GD – and that makes it the hardest thing to achieve.

The Gyalwang Drukpa is spiritual leader of one of the main schools of Buddhism in the Himalayas, or so his Wikipedia page asserts. I’d never previously heard of His Holiness, and remain tickled at the thought of so honorific a title. I think we should all have an honorific title which cuts the chase about who we are. I’d probably be Her Verboseness.

But anyway. I came to this book with a very specific and fairly burning question: ‘what’s the difference between meditation and mindfulness?’. They sound similar, and yet – at heart – promise quite different things.

As I see it, ‘mindfulness’ is often a shorthand for mental focus or a tool for depression – perhaps even for increased ‘productivity and business acumen‘. In other words, it’s about ‘self’ improvement without the need for too much spirituality. While mindfulness shares the religious roots of meditation (specifically Buddhism), the latter practice is less self-involved: there’s no such goal as productivity, in the same way that ‘there is no spoon‘.

To give the book its full title, Everyday Enlightenment is about ‘Walking the path to happiness in the modern world’. In other words, everyday things anyone can do to feel more at peace with themselves and the world. A lot of the time, however, this involves ditching concepts which we tend to unquestioningly accept as good or valuable: InstaFame, personal ambition, ego, being better than others. If anything, the path described here (very gently, and with many pocket-Miyagi quotations along the way) is fairly and unsurprisingly Buddhist.

To be fair, this doesn’t have to involve sitting in a cave. Instead, the book offers various ways in which to be ‘present’ in everyday life. Meditation is one aspect (covered here in very brief outline), along with watching nature, caring for the environment, giving up attachments, facing up to ‘burning emotions’ and even contemplating death. It’s about being gentle with yourself and others and practicing gratitude, because nothing is permanent and everything is therefore a gift.

More than anything, however, it comes down to always putting others first: this is in many ways the opposite of how the West has structured its notions of success and survival. For that reason this is a gentle read hiding a deceptively tough proposition.

This book doesn’t claim to make you a better business leader – and it may not even make you a better Buddhist, but it does serve to underline how much we accept about modern life without questioning whether it truly makes us happy.

“If you have patience and tolerance, your life will be rich, but they are not instantly easy concepts. That is why so often life is wobbly, like an old antique table. I used to have a very old British dining table, and whenever you went near it, it wobbled and creaked – you couldn’t rest anything on it for fear it would break. This is like life without patience and tolerance.”

His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa, Everyday Enlightenment: Walking the Path to Happiness in the Modern World. London: Michael Joseph, 2012

Similar to: Happy (Derren Brown), The Chimp Paradox (Professor Steve Peters)


Words: my own except where quoted.
Photo by Jarl Schmidts via Unsplash.