Ms. Tippett: I'm Krista Tippett, on Being — conversation about meaning, faith, ethics, and ideas. Today, Pursuing Happiness — our broadcast of a live conversation between the Dalai Lama, Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks of Great Britain, Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, and Muslim scholar Seyyed Hossein Nasr.
I've noticed in some of what you've all written in preparation for this conference — the monotheists among us here and the panel — that there is a lot of attention to defining happiness and to the many words that are used in our different traditions and in our languages, in our traditions' original language. It makes me think that, in this culture in particular, if we are going to take happiness seriously in a whole new way as I think many of us want to, we do have to wrestle a bit with that word. That also leads me to wonder if American culture has somehow been fundamentally led astray from the outset by defining happiness as a right. Your Holiness, I wonder how you react to happiness being defined as a right?
Lord Sacks: I'd like just to reflect on one other word, which is "pursuit." Finding happiness doesn't necessarily follow from pursuing it. Sometimes the deepest happiness comes when you're least expecting it. And there is a wonderful story about an 18th-century rabbi, Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev, who is looking at people rushing to and fro in the town square. And he wonders why they're all running so frenetically. He stops one and he says, "Why are you running?" and the man says, "I'm running to make a living." And the rabbi says to him, "How come you're so sure that the living is in front of you and you have to run to catch it up. Maybe it's behind you and you got to stop and let it catch up with you." Now which bits of contemporary culture do we stop and let our blessings catch up with us? Now that is called the Sabbath, which we all share.
The Sabbath is when we celebrate the things that are important, but not urgent. And I remember once taking, you know, an atheist — I think an atheist who's the premier child care specialist in Britain to see a little Jewish primary school and some of the stuff they do there. And she saw on Friday, you know, the little children preparing for the Sabbath, the little five-year-old mother and father blessing the five-year-old children and welcoming the five-year-old guests. She's fascinated by this Sabbath, which she has never experienced. And she asked one five-year-old boy, "What do you like most about the Sabbath?" and he says — or "What don't you like?" And the five-year-old boy, being an Orthodox child, says, "You can't watch television. It's terrible." [laughter] And then she said, "What do you like about the Sabbath?" and he said, "It's the only time daddy doesn't have to rush away." Sometimes we don't need to pursue happiness. We just need to pause and let it catch up with us.