PW: Who would you like to read The Art of Happiness at Work?

Howard Cutler: Ideally, I would like it to be read by anyone who has to work for a living.

PW: Naturally. But how can work be considered from a spiritual perspective, beyond the obviously good aim of feeding our families and ourselves? Would the Dalai Lama say that work is another area where we can practice cultivating basic human values like kindness and compassion?

HC: I think so. I would add that he believes that happiness can be cultivated and that we can reshape our situation by reshaping our attitude.

PW: It was intriguing that he didn't pounce on the concept of flow. I would have thought that a description of a blissful state of absorption would have interested a man with such extensive experience in meditation. But he places much more importance on the cultivation of basic human values.

HC: I was surprised by that, too. A lot of people who are interested in the spiritual path, including me, are from a background where we emphasized mystical and higher meditative states. I've done a total turnaround since I've known the Dalai Lama, so that now I really value kindness, compassion, tolerance and all the basic human values.

PW: Also surprising is the Dalai Lama's refusal to categorize weapons as per se a bad thing. He declares the need for a defense against totalitarian regimes like China's. Certainly, there is a strong tendency to think that because he is a Buddhist leader, he must be a total pacifist. But it's not that simple, is it?

HC: His answer totally surprised me, too. In the years that I've known him, I've watched him evolve and his view become much more subtle and nuanced. His message is that things are not that simple and that there is always a larger view.

PW: How did you meet the Dalai Lama?

HC: I went to the University of Arizona medical school and in 1982, in my senior year, I got a three-month grant to study Tibetan medicine at the Tibetan Medical Center in Dharamsala, India [the home of the Dalai Lama]. The Dalai Lama's brother was the director of the medical center. I met him and his wife and children, and ultimately I met the Dalai Lama.

PW: How did the Art of Happiness come about?

HC: I first had the idea in 1991, although the original conception changed quite a bit. I always go to see the Dalai Lama well prepared with notes and studies, but he doesn't follow my agenda, and things grow organically. But the original conception was to do a book that was not Buddhist but was for a Western audience. I thought he would resist. In fact, I had a case prepared to persuade him of the usefulness of the book. But he said, "That sounds good." I didn't get to use any of my arguments. He has a strong interest in secular ethics and a real desire to help people. The Art of Happiness addresses the psychological dimension of his ethics, and this book addresses real-world implementation.

PW: How long did this take you?

HC: I began the book in December 2000. I did several week-long interviews in Dharamsala and I saw him for a week in Prague when he had time. And I tagged along on his tour of the States.

PW: Were you surprised by the staggering success of The Art of Happiness? Was the Dalai Lama surprised?

HC: We were both totally surprised. The original print run for that book was 20,000 copies ,and the editor didn't think it would sell that.

PW: How did the idea of doing a number of sequels come about?

HC: People would write in and ask what about this, what about that. We got together and it became clear that there was too much stuff to address for one book. He left it totally up to me. That is, he said, "You choose how to present it and I'll discuss what I want to discuss." We have tentatively planned to do The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World, a book on practicing the art of happiness and a book on business and leadership.