A Thousand Names for Joy: A Commentary by Curtis Wee

A Thousand Names for Joy is Byron Katie’s take on The Tao Te Ching as translated by Stephen Mitchell.  Byron Katie’s view of the world is simple; and it is the way to truth. She considers “God” to be simply what is. God is reality; she does not judge it to be good or bad, kind or unkind.  Most people live in a dualistic framework, which she believes causes suffering in the world.


We can choose to perceive differently and see the world with loving kindness and oneness with the universe. When we see the world as being absolutely friendly and everything in the universe as one, there can be nothing but love, compassion, peace and joy. (This, according to Katie, is our true nature).  The stories we believe cause all suffering and they are just more opportunities for us to inquire with the four questions that she calls The Work. Examining our beliefs in this way enables us to end our own suffering.  Each time we feel insecure, unloved, victimized, or angry, or have any negative emotion, it is a gift from God that we are noticed. We inquire so that we can return to our rightful, god-given place of joy and peace. The title of A Thousand Names for Joy reminds me of how seemingly different situations are really all the same; all of these situations can bring us back to joy.


Throughout the book there are examples of people doing The Work.  They are inspiring and useful as to how we can do The Work ourselves. For instance, Katie writes about a dyslexic man who owns a successful boot company. He reminds himself in his check book how to spell every number from 1 to 1,000 so that he can just copy it. Throughout his life, he suffered because he believed that he needed to read and write well even though he had gotten along without it just fine for the first 40 years of his life. He also has employees to do that stuff for him.


Katie also includes stories from her own life. She shares that she is grateful for what is and how everything in the world is abundant and done for her. When she falls, she is grateful that the floor supports her without question and doesn’t complain that she is abandoning it when she picks herself up from the floor. Her life at hotels is full of abundance—they supply everything she needs and does not need. This kind of gratitude is a great lesson for changing the perceptions that our fixed pattern of judging generates.


Katie illustrates saving one own self as the way to freedom in Chapter 17:


“The Master doesn’t talk, she acts. When her work is done, the people say, ‘Amazing: we did it, all by ourselves!’… The most attractive thing about the Buddha was that he saved one person – himself. It’s like the instructions on an airplane for when the pressure drops: first pull down the mask and put it over your own face, then put it over your child’s.


“I know what it is to enter heaven and not look back, and I know the arrogance of thinking that people need to be saved. If I can walk into light, so can you.


“I don’t ever see myself as a ’spiritual teacher.’ Of course, you can use me by asking me a question. I answer you, you hear what you think I say, and you set yourself free (or not). I am your projection. I am, for you, no more and no less than your story of me. You tell the story of how I’m wonderful or terrible; you see me as an enlightened being and make me into an all knowing guru or fairy godmother, or you see me as a Pollyanna-ish New Age flake, or simply as a good friend. You give me to you, or you take me from you….


“I love it when my job is deleted! Why would I want to be seen as wise or holy? What would I have to gain by that but a story? Whatever realization I’ve had is for me; there’s no way I can give it to you. And even if I could give you my realization, by that very act I would be saying, ‘You can’t do it. I’ll do it for you. I’d be teaching dependency and telling you that the answers are somewhere outside you. I have nothing for you but the questions.”


The universal lesson is that God is within each and every one of us. If we just question our thoughts, we can find everything we had been looking for outside of us had been inside of us all along.


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