Matthieu Ricard

Caring for the Quality of All Life

Excerpts from "The Future Doesn't Hurt. Yet," by Matthiew Ricard, The New York Times, June 23, 2011:

The debate about climate change is mostly conducted by people who live in cities, where everything is artificial. They don’t actually experience the changes that are taking place in the real world. The vast majority of Tibetans, Nepalese and Bhutanese who live on both sides of the Himalayas have never heard of global warming, as they have little or no access to the news media. Yet they all say that the ice is not forming as thickly as before on lakes and rivers, that winter temperatures are getting warmer and the spring blossoms are coming earlier. What they may not know is that these are symptoms of far greater dangers.

...Imagine a ship that is sinking and needs all the available power to run the pumps to drain out the rising waters. The first class passengers refuse to cooperate because they feel hot and want to use the air-conditioner and other electrical appliances. The second-class passengers spend all their time trying to be upgraded to first-class status. The boat sinks and the passengers all drown. That is where the present approach to climate change is leading.

Whether people realize it or not, their actions can have disastrous effects — as the environmental changes in the Himalayas, the Arctic circle and many other places are showing us. The unbridled consumerism of our planet’s richest 5 percent is the greatest contributor to the climate change that will bring the greatest suffering to the most destitute 25 percent, who will face the worst consequences. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, on average an Afghan produces 0.02 tons of CO2 per year, a Nepalese and a Tanzanian 0.1, a Briton 10 tons, an American 19 and a Qatari 51 tons, which is 2,500 times more than an Afghan.

Unchecked consumerism operates on the premise that others are only instruments to be used and that the environment is a commodity. This attitude fosters unhappiness, selfishness and contempt upon other living beings and upon our environment. People are rarely motivated to change on behalf of something for their future and that of the next generation. They imagine, “Well, we’ll deal with that when it comes.” They resist the idea of giving up what they enjoy just for the sake of avoiding disastrous long-term effects. The future doesn’t hurt — yet.

An altruistic society is one in which we do not care only for ourselves and our close relatives, but for the quality of life of all present members of society, while being mindfully concerned as well by the fate of coming generations.

Read the entire essay...

Developing Our Human Qualities

Excerpt from “Matthieu Ricard: Meditate Yourself Better,” by Curtis Abraham, New Scientist (Feb. 3, 2010)

Matthieu Ricard (Photo: Angeles Nassar) “Experiments have indicated that the region of the brain associated with emotions such as compassion shows considerably higher activity in those with long-term meditative experience. These discoveries suggest that basic human qualities can be deliberately cultivated through mental training. The study of the influence of mental states on health, which was once considered fanciful, is now an increasing part of the scientific research agenda.

Twenty minutes of daily practice can contribute significantly to a reduction of anxiety and stress, the tendency to become angry and the risk of relapse in cases of severe depression. Thirty minutes a day over the course of eight weeks results in a considerable strengthening of the immune system and of one's capacity for concentration. It also speeds up the healing of psoriasis and decreases arterial tension in people suffering from hypertension.

Why should we bother to meditate? The answer is that we all have the potential for positive change, which largely remains untapped. That's a great pity, because we know the virtue of training and learning. We spend years going to school and training in things like sports, but for some strange reason we don't think that the same need applies to developing and optimizing our human qualities.”

[Thanks Alex!]

Giving Happiness, Receiving Happiness

Cognitive develpmental neuroscientist Adele Diamond, speaking with Krista Tippett from “Learning, Doing, Being: A New Science of Education,” Speaking of Faith, November 19, 2009:

My husband who came with me to Dharamsala said, "If you're going to give [the Dalai Lama] a present, I want to give him a present, too." He wanted to give him a kite because he didn't think the Dalai Lama got to spend enough time playing.

And so then he found online that he could get a package of ten plain, undecorated kites very inexpensively. Vancouver kids with kitesHe asked me if I could find classes of school children to decorate them. I contacted a colleague, Kim Schonert-Reichl, and she helped me find a class of children with developmental disorders, many of them ADHD, who were either not on medication or on reduced medication because they were doing mindfulness.

They had heard of the Dalai Lama, and they were very excited to be decorating these kites. And there were two children per kite. On one side, they did self portraits, so it looked like a Picasso because half of the kite is one child's face and half of the kite is the other child's face.

My husband brings all these to Dharamsala and we get a private audience with His Holiness Adele Diamond, her husband, and Dalai Lama with kite pictureand we had the wisdom not to bring all the kites with us to the audience because the Dalai Lama said thank you but it was very clear he wasn't going to fly any kites; he's was going to put them in a drawer.

After that we went to visit Matthieu Ricard at Katmandu, where he has a Tibetan monastery. And he has many humanitarian projects in connection with that and one of them are schools for poor children. Any background, doesn't matter, religious or ethnic. They call it Bamboo Schools because the buildings are all made out of bamboo. So we went to these bamboo schools and we brought the rest of the kites and we gave them to the children there.

They had never flown kites before, and they were so happy to be flying these kites. And Matthieu was so happy to see the children so happy. And we took photos and videos and I brought them back to the class in Vancouver to the children who had been studying mindfulness and I showed them the pictures and they were so happy to see how happy they had made the other children.

SoundSeen: Flying Kites for the First Time from On Being on Vimeo.


Previous posts related to other topics from this interview:


Resources to Deal with the Ups and Downs

Matthieu Ricard “I think we should clearly see what are the inner conditions that foster a genuine sense of flourishing, of fulfillment, that the quality of every instant of your life has a certain quality that you appreciate fully. So, you see, it's very different from imagining that constant happiness will be a kind of euphoria or endless succession of pleasant experiences. That's more like a recipe for exhaustion than happiness...

Pleasure depends very much on circumstances, on what triggers it. Then it's a sensation in a way. So, sensation changes from pleasurable to neutral and to can experience pleasure at the cost of other's suffering. So it's very vulnerable to the change of other circumstances. It doesn't help you to face the other circumstances better.

[But we can] think of happiness as a way of being that gives you the resources to deal with the ups and downs of life, that pervades all the emotional states, including sadness.”

~ Matthieu Ricard, from “The ‘Happiest’ Man in the World,” Speaking of Faith, November 12, 2009

A Tibetan dancer from Shechen Monastery in Nepal during a sacred dance performance in France. 2004.

Photographs by Matthieu Ricard

Endogenous Repair

From "Stem Cells: Untold Stories,” a conversation between Doris Taylor and Krista Tippett, Speaking of Faith, October 29, 2009:

Building Hearts + Lengthening Telomeres from Speaking of Faith on Vimeo.

"What we think impacts who we are. We know that. We know that, whether it's what we think makes us grumpy or what we think makes us happy. And we're learning that those have an impact on our physical body. Stress ages your stem cells. There's science out there from some of the best laboratories in the world showing that the way a cell knows how old it is, is it has a little piece of DNA, chromosome, right? On the end of that chromosome is a little piece of DNA called a telomere. And every time your cell divides, that gets shorter. And when it reaches a certain point, it says, "Oops. I'm old. Time to die." Well, stress makes that piece of DNA get shorter. So stress literally ages your stem cells. If you believe that's true, and it is, it also ought to be possible to reverse stress and make your cells younger...

[Matthieu Ricard] is doing some studies with some people at the University of Wisconsin where he and a number of his colleagues meditate, and as they meditate they measure differences in their brainwaves. And I basically said I would predict that those very same things that when you meditate and you have positive brainwave changes would also have an effect on your stem cells. He very graciously -- and this is an N of one -- let us measure cells in his blood before and after meditation. And what we found was a huge increase in the number of positive stem cells in blood. Largest increase I've ever seen, after fifteen minutes of meditation...

It's all about endogenous repair...

We have inflammation going on inside our blood vessels, inside our organs, inside our tissues. And I think those are nature's cues to say, "Send me cells." Well, I would also say that meditation is essentially doing that without the inflammation. It's nature's way of sending those cells to the sites where you need them in a way to turn down the negative aspects of stress. So stress in my mind is another word for inflammation. I would say inflammation is the physiologic consequence of stress."

Imagining Happiness

From Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill
by Matthieu Ricard

To imagine happiness as the achievement of all our wishes and passions is to confuse the legitimate aspiration to inner fulfillment with a utopia that inevitably leads to frustration.

In affirming that "happiness is the satisfaction of all our desires" in all their "multiplicity," "degree," and "duration," Kant dismisses it from the outset to the realm of the unachievable. When he insists that happiness is the condition of one for whom "everything goes according to his wish and will" we have to wonder about the mystery whereby anything might go according to our wishes and will.

Even if, ideally, the satisfaction of all our desires were achievable, it would lead not to happiness but in the creation of new desires or, just as likely, to indifference, disgust, or even depression. Why depression? If we were to convince ourselves that satisfying all our whims would make us happy, the collapse of that delusion would make us doubt the very existence of happiness.

If I have more than I could possibly need and I am still not happy, happiness must be impossible. That's a good example of how far we can go in fooling ourselves about the causes of happiness. The fact is that without inner peace and wisdom, we have nothing we need to be happy.