He’s been dubbed “the world’s happiest man”, and those who know him well say his peace of mind and quiet joy are contagious. Matthieu Ricard is a biochemist by training, but he’s lived the past 35 years as a Buddhist monk in a secluded monastery in Tibet. He is an active partipant in the current research on the effects of meditation on the brain, he travels the world as the official translator for the Dalai Lama and in his free time he works on different humanitarian projects in Tibet and Nepal. He has written several fascinating books, including one in co-authorship with his father, French philosopher Jean-Francois Revel (The Monk and the Philosopher). This excerpt is from Happiness. A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill.
“Anyone who enjoys inner peace is no more broken by failure than he is
inflated by success. He is able to fully live his experiences in the context of a vast and profound serenity, since he understands that experiences are ephemeral and that it is useless to cling to them. There will be no “hard fall” when things turn bad and he is confronted with adversity. He does not sink into depression, since his happiness rests on a solid foundation. One year before her death at Auschwitz, the remarkable Etty Hillesum, a young Dutchwoman, affirmed: “When you have an interior life, it certainly doesn’t matter what side of the prison fence you’re on …. I’ve already died a thousand times in a thousand concentration camps. I know everything. There is no new information to trouble me. One way or another, I already know everything. And yet, I find this life beautiful and rich in meaning. At every moment.
Once at an open meeting in Hong Kong, a young man rose from the audience to ask me: “Can you give me one reason why I should go on living?” This book is a humble response to that question, for happiness is above all a love of life. To have lost all reason for living is to open up an abyss of suffering. As influential as external conditions may be, suffering, like wellbeing, is essentially an interior state. Understanding that is the key prerequisite to a life worth living. What mental conditions will sap our joie de vivre, and which will nourish it?
Changing the way we see the world does not imply naive optimism or some artificial euphoria designed to counterbalance adversity. So long as we are slaves to the dissatisfaction and frustration that arise from the confusion that rules our minds, it will be just as futile to tell ourselves “I’m happy! I’m happy!” over and over again as it would be to repaint a wall in ruins. The search for happiness is not about looking at life through rose-colored glasses or blinding oneself to the pain and imperfections of the world. Nor is happiness a state of exaltation to be perpetuated at all costs; it is the purging of mental toxins, such as hatred and obsession, that literally poison the mind. It is also about learning how to put things in perspective and reduce the gap between appearances and reality. To that end we must acquire a better knowledge of how the mind works and a more accurate insight into the nature of things, for in its deepest sense, suffering is intimately linked to a misapprehension of the nature of reality.”
Don’t miss his TED talk, he is truly a man worth knowing. And let me know what you think in the comments!