The Mindspace Podcast #14: True Happiness with Buddhist Monk Matthieu Ricard

welcome to the Mindspace podcast I’m Jo
Flanders thanks for tuning in the mind space podcast is my personal in-depth
exploration of the science and practice of well being I’m sharing this journey
with you because I believe we can all lead a happier and more meaningful life
by getting the facts in training our minds join me as I learn and share the
most inspiring insights about human flourishing from leading experts because
we could all use a little more mine space so incredibly exciting episode
today I had the enormous privilege of interviewing Matsui cow who is arguably
the most well known guest I’ve had on the podcast so far for those of you that
don’t know Matt sue he is a French buddhist monk and a
best-selling author he’s sometimes referred to as the happiest man in the
world and this is because in the year 2000 his brain was scanned in an imaging
study and he exhibited never-before-seen activation in certain parts of his brain
and that landed him the nickname but in my view what’s even more interesting
about Matt SIA is his background he got a PhD in molecular genetics in 1972 in
his native France and instead of going on to a successful academic career like
his father philosopher jean-paul suave vet he decided to move to Nepal and
become a Buddhist monk dedicating his life to training his mind and making the
world a better place he’s been there ever since so he has a truly unique
perspective on health and well-being there’s literally no other human being
on the planet who better understands the intersection of contemplative practice
and contemporary science and he brings this perspective to a variety of work
activities including contributing to scientific research on meditation
writing books translating ancient Buddha Buddhist texts and public speaking
around the world he also happens to be the Dalai Lama’s French interpreter and
close friend Metsu is also highly active as a humanitarian in the year 2000 he
created Karuna chechen an organization providing Prime
health care and education and social services for the underserved populations
of India and Nepal and Tibet and all of the proceeds of his books his
photographs and events are donated to this cause really cool to announce that
you can actually see Mathieu speak live in Montreal later this month
so Karuna Canada which is the Canadian champion is putting on a conference and
a concert on April 13th at the Maison Symphonique of plastics are the event is
called taking care of life it will be in French
and the details can be found at Karuna Canada org so that should be a very cool
event and you will probably see me there a couple of other quick notes about this
episode before we get to it number one the sound quality is pretty bad this is
because when we spoke betsy was actually visiting his mother in the French
countryside and the only connection we had was through a landline so what
you’re hearing is actually a direct recording of that phone call so we did
our best to clean it up in the post-production phase and this is the
best we could do so hopefully it’s not too much of an obstacle for you second
because this was an unusual and interesting moment and interview I
decided to play the audio of the entire phone call including the initial
introduction and setup of the interview now that part was done in French and
then we did transition to English for the actual interview so if you don’t
understand French don’t worry about it this is a very brief exchange and then
we switch into English for the interview and finally if you’d like to learn about
meditation deep in an existing meditation practice or learn more about
how you might integrate mindfulness into your organization please check out our
programming at mine space well being calm or presence meditation ca
now as for the interview itself it is relatively brief but I do feel we
covered some very interesting ground including his perspective on the
explosion of mindfulness in the West in the last 20 years developments in the
science of meditation what strikes Mets you most when he visits Western
countries and his advice for people who want to cultivate a happier life and now
without further delay I bring you my interview with Matt Savita I know a bordo miss Eureka EW so SK was
at compile-time was it Red Bull she said a wrong spot
okay super yeah I’m covering for Mia see the toilet impulsive Emma interasante my
develop of tinta poopoo my McQueen OTC and others will never see okay very good
very good okay so my first question is that
I’ve been practicing meditation myself for about 20 years and I’ve been really
blown away even kind of shocked by how much mindfulness meditation has exploded
in Western culture and you of course have an even at a much richer and a
deeper relationship with this practice I’m just curious to hear from you what
is it like from your perspective to see how meditation has really moved into the
mainstream in Western culture well first of all I think it’s nice to do not
define submission in context you know in Sanskrit Bhuvana means to cultivate
something and in Tibetan gums means to become familiar with them so you could
cultivate focused attention compassion benevolence in a balance and you could
become familiar with the thought process fundamental nature of mind behind the
three month or so the lot of thing you can be you could become familiar with
and so roughly is sort of mind training and you know the whole Buddhist path is
about getting rid of the causes of suffering and the causes of suffering of
course some are obvious like Hitler than craving and so forth some are less
obvious which is a like a distortion of reality for which wisdom is on the
remedy so a minimization is also familiar a ssin with correct
standing of reality is much more power than what really people for meditation
and and even faster that the technical definition of mindfulness which of all
they are quite a few but basically is to pay attention and destructively
the present moment in a non-judgmental way and that is whatever happens without
losing that mindfulness we call that attentive presence in Buddhism is not
quite non-judgmental because it’s connected with an evaluation of whether
what you notice in the present moment is wholesome and unwholesome not in a kind
of moralistic way but in the terms of whether it grief suffering or freedom
from suffering or more in it in a practical way and therefore something
that bring suffering is undesirable so the other aspect of Ming mindful of is
what could be the antidote head to hatred and then put the antidote
actually in a proper way so then no put in this context this occurs much faster
and then even that is put in the vast scope of a very rich array of method
which constitute the path from suffering to freedom from suffering which is
extremely vast also thick elastic on an analytical aspect practical aspect and
so forth so now of course when my dear friend
John Carradine got the idea that there was a lot of suffering especially in the
medical world from patients from caregivers and he was wondering how to
use some of the techniques in here learned mostly in Burma and other places
to Buddhist practices in a way that could be acceptable that years ago in
the medical setting which was not very open to the idea of bringing some weird
exotic practices so the idea of her stress would being one of the main
factor and the mindfulness being able to reduce the stress but
already a kind of threat of genius and recently witnessed John reviewing 30
years of expansion of the in fact of mindfulness on health care and then in
other fields of life and was truly moving and amazing so this being said is
the never pretended to be the essence of Buddhism I think John clearly said also
if he is five I am British in but is not integral Buddhist practices the only
problem will be for those people with other the essence of Buddhism does most
simplistic obviously and also one issue might be I think it comes out of the
medical world which is done now in big way go into corporate world you might
worry that it might be used in an instrumental way to make people more
efficient product even while remaining life has changed I don’t think this has
materialized as a genuine cause of concern nevertheless if when John and
his team and there are many others have done that in the medical context then of
course they were there with a compassionate attitude to reduce
suffering so to make sure that you know this is not disembodied from that
compassion or what John call from traveling called heartfulness I believe
that instead of having two things no mindfulness heartfulness if you just
kick off caring mindfulness then you cannot go astray into a sort of cold
pool you just be more attentive for whatever instrumental purple that could
be completely devoid of ethics and compassion so meditation is faster than
that Buddhist path is faster than meditation but is nothing wrong with
this mindfulness revolution with others Samantha’s good throughout the world
what do you think the risk is of using mindfulness instrumentally worry about
that but then I kind of mine essential guide was Sebastian are we getting
useful T’s in English also he interviewed the hundred heroes who are
decided to incorporate mindfulness in there at
their workplace and it was very interesting because first they were
educated because they say all political would become less motivated I mean more
soft and then it’s a waste of time maybe they will use too much time but then
what they found is actually something quite different they found that there
was too many advantages which was not just to make people more efficient
that’s not what happened the two advantages were having better judgment
because they thought initially bigger sort of way bigger perspective from
different perspective and then second thing was improving of even relationship
who is the envy copy at the time so those two things of course must welcome
so so far I mean of course I’m not a specialist because I don’t work in a
corporate world but I haven’t heard much of someone who are looking back in this
company they just use that to relentlessly push people harder and use
the mindfulness to make them less stress while pushing them like crazy
so this worry didn’t happen but I think since compassion and care if such an
important thing definitely my humble suggestion would be
to always speaks of caring mindfulness so then at this you always put
compassion and loving kindness in the forefront and many studies right now put
more and more emphasis on the benefit of practicing compassion and loving
kindness to the extent that then Jimba which also in Canada and with President
or the chairman of mind and life Institute I remember well together in
Singapore presenting the work of minor life and he says after the mindfulness
revolution maybe we are heading to the compassion revolution and I think it
would be great I wanted to talk about the science because of course that’s one
of the reasons why mindfulness has grown so much in the West and of course you’ve
been a really important figure in in advancing the science I’m
curious how do you think science in general is doing how much progress is it
making in understanding the Buddhist wisdom around well-being in the
reduction of suffering for DVB everything’s I’m not practicing
mindfulness in the technical way it is Darlene and DHR so decided that
initially with Francisco Varela then we should debit and Antoine do it
and later with the onion finger and given Louis with one of the were
specially from consciousness to focus simplify things because there’s so many
kinds of meditation when you speak of meditation is that mind ready so you
could find your mind in so many things it’s like physical and you know what are
you doing football or volleyball or chess you know it’s different so we
decided that there was three types of traditional meditation that could be
useful to society and usable in a secular context and one was of course
focused attention and as for me the closer to mindfulness
the other one was compassion or altruistic love and the third one is
what we call open petals which is roughly define as a very open vast baby
state which is in all I mean taxonomy is somehow deeper that mindfulness because
it’s interesting also in the deepest nature of mind
so those three have been extensively studied
they have different signature in the brain there is no doubt that they do
change the brain functionally and structurally for that one of the many
studies have been involved with those lab and they are mostly about
fundamental research while mindfulness has been studied a lot if any kind of
context to see what sort of with the effect they could
on hand which they have and so that fear is not a lot of studies I think John
Kevin didn’t show that you know 20 years ago there was four or five publication
every year nothing now is 400 so but what I did involve it for fundamental
research on the concept of Education and then at a later stage recently I’ve been
involved in a master study European study on Aging and whether meditation
would slow down the aging process which final study done on long-term meditators
have showed that definitely it seems that long-term meditators have
structurally and metabolically a younger brain sometimes at 10 to 15 years and
the average and also have been involved in study on the different levels of
consciousness or vividness of clarity with given noise and also with on your
finger we eat quite a few I think groundbreaking study to distinguish
empathy from compassion and show that when people speak of compassion fatigue
is not the right term speak of empathy fatigue or emotional exhaustion that
leads to blown out with that compassion the opposite is more like an antidote to
burnout and is something that replenishes your strength and courage
while if you empathic resonance with suffering over brotherniou and over
wealth you as the suffering of others is repeated so all these have been
fascinating collaboration and to show also that the meditator is not just a
guinea pig but the token fever of the proper course so they asked me to
co-sign the paper although I’m not involved in crunching the data because
we sort of establish the protocol together so they thought is important to
acknowledge that the meditators are an active role in the research yeah I
wanted to ask you about that as well you’ve got this really unique
set up where I believe part of the year you’re living as a monastic in Nepal and
part of the year you’re living Western in a Western culture in France what is
it like to go back and forth between these two contexts yes no because I only
spent a few days in Paris even though usually what happens when I’m there I do
a lot of public things and media and stuff because of the books and all these
things but I increasingly spend more time either in my Hermitage in the bath
or looking after humanitarian projects organisation carbon essentials actually
organizes the next event in Montreal in April there’s only a mess off now have
twenty fifty thousand people every year in India and Nepal and Tibet and so I’m
very much involved in that I stopped at this organisation so and then you
thought I’m mostly staying with my 95 year old mother in the countryside and
my teachers are here some of my teachers are here even though I make a little
noise when I go to Paris because the media always want to ask you things but
in fact I don’t spend much time immersed in the city life and in the photo
well modern way of life okay so in the moments where you are let’s say speaking
to the media or exposed to urban life even for short periods what jumps out at
you the most as sort of different or unusual or even problematic about our
lifestyle my scientists have been doing a know passionate research tell me about
the question of the need for more altruism and cooperation for our time
I’m very much involved with the environment scientists
so I’m involving too many things in fact well it’s quite clear that the main main
main main challenge for the 21st century is climate change and under the
tradition the ecosystem the dramatic loss of
biodiversity and a population of living species on earth and that could
jeopardize every other project progress that has been done in the past way over
the last two centuries so when I’m concerned by that obviously because if
we if you think that altruism is the best solution to challenges then you
cannot but not be deeply concerned by the fate of future generation and of
eight million other species who are cause it isn’t on this earth so
concerned definitely I am so deeply concerned now whatever I can do is not
very much but at least participating in the debate writing books you know having
a little voice here and there having some time you know going to weird
places like the World Economic Forum or the UN to speak about so steel so
whatever you know I can but if I was on my own of movies like zero you can read
together with me coming from many things of life whether the environment and ease
of policymakers or economies that more emphasis is on caring economics and all
cancer people who really want to try to build a better world even despite this
incredible challenge that we are facing so I’m just part of this community and
do my best to contribute even modest little bring some cultural change I
don’t know where it will lead but we’re trying our best
so we answered your question but clearly you know there is a big problem with the
society of consumerism I think that North American US cities and average
u.s. citizen emit 200 times more field with Anna’s
and Ian the citizens of Qatar and it’s 2,000 times more co2 than an Afghani so
there is a problem there and so it’s not so much to
should prevent the poor countries will gather access to emit more of energy
fully renewable energy to have access to education and health and so forth is
simply that the rich country should just stop that crazy overconsumption I wish
they don’t seem to be ready to do and and the thing that they can be happy
having life or in fact issues whether the opposite and voluntary simplicity is
one of the source of great happiness and freedom but so that’s what I think the
main sort of blindness of modern society is this constant fight for consumerism
for all kinds of things I wish doesn’t bring happiness you know
it has been shown over and again not just a moralistic Buddhist view Paddy’s
activities like Tim Casa who did continue your study on the effect of
consumerism he has a very interesting book of the high price of materialism so
he simply doesn’t make people happier they are less happy are less healthy
they are less good genuine friends are less concerned by global issues the
lesson that ethic yes so this kind of drive is not good for anybody so that’s
so regrettable and but I don’t know how much people are ready to be with us they
think there will be less happy they will be deprived of something good when it’s
a simplification brings us a freedom no house no car no land no nothing I’m so
happy like that right you have to take care of all those crazy that’s one of
the things that has inspired me about your work is this really interesting
possibility that there are actions that we could take simplicity cutting down on
consumerism that are both good for the planet good for our communities and
ultimately enhancing of our own well-being how do you see those things
how do those things fit together change and the latest report of the ipcc and if
we keep on increases the factor of creating meat consumption that alone
will forbid us to stay below two degrees Celsius of warming the simple thing is
the second industrial farming and crop cattle raising from meat is the second
cause of greenhouse gas emission the second one because of the methane under
older Sam it is crazy I mean could be so easy to change that just picture a
little decision doesn’t mean that you change drastically other things of way
of life there’s so many things like that we could move but isn’t it the case that
some of these things we could take not only would have a positive impact on the
world but it would also make us happier like investing in relationships is very
clear about that we wish for happiness but on our back to the cause of
happiness we don’t want to suffer but we run to other cause of suffering it is
one of the main for his statement and even I had a Buddhist Isha who said what
you call happiness here we call it suffering that was a pretty
statement woody woody what does that mean exactly what did he mean by that
it means that when people look for happiness is you know remaining young
forever wealth power fame rank in society you
know extracting value the latest fashionable clothes latest model of this
entire the little scar having a flashy home with lots of staff and then adding
to that the endless succession of pleasurable experiences which are more
diversity for exhaustion so you add all that together you are completely fooled
by this kind of looking for happiness totally in the wrong place so no
surprise that’s called lack of discernment or ignorance so I think know
those things see please don’t bring genuine lasting
happiness fulfillment of contentment where should people be looking for
happiness and contentment we’re not looking at all distinguish that
happiness is not the same thing as just pleasant sensation it’s a way of being
and that is not just one thing of course it comes with a cluster of qualities
that in your freedom in a peace in your strength compassion artistic no not over
inflated substantive of ego not excessive self-centered there is all
kinds of basic human qualities and the good news is all those can be cultivated
as skill and as we’re also no mind training and no classes et comes in the
picture so when all those are being brought to the optimal point then you
have a full field I’ve a sense of resilience of strength of inner freedom
we have the inner resources to deal with the ups and downs of life there’s
nothing to do with the capital seeking of a pleasant sensation
we simply also doesn’t work nothing wrong with pleasure but is simply not
presenting as a chance of fulfillment so what we’re up against here is a
challenge of educating people to change their behavior to I think book so
hopefully with the hope that you will gather in a scientific and philosophical
and experience and evidence and then you know it’s just a little drop in the
ocean that all together with many other trends of ideas and thought makes our
culture of culture are shifting with time so let’s see what will come up it
is a more cooperative a turistic happier Society or will we continue to
go to other nafisa kappa dem exactly it is we can see North America so I don’t
know let’s see I’m very aware of the you know proliferation of good science
and you know good books and persuasive arguments like the work you’re doing but
there’s also a terrible rise of partisanship and difficulty
understanding the other side of debates I’m what you know think this is partly
due to the rise of social media what is your take on that as an obstacle to
improving that’s well known that’s why again I don’t know which one will win
nothing they are wild you can see those four
that play and I think the main research what I did is the Pope and I’ll trade
him and I had to explore those antagonist forces because I was would
have been naive just to say that altruism is the
solution but it agrees that we can enhance it and that’s it but of course
there are so many things like this the cause of violence what makes it a
psychopath why how can we commit genocide how can
we make wholesale massacres of animals for these things and then what are the
solutions for education who want to a sustainable harmony to more caring
economies to global governance so notice a huge spark of reflections upon all the
issues so I find myself along with many other friends for many years try to
formulate all those things and analyze them so I sort of sang with us which is
no I’m this old and I want to go back to contemplative life and they are not that
you are you know I sort of did my best with my humble limited capacity on the
subject that I felt really important and I think now it’s time to move something
else well I think I can speak for my
listeners and and for myself that we hope you keep going as much as you can
because I think you’re doing some really important work we do have an opportunity
here with the people that are listening if there is one thing that you would
like to ask people do or one suggestion for how people might begin to both
improve the world around them and cultivate their own well-being what
would would you advise people to do loving kindness compassion benevolence
and on the global level feel the sense of global response of universal
responsibility and not don’t stop your close ones but extend the circle to all
sentient beings and even to future generations so if we just expand the
scope and the circle of all sort of compassion then I think that’s the best
way we could go both ourselves and for society so I think it unfolding or
twisting level whatever you call it is the twofold accomplishment of others
Goods and your own good and it’s the only way to reconcile the immediate need
to fulfill ones needs for survival and so forth through cooperation kindness of
all the midterm which needs of flourishing in life and the long-term
needs of caring for the future generation for other species for the
planet because competition and selfishness will not do the job so if we
realize that on the intellect and from the heart and then I think if we can
cultivate this compassion in our own life that’s very best thing we could do
both for ourselves and for others thank you very much for for saying that and I
really appreciate the message and I hope our listeners do as well is it is there
anything else that you’d like to add that you feel you didn’t cover
yes in this period I think in next April we are trying to organize a beautiful
meeting in Montreal on the subject of taking care of life and so we’ll have
people of all walks of life but we know scientists we have a witness who spent
15 years as inspector in slaughterhouses and we have a wonderful artist that – up
in a sacred chalice we have Alex from Georgia with a switch antique episode of
her with whom I did a book called in search of wisdom so I think this kind of
event bringing really really and also a lot of people from Canada like I meet
humbly and others told to bring this kind of ID to a live audience and part
of our service and try to know to be part of that cultural change and often
little bit towards a better world and I will definitely make all the information
about that event available on the show notes for this episode also the
procedure for that we’ll use to carbonization events and projects in
Asia so it’s again also it’s like the twofold fulfillment of one’s own
aspiration and other father okay well once again thank you so much for taking
the time great and I can’t wait to see you in Montreal okay take care okay
bye-bye thanks for listening to the mindspace
podcast the purpose of this project is to inspire people to cultivate
well-being the science tells us that well-being is best understood as a
series of skills and habits that can be learned and practiced and I hope
listening to these episodes helps you move forward on your own path to
well-being if you enjoy listening to the mindspace podcast please share your
favorite episodes with friends family and colleagues thanks a lot

Jerry Heath

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