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Lions Roar : July 2015
For twenty-five years, Ricard lived cut off from the wider world—no radio, no newspapers. He studied intensively with Kangyur Rinpoche until his death in 1975, and then studied with the Dzogchen master Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, one of the twentieth-century’s most important Tibetan Buddhist teachers. He spent years in contemplative retreat. MATTHIEU RICARD’S QUIET, anonymous life came to an end in 1997, when a publisher proposed that he and his father engage in a dialogue unpacking the meaning the life. Published as The Monk and the Philosopher, the book was a runaway suc- cess. More than 350,000 copies were printed in France and it was translated into twenty-one languages. Ricard was thrust into renewing his ties with the scientific world. He engaged in a dialogue with astrophysicist Trinh Xuan Thuan, which was published as The Quantum and the Lotus: A Journey to the Frontiers Where Science and Buddhism Meet. He participated in meetings at the Mind & Life Institute, an organi- zation inspired by the Dalai Lama that was founded to encour- age dialogue between Buddhist scholars and scientists. In 2000, Ricard’s interests in science and compassion came together when he teamed up with neuroscientist Richard Davidson of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds in Madison, Wisconsin. Ricard, in his words, “was a guinea pig” for cutting-edge research projects analyzing both the short- and long-term effects of training the mind through meditation. For the first tests, he was confined in the noisy, claustropho- bic clutches of an fMRI for more than three hours while he practiced several kinds of meditation: concentration, visualiza- tion, and compassion. For a lot of people so much time in a machine of this type would be an ordeal that could easily lead to panic, but at the end of Ricard’s grueling session, he emerged smiling. “That was like a mini-retreat!” he exclaimed. The fMRI scans revealed that Ricard and other expert medita- tors—those who’d practiced for at least 10,000 hours—showed extraordinary levels of activity in the left pre-frontal cortex of the brain, which is associated with positive emotions. Activity in the right-hand side, which handles negative thoughts, was suppressed. When the results of the Madison experiments were released to the public, the media gave Ricard a memorable moni- ker. He became known as “the happiest man in the world.” “People often confuse happiness with pleasure,” Ricard tells the Shambhala Sun. “Yet happiness is not eating ice cream. It’s a way of being, and a way of being is not just one thing. It’s a cluster of basic human qualities, among which inner freedom is central. If you’re happy, you are not the slave of your rumina- tion. You have freedom from hatred, obsessive craving, jealousy, arrogance, etc. “That freedom gives you inner peace and, therefore, a confi- dence that’s very different from narcissistic self-esteem. Because you have the inner resources to deal with life’s ups and downs, you are less preoccupied with yourself. You know that whatever happens you’ll be fine. So not feeling vulnerable, you are not try- ing to overprotect yourself and you are naturally open to others. “Selfish happiness doesn’t exist,” Ricard continues. “When you’re completely self-centered—me, me, me all day long—you push away anything that could threaten your ego, threaten your comfort. This makes life miserable. You’re constantly under threat, because the world is simply not a mail-order catalogue for all your desires.” Altruism, according to Ricard, does not require that we sac- rifice our own happiness. In fact, a benevolent frame of mind, which is based on a correct understanding of interdependent Above left: A technician (left) and neuroscientist Richard Davidson (right) prepare Ricard for an fMRI test at the Waisman Center at the University of Wisconsin- Madison. Ricard was a key collaborator in designing tests to document the long- term effects of meditation on the brain, and was their first subject. Above right: A photo by Matthieu Ricard of a student at a school built by Karuna- Shechen in Tibet. Ricard has produced several books of fine art photography, including Tibet: An Inner Journey. PHOTOBYJEFFMILLER/UNIVERSITYOFWISCONSIN-MADISON SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2015 41