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Lions Roar : November 2006
SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2006 71 what to do if you have no self anymore: How can you func- tion? How can cause and effect operate? How can there be any sense of responsibility, morals, and ethics? I told this to His Holiness, and he said, “It’s your fault. You didn’t translate properly!” [Audience laughs] Of course, we do have a kind of self, obviously. There is the dynamic flow of experience and consciousness, and we can label that the same way we can label the Mississippi River or the Ganges, because they are different streams of water in different land- scapes, and their labels can be used to distinguish them. But there is not some guy that pops his head out of the river and says, “I am the Ganges River!” The notion that we should have a strong individualistic self is a recipe for suffering. RICHARD GERE: It’s not true. It’s a lie. It’s false. MATTHIEU RICARD: It’s an impostor. It’s as if someone has been using your credit card for generations and generations. If there were a separate entity called the self, to get rid of it would be like taking the heart out of your chest. But it seems that when we simply put a label on top of this constant, dy- namic stream of experiences, then somehow we want a spirit to protect it, to please it. That leads to endless trouble. RICHARD GERE: What is the entity, then, performing medi- tation? Who is this meditator? MATTHIEU RICARD: We can distinguish various layers in the notion of self. There’s the “I” as in, “I am alive, I am cold, I am angry, I wake up in the morning, I am here.” That “I” is temporary, a reflection of conditions, of what we have expe- rienced until now that we can correlate to our present experi- ence. That’s all fine. The so-called “self ” puts a label on that: “I am this person, I know I changed from childhood to now—my body has aged, and my mind has experienced change—but there is definitely an ‘I’ that must have traveled all that way. That’s me. Other- wise, there’s nobody left.” We begin to attach excessive impor- tance to this separate entity, no longer seen as just a flow of dynamic experience. That’s where we get in trouble. There is a stream but no boat. If your mind fabricates a boat, and you start to travel in it, it will be detrimental to your general happiness. Attraction, passion, arrogance, jeal- ousy—these toxic emotions come from that belief in a sepa- rate, permanent entity. RICHARD GERE: It’s this belief, this root ignorance, that cre- ates all the problems later on, is it not? MATTHIEU RICARD: Yes. If you shout an insult in a canyon, like, “You are a bastard,” then when it echoes back, you will be amused. But if the person next to you says the same thing, you say, “How dare you say that?” because you feel you are the target. If you are taking a nap in a boat in the middle of a lake on a Sunday afternoon and someone runs into your boat and wakes you up, you think, “Who’s that crazy guy interrupting my peace and quiet?” When you see that the boat was empty and just drifted into you, you laugh. What’s the difference? At first you thought you were a target, that the boatman was after “me.” When you saw it was empty, you realized that the boat was not after “me.” What’s the differ- ence? The “me”! That’s all. RICHARD GERE: Once we realize that, it should be OK then? MATTHIEU RICARD: Well, if you want to awaken wisdom, it will take time. Everyone wants it to be quick and easy. RICHARD GERE: And as cheap as possible! [Audience laughs] A story you told about that made a big impression on me. In Los Angeles, His Holiness was giving a teaching to sev- eral thousand people, and at one point he stopped and said, “A lot of people are asking me to tell them the quickest way to enlightenment, and what they really want to know is what is the cheapest way.” Then he told this story about Milarepa, one of the great Tibetan saints, who overcame extraordinary problems in his life and achieved the heights of enlightenment. At the end of his life, he had a wonderful student who came to study intensively with him named Gampopa, a renowned medi- tator in his own right. When it came time for Gampopa to leave Milarepa and go off on his own again, Milarepa said, “My son, I want to give you your final teaching. Come with me.” They walked down the valley, into the woods, and he said, “Now I’m ready to give you my final teaching.” Milarepa turned around, pulled up his robe, and pointed to his butt. It was all callused from sitting in meditation. The final teaching was that you’ve got to do the work. Nothing changes without the work. That’s something I’ve certainly learned. The small degree of work that I’ve done on myself, whatever I’ve put into it, I’ve gotten back for sure. It is a process of learning Most of us are habituated to egocentricity. We have to find a radical new way to meditate on higher qualities of love and compassion. —RICHARD GERE