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Lions Roar : July 2015
“In this current era we are confronted with many challenges,” Ricard writes in his new book, Altruism: The Power of Compas- sion to Change Yourself and the World. “One of our main problems consists of reconciling the demands of the economy, the search for happiness, and respect for the environment. These imperatives correspond to three time scales—short, middle, and long term— on which three types of interests are superimposed: ours, the interests of those close to us, and those of all sentient beings.” “Having more consideration for others is the most pragmatic way to deal with the challenges of our times,” Ricard tells the Shambhala Sun. Indeed, “by meeting economists, environmen- talists, psychologists, social workers, global shapers, and leaders, I realized that it is the only pragmatic answer.” From Thomas Hobbs to Ayn Rand, the idea that humans are essentially selfish and even brutish has dominated Western thought for centuries. Ricard, however, believes that human beings are innately compassionate and that we have the capacity to be more so. There are, he says, proven methods for systemati- cally increasing compassion in ourselves and in our society. While Ricard is fully aware that many people will dismiss his ideas as overly idealistic, he asserts that he’s not just a nice-guy Buddhist monk who is fuzzy on facts. With sixteen hundred scientific references in Altruism, Ricard has science on his side. BEFORE MATTHIEU RICARD was a Buddhist monk, he earned a doctorate in molecular biology from the Institute Pas- teur in Paris, where his main advisor was a Nobel laureate. In 1966, when Ricard was twenty years old, his interest in Buddhism was triggered by some films about great Tibetan lamas who’d fled the Chinese invasion. Between his father, the philosopher Jean-François Revel, his mother, the painter Yahne Le Toumelin, and his uncle, the sailor/explorer Jacques-Yves Le Toumelin, Ricard had spent his whole life meeting accom- plished, prominent people in a wide range of fields. Yet that didn’t prepare Ricard for these lamas. “Great artists, scientists, philosophers, and so forth are admired for particular skills, like painting, playing the piano, or solving mathematical equations,” he says. The Tibetan Buddhist teachers, on the other hand, were skilled at being good human beings. In his words, he was “extremely inspired, extremely impressed.” Ricard got a cheap flight to India, where he met Tibetan Buddhist master Kangyur Rinpoche and spent three weeks liv- ing with him and his family in a two-room, wooden hut in Dar- jeeling. At that time, Ricard did not speak Tibetan and barely spoke English, so he hardly understood a word of the teachings he heard. Nonetheless, he got a sense that Kangyur Rinpoche was a bit like the sun. “The sun allows all the crops to grow, all the fruits to mature,” says Ricard. “It gives warmth but does not expect anything in return.” For six years, Ricard divided his time between the Himala- yas and France, but he felt that this was like trying to sew with a two-headed needle or stay seated between two chairs. So in 1972, after completing his dissertation on cellular genetics, he left behind his promising scientific career to dedicate himself fully to Buddhist study in Asia. In his book Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill, Ricard describes Buddhism as never calling for blind faith. “It was a rich, pragmatic science of mind, an altru- istic art of living, a meaningful philosophy, and a spiritual prac- tice that led to genuine inner transformation,” he writes. “I have never found myself in contradiction with the scientific spirit as I understand it—that is, as the empirical search for truth.” Above, left: Ricard with his second teacher, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, in Bhutan, 1981. The true altruist, Khyentse Rinpoche taught, “responds to the needs of others out of his natural compassion. Cause and effect are unfailing, so his actions to benefit others are sure to bear fruit—but he never counts on it.” Above right: Ricard with his father, the philosopher Jean-Francois Revel, on the day of Revel’s reception at the French National Academy in Paris. PHOTO(LEFT)BYMARILYNSILVERSTONE SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2015 40