Full Text – Matthieu Ricard on Change your Mind, Change your Brain: The Inner Conditions for Authentic Happiness at Google TechTalk held on March 15, 2007.
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Introducing Speaker: Hello, good morning, my friends. For those who don’t know me, my name is Ming. For those who know me, my name is still Ming. I’m the jolly good fellow which nobody can deny. It’s my honor today to introduce fellow jolly good fellow, Matthieu Ricard.
Now Matthieu is a very gifted scientist who became a Buddhist monk. He was regarded as one of the most promising scientists of his generation. Sorry, biologist. I took it from the web. He completed his PhD thesis in 1972 before most of you were born. And unfortunately, he wasn’t able to join Google at that time. So he went to Nepal instead, and became a biologist. No, just kidding, he became a monk. And he has lived and studied in the Himalayas for the past 35 years where he has been doing humanitarian projects.
Matthieu is also a bestselling author. He’s a translator, and he’s a photographer. And all these pictures, they are taken by him. He’s also an active participant in current scientific research on meditation and the brain. And in many of those studies, he is the brain that they’re studying. When you were in high school, did they ever call you the brain? If they did, they’d be right.
So, Matthieu is a very happy man. He’s so happy he wrote an entire book on happiness. And he autographed my book, so I’m very happy. Thank you. Matthieu is one of the most fascinating men I’ve ever met in my life, and —
Matthieu Ricard – Monk, Author, Photographer
You only met me once, so.
Introducing Speaker: Yeah. And I meet a lot of famous people, you guys know that. It is an honor and pleasure for me to welcome Matthieu Ricard to our presence.
Matthieu Ricard – Monk, Author, Photographer
You know, just to go on about, for those who don’t know him and those who know him, there is also an interesting story of a Middle East wise man called Mulla Nasreddin. Many of you could know him. And once he came into a coffee shop, and went straight to the owner and asked him, did you see me enter? And the guy said yes. And then he asked, but, do you know me? And the guy said no. Then how do you know it’s me? So, thank you so much. It’s a pleasure to visit this wonderful enjoyable place where I usually meet people in swimming trunks — moving into the alleys, going to the swimming pool. Occasionally Ming as he leaves his master chef to go off to his office. So I definitely would like to work there, it seems better than being at home.
So probably I have nothing to teach you about happiness. And someone told me actually I should never have written this book because I never suffered very much in my life, so the last person to write a book on happiness and suffering. So anyway, I thought to just share a few ideas because they were very dear to me, and they brought a lot of sense of fulfillment and joy to be alive, and a sense of direction in life. And this came through reading beings of great wisdom. It sort of started like that. We speak of leadership, leadership has to be someone who somehow inspires you by showing you the kind of potential that you could actualize, showing you what you could become, and giving you a sense of direction and inspiration. It’s not very frequent in life. And I was quite lucky in my teens to be born in a family in France where my father was a well-known philosopher, so we had all these great thinkers and poets at home. My mother was an artist, so we had all these surrealist painters and all that coming. Because of musical connections when I was 16 years old, I had lunch with Stravinsky himself, just for two hours with three people all together. And I had an uncle who was an explorer, he went around the world on a sailboat without the engine after the second world war. And the uncle had all kinds of eccentric friends, such as one when we went to see in Paris and there was a small note on his door saying, I left on foot for Timbuktu, and things like that.
So a lot of wonderful people. And in science of course, the lab I was working with, with three Nobel Prize of medicine, Jacob, Mano and Ralph at Pasteur Institute. So it was very exciting. There was definitely a lot of people to look at, as what could I do, where could I be inspired? At the same time, definitely I would have wished to play the piano, you know, like Sviatoslav Richter], or the chess like Bobby Fischer. But I don’t know if you remember about Bobby Fischer, but who wants to become Bobby Fischer? So there was a kind of discrepancy. You could take 100 governors, you would have a number of wonderful people, and some governor with a quite short temper and not so nice to deal with. But same thing with philosopher, same thing with scientist, same thing with artist. No matter what their particular skill or genius was, there was no correlation as such, between their human qualities and their particular genius. So you could try to pick up all the things and make your own salad and try to — but that somehow didn’t seem a bit artificial. Like making a pretzel of all that and thinking is going to work.
So then, I was lucky enough to travel to the Himalayas, and then I met something quite different. Men of wisdom. Men and women of wisdom. And what was special about them — they are all the great Tibetan teachers who have fled the invasion of Tibet towards India and other places — is I didn’t really care so much what they knew in terms of poetry, Tibetan drama, and even Buddhist philosophy in the beginning. That was not my interest at all. But what they were, that was inspiring. The quality, the human quality. And then I thought, I want to become like them, not just know what they know. And so because there was a kind of — the first trigger was seeing a documentary movie on those great teachers, that a friend of mine made for the French television. And at the end of the documentary, there was a five minute silence – one phase of those meditators and hermits, and spiritual teachers, and the Dalai Lama. One after the other, just silent. It was so powerful. It was like 20 Socrates or 20 St. Francis of Assisi, whoever you feel like is represent the wisdom of humanity. Just they are alive in our time. So I said, well, I should go to see.
And then that was very interesting, because, somehow, someone like that — and I’m going to show some images — show you what you could become. It’s a source of inspiration. That this is possible, somebody made it somehow. Then of course you get interested in how, but first you have to see that it makes sense. And so also, in the course of living in the Himalayas, I know, after awhile traveling back and forth, some other things became quite clear about what brings freedom or fulfillment in life. And it seems that we so much put our hopes and fears in the outer conditions.
So now, let’s be clear from the beginning, we want outer conditions to be optimal. Compared to 150 years ago when the life expectancy even in Europe was like 30 years. And who doesn’t want to live long, to be healthy, to have access to education, to have a wonderful working place, harmonious human relations in one’s family, with friends, with people? Even in country where there is peace, where there is not an oppressive regime? So all that we really deeply sort of yearn for that, and that’s right. And we ought to develop that to the maximum we can. And especially in the world where this is far from being granted for many, many places of the world where 3,000 children still die every day of malaria, and all that you know. And there’s so much to do just to bring those minimum outer conditions. Yet it’s quite clear too, that if we only put our hopes and fears in the outer world, it’s not going to work in our search for direction, for meaning, for genuine sense of fulfillment and accomplishment, what do we call genuine happiness.
Genuine happiness doesn’t mean pleasant feelings one after the other, each one more and more intense, piling them up, renewing them, seeking them, and then collapsing of exhaustion at the end. That’s not going to work. So it’s more like a cluster of qualities that we can develop as skills, like openness, genuine altruistic love, compassion, inner strength, some kind of inner peace. And then that gives you a sense of confidence that’s not just like the false confidence of arrogance, but confidence that you are less vulnerable and therefore more ready also to be of service to others, and contribute to a more compassionate and society that gives you a better way of flourishing yourself and others. And because more confidence means less feeling of insecurity or fears, then more readiness to be there for others. So it’s quite clear that the outer conditions themselves are not enough, however necessary or useful they might be. Not enough because we also can clearly see that our state of mind, the way we interpret and translate those outer conditions in our inner experience, are what really determines states of well being and/or misery. And the state of mind can easily override those outer conditions. We can feel terrible in a little paradise, and we can feel still very strong and joyful and wish to go about one’s life, and contribute to the happiness of others, even in the face of adversity. So as the Dalai Lama once gave this striking example, if you move in a very luxurious flat at the hundredth floor of a high-tech skyscraper, for the first time, you just bought it, and then you are totally ruined within, destroyed in your heart, in your mind, all you are going to look for is a window from which to jump.
On the other hand, you could have this great joy to be alive, empathy, whatever, all those human qualities, even when other conditions doesn’t seem nice at all. But because your state of mind is stronger. And that’s such fortunate situation. Because imagine that to find happiness, the world would have to be the image of your desire, your fancies, the universe could be a vast catalog in which you could order all the ingredients for happiness, forget it. It’s never going to happen like that. There still should be 6 billion catalogs, and everyone will choose different items, and they will never work. This is not just — it seems obvious, but great thinkers thought otherwise. Emmanuel Kant wrote that complete happiness will be the compete fulfillment of all our desires, in quantity, quality, and duration. The whole idea of happiness goes to the drain. This would never happen, never. How could that be? But anyway, impermanence is there, even you had for a fraction of a second, everything to be happy. Then one piece was going to be missing the next day. So again, collapse. It doesn’t work.
And we know in real life, I remember, when I was going to Tahiti, with the younger [brother] of my monastery, was the first two Buddhist monks in Tahiti, it was big news. So in the evening news there was two big items. They found a snake in the forest, there’s no snake in Tahiti, and second item, two Buddhist monk arrived in Tahiti. So the next day we were at this wonderful postcard-looking sunset in Paul Gauguin’s house — and he was not there — but very beautifully lit swimming pool, and sitting there and then looking at each other, I said, oh. If we are the owner of that it’s supposed to make us happy. There seems to be no relation. And then if that makes us happy, then what? If we double the size of the swimming pool, we twice as much happy? So of course no relation. It’s the way you interpret things. And we had the confirmation of that about the way of interpreting the world the next morning, because Tahiti looks great on postcards, but it’s pretty hot and damp and wet when you are there.
So we were sitting on a beautiful tree, and there was, imagine, there was this kind of soft, mist, refreshing mist falling from the tree. We were sitting there. Complete bliss, thinking, this is real paradise. Even the trees are air-conditioned. But then someone came and said, you know, those are pissing flies. So our perception of the world changed right away. So let’s assume that the inner conditions for well being are really what will determine the quality of everything that goes by. And that’s a fair assumption.
But then, that we’re in a much better position, because that’s our mind, the final experiencer of that. At least we are not having to modify the whole world to our taste. But we can change our mind. If we change our mind we change our world, that’s the world we experience. So that’s the idea. So for that we need to identify which conditions in our mind are leading to sense of fulfillment and fruition, accomplishment and sense that if we look 20 years ahead, if we look back, we see that somehow that’s the best we could do with our capacities, and we choose the right direction, something that’s really truly meaningful in our life.
So what are those conditions which will nurture that quality? Also the quality of every moment that passes. Because after all, life is not just remembering the past and projecting in the future. That’s the quality of the present moment. That’s what today is made of. Someone says, take care of the minutes, the hours will take care of themselves. So if all the minutes are unhappy, how could the hours and day somehow be fulfilled? So we need that quality. So that has to do with states of mind. And then there are states of mind which are totally detrimental to the quality of that life. Hatred, resentment, grudge, nagging jealousy, obsessive desire, arrogance. All those are just makes you feel miserable, and of course they also induce you to act and speak in ways that also cause suffering around you. So it’s a lose-lose situation, that comes to very self-centered, excessive feeling of self-importance, bringing everything to oneself, and trying to build up a so-called selfish happiness, sometime at the detriment of others’ well being. That’s absolutely not going to work. If a selfish happiness is the goal of your life, then that life is soon going to be without any goal. Because that simple cannot work. The reason it cannot work is that excessive preoccupation with oneself is a constant source of torment and being vulnerable to everything. Criticism, praise, failure, and success. All those will take disproportionate importance, will be like a storm in a glass of water. And each of those will be like small balls bouncing in that small, tiny bubble of the ego, and then hurting you every time. So we need to explode that self-centeredness bubble, and let those bullets get lost in the vast space of open-minded, so that we not just simply obsess, what’s going to happen to me, how do I feel. And all this thing that is just way off is buying trouble for ourself.