Matthieu Ricard on Change your Mind, Change your Brain: The Inner Conditions (Full Transcript)

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.

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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.

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