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

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.

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So now there are other type of emotions and mental state. We definitely feel as something that is nourishing the sense of well-being, like, say, loving kindness, unconditional love, wanting to — an act of generosity with no strings attached, just mere wish of bringing some happiness or relieve some suffering to others. And some sense of inner peace, inner strength, inner contentment. So all of those together makes it a way of being. And that’s what genuine happiness is. It’s not just pleasant feelings and trying to accumulate them endlessly. Because pleasant feelings are so much fleeting, even you try to renew them, they depend upon circumstances, upon time. The changing nature from one moment to the other, something that is very pleasant, like a chocolate cake, once serving is great, two — see, you become nauseous to the same thing as change of nature. The most beautiful music you can dream of, you might, if you are really hooked onto it, listen three or four times at a row, but imagine 24 hours nonstop. What a fatigue. It doesn’t work. And also it is something that somehow is so centered upon oneself. You can experience intense sensation of pleasure if everyone is suffering even at the cost of other making suffer. It’s not something that is inspiring necessarily and is so vulnerable to change.

Now, happiness as a way of being, as a optimal way of the mind to be, will remain throughout the ups and downs, throughout the different emotional states and give you the resources to deal with whatever comes. So rather than being dependent on the fluctuating changes of ups and downs of life, that’s what gives you the resources to deal with those changing conditions. It’s like the depth of the ocean, it’s always there, compared to the change on the surface where there’s sometimes storms, sometimes beautiful weather, but if you don’t have the depth, then you are in the midst of that weather change on the surface with nothing to refer to. So it is a way of being. Or a manner of being. But manners need to be learned. It is not — it is true that we are more or less born with the kind of traits, we are more or less happy and extrovert kids, or kids which are a little bit more violent, and some others are very sweet, and will give their toys to others. So we have traits, but no, those are just blueprints. This is not the time to elaborate on that, but epigenesis means that even you have these set of genes, at any time there is something that could regulate their expression. There are wonderful studies now done showing that almost any kind of gene that determines traits can be modified by the environment, by receiving and giving love and tenderness. The gene can be for stress, for instance, can be blocked for life, if there’s a strong component of tenderness in very early life. And so those are just potential that we are more or less gifted in the beginning, but the hard work and the interaction can change that. So there is this flexibility in everything, in the genes, in the way we experience the world, so there is margin to change.

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