In 2004, the American National Academy of Sciences published a study conducted by the Universities of Madison-Wisconsin, Princeton and Berkeley on the effect of mental training in the brain. Matthieu Ricard (Aix-Les-Bains, France, 1946) underwent magnetic resonance imaging to detect unusual activity in the left prefrontal cortex, associated with positive emotions. Never before in a human being such a level of happiness had been seen –more than one point than the standard measurement scale. Ricard was declared “the happiest person in the world”.
And who is Matthieu Ricard? But above all, what makes Matthieu Ricard happy?
The son of a philosopher and a painter, both well known, he grew up in an intellectual environment, graduated in molecular biology under the tutelage of a Nobel prize, completed his doctoral thesis and then decided to give a brilliant scientific career up to go to the Himalayas to study and practice Buddhism.
Thus, Ricard is a Buddhist monk in the Nepali monastery Sechen Tennyi Dargyeling, the disciple of Kangyur Rinpoche and Khyentse Rinpoche. He has devoted his life to the spreading of the teachings of these masters, and his photographs show the essence of spiritual life in numerous books and magazines. We can enjoy this work in ‘Journey to Enlightenment’, ‘Monk Dancers of Tibet’, ‘The Spirit of Tibet’, ‘The Monk and the Philosopher’ or ‘The Skill of Happiness’ and in his translations of other Buddhist writings.
What Ricard expresses in his works and lectures around the world is precisely the possibility of modeling our thoughts, to train our minds to focus on the positive and to destroy the negative, as we can read in these excerpts:
We have highlighted the fact that change in attitude has a healing effect. Maybe you can go directly to the change of attitude, the change of mind. By teaching, instead of treating people like children and give them placebos. That is what the training of the mind and the stress reduction based on consciousness are about.
So change your attitude and be more positive. It is not saying ‘Oh, I’ll be fine, sure’. Let’s not be childish. You have to stop worrying indeed, develop a true desire to live and get a good motivation, like ‘I have a better life and I can make it possible to others’. I think that if your direction in life is clear and if you have the desire to live a happy life and contribute something to others, you have the strength to want to be alive.
I think the development of the strength of mind is important. It is about not discouraging yourself or thinking about yourself too much and worrying too much and repeat the ‘me, me, me, how do I feel?’ over. This attitude chickens you, the complaint and paying attention to every little own feeling pushes you to be mulling over everything that happens and makes you a target for thousands of adverse events.
You can train yourself to be stronger, more compassionate, more altruistic and caring. Somehow, there is nothing wrong with playing the piano, for example, but it is not a big trauma if you do not. But if you do not have any altruism, inner strength, inner peace, there may be a problem. It makes life more difficult for you and others.
If seeing other people suffer only increases your anxiety, then I think we should see it differently. If we do not focus on ourselves too much, we can increase our courage and determination to remedy the pain without increasing our anxiety. If we have an unconditional compassion, it increases our courage. Here it is the difference, self-centered motivation versus altruistic motivation.
If you think everything is perfect in your life, you may be a buddha, or you may be an idiot.
Detachment is the quiet strength of he who is determined not to dwell on thoughts or to be monopolized by all kinds of activities and trivial ambitions, which devour their time and ultimately only provide minor and fleeting satisfactions.
Another form of laziness is thinking: ‘That’s not for me; it’s beyond my abilities. I’d rather not get involved with it’. In other words, you give up the race before you reach the starting line.
I wish you a happy and a conscious week,