When the Dalai Lama visited in August, 1999, many monks accompanied His Holiness. One was Matthieu Ricard, one of the Dalai Lama's interpreters. Ricard had just published a best-selling book, and discussed it before an overflow audience at Barnes and Noble Booksellers. Reporting for the local paper, I asked Ricard if he could describe Buddhism in one word. He said it all boils down to love. Here are excerpts from my article.
FRENCH MONK OUTLINES BASICS OF BUDDHISM
By David Horn, Herald-Times Staff Writer
"It is lazy to be discouraged. Diligence is joy, molded in the shape of effort."
These and other nuggets of Buddhist wisdom were shared Friday evening by Matthieu Ricard, a monk who sometimes serves as interpreter for the Dalai Lama.
The standing-room-only crowd at Barnes and Noble Booksellers listened intently for an hour as Ricard explained basic Buddhist concepts before signing copies of a new book he co-authored with his father, called The Monk and the Philosopher.
"Freedom is a hot subject today," he said with a smile, "but too often it means freedom to do whatever we want. Real freedom is not to be carried away by every thought that takes you by the nose."
One way to achieve this freedom is through meditation.
"Meditation is more than sitting under a mango tree in India with an empty mind," he said. "It's a process of gradual transformation; a new way of seeing things. You might meditate on a quality you wish to develop, such as compassion."
In Buddhism, compassion means more than sympathy.
"Compassion is the wish to free beings from suffering and the causes of suffering," he explained. "This wish is directed toward sentient beings, but also toward enlightenment and wisdom. Without wisdom about how ignorance brings suffering, you cannot help anyone, not even yourself. Compassion must be cultivated through meditation until it has intensity."
At 26, Ricard had earned a doctorate in biology at France's Pasteur Institute when he decided to become a Buddhist and study in Darjeeling, India.
His father, famed French philosopher and author Jean-Francois Revel, was disappointed by his son's decision, but eventually yearned to understand why Buddhism is so appealing to the Western world. In France today, Buddhism is the third most popular religion, behind Roman Catholicism and Islam, but ahead of Protestantism and Judaism.
To find answers, Revel, a famed gourmet who dined three times a month at Maxim's, agreed to spend 10 days in the mountains of Nepal with his son, eating nothing but vegetables. With probing questions (Does life have meaning? What is mind? What is happiness? Are we free?) Revel discovered that Ricard's Buddhism is far deeper than blissed-out hippiedom.
When the visit ended, edited versions of their profound conversations became The Monk and the Philosopher, a best-selling book now translated into 14 languages.
The book concludes that Buddhism arouses interest in the West today because it fills a gap left by Western philosophy in the area of ethics and the art of living.
Ricard explains. "Behind what might initially look like exotic forms, the Buddhist path is designed to help us become better human beings."