Matthieu Ricard is a monk, photographer and best-selling author of “Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill” and “Why Meditate?” among other books. He is the French interpreter for the Dalai Lama. He is dubbed as the happiest person in the world by popular media but do read about how he feels about this on his blog. Here’s one part of the interview I did with him on 13 September 2012 in Singapore. The other part, especially for leaders, is here. ~ Vadivu
There’s often a split between what we know is compassionate, wise and truthful and what we do. And sometimes we think we are growing because we keep going to spiritual events or our place of worship but our daily life actions may not reflect that. What are your reflections on this and how can we heal this gap?
That’s the main challenge. We can deal with this by recognising the truth of the teachings. After all, it’s not an obligation. You don’t have to practise meditation or live a spiritual life, like you pay tax. Who’s going to keep those accounts? Nobody. So it’s really a way to become a better person and live a more fulfilled life.
When you don’t live with spiritual awareness, you may get a slap on the face. These are not just rules by anyone to just annoy us. They indicate what need to be accomplished so we can avoid suffering.
You don’t see a bird as “renouncing” its cage but it’s freeing itself from its cage. There’s nothing sad to abandon one’s cage. So the ultimate criteria for healthy spiritual practice is to blend one’s mind and life with the teachings. That comes slowly and with that comes happiness.
What are your favourite movies?
I like movies that give hope in the human nature… so any movie that brings the best out of yourself..there are quite a few like Groundhog Day…so it [Phil’s way] fails, it fails, it fails, until compassion comes in. I like this kind of movie with the message of compassion. There’s another one in French – The intouchables.
Many movies now have meanness and violence. It seems there’s nothing except the gratuitous will to harm. This is a wrong presentation of human nature. Pure evil is very very rare in humanity. Even people who commit terrible acts always think they have a reason. It’s never just doing evil for the sake of evil. This is really wrong. Unfortunately [these movies] have great influence on everyone, especially the children, but also adults. It increases their aggression and gives them a pessimistic outlook on life. It’s extremely negative.
There was a very interesting study by Ed Diener and Darlene DeFour which showed that when people were shown a programme with violent scenes deleted, it didn’t significantly affect the popularity of the programme. So the idea that you gain more audience because it’s violent is morally wrong and isn’t true.
If you knew you had one year left to live, what would you do more of? What would you do less of?
I’d stop mending my socks! I would very quickly hand over this charitable organisation, Karuna-Shechen, in a few weeks. And then I will entirely spend that time getting instructions from my teachers and then go into hermitage.
Interview conducted by: Vadivu Govind, Director, Joy Works (joyworks.sg) on 13 Sept 2012, Poh Ming Tse Temple, Singapore. (Deep gratitude to Matthieu Ricard for the gift of his time.)
If you’d like to re-publish this interview or excerpts of it, please write to me at vadivu[at]joyworks.sg.
(This blog isn’t tied to any specific religion. It has a multi-faith approach and promotes inter-faith harmony.)