Dr. Matthieu Ricard
Mindfullness at the Service of Cultivating Altruism and Compassion
Mindfulness consists of full awareness of everything that arises within and around us from moment to moment—awareness of everything we see, hear, feel, and think. It also includes a correct understanding of the nature of our perceptions, free from the distortions that cause us to be attracted to or repelled by them. In addition, mindfulness contains an ethical component: it enables us to exercise discernment between states of mind that are beneficial and those that are harmful or pointless.
These various components of mindfulness will enable us to decide which mental states should be phased out in the short and in the long term, and which wholesome mental states should be cultivated in order to achieve liberation from suffering. Thus, according to the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, genuine mindfulness has an ethical component at its core. In our times, altruism is no more a luxury, but a necessity – for ourselve and the society.
We all experience moments of clear mindfulness, unconditional love and compassion, and inner peace. But those are usually fleeting states of mind that are soon replaced by others. The collaboration between neuroscientists and Buddhist meditators has shown that altruism and compassion are human qualities that can be cultivated with training, by keeping mindfulness focused upon fundamental qualities such as benevolence and compassion.
These studies have indicated that when experienced meditators who have cultivated compassion over many years engage in such meditation, specific areas of the brain are powerfully activated, while this is not the case in novice practitioners. Others studies have also shown that shorter training, of 30 minutes a day over a few months, already bring significant differences. These studies have also allowed to distinguish some of the fine nuances between empathy (the faculty to resonate with others' feeling, including suffering), loving-kindness and compassion, and have provided some insights into the phenomena of "empathy fatigue" that often lead caregivers to burn-out.
Dr. Matthieu Ricard
is a Buddhist monk, author, translator and photographer. He was born in France in 1946 and studied molecular genetics at the Institut Pasteur in Paris. After completing his PhD in 1972, decided to dedicate his life to studying and practicing Tibetan Buddhism. He went to live in India, Bhutan and Nepal, where he studied with several great masters, including Kangyur Rinpoche and Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. He served as Khyentse Rinpoche's attendant until he passed away in 1991, and still lives at Shechen Monastery in Nepal.
Since 1989, Dr. Matthieu Ricard has been the Dalai Lama's principal French translator. He has also played an active role in the dialogue between science and Buddhism. He is a board member of the Mind and Life Institute, and has helped to devise and take part in scientific experiments on meditation in Europe and the United States. He has written several bestselling books, including The Monk and the Philosopher and Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill. The proceeds from his books go towards his humanitarian projects in Asia (www.karuna-shechen.org) and his efforts to help safeguard Tibet's cultural heritage (www.shechen.org).