Friday, September 10, 2010

Here's the Science bit... Mattieu Ricard on Buddhism, Neuroscience and Generating Lasting Happiness



Regular readers of this blog may recall Mattieu Ricard. He is a French scientist and photographer who became a Buddhist monk and student of renowned Tibetan master Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche.
Nowadays he translates for HH Dalai Lama and is heavily involved in exploring the scientific evidence that explains the transformation of the mind that results from following the Buddhist path to peace and compassion.

This video is a lecture he gave to students/employees at Google Tech in California about recent studies in neuroscience and the experimental evidence garnered from scanning the brains of experienced Buddhist meditators with MRI machines. [You may have seen the results in Time Magazine]

The talk is fascinating though dense. I kept wanting to pause it and contemplate what i was hearing.

An interesting aside for me personally, is that i was constantly reminded of occasions when i had encountered French Buddhists over the years.
Mattieu's full and speedy style of delivering the facts [and his own insight] is just so French!

Although he is a translator, he makes little effort to transcend his thick French accent with the result that the listener is sometimes at a loss to follow what is being said.
Furthermore, his obvious understanding, expertise and enthusiasm for this particular area drives his presentation along at a rate of knots that could leave one left behind entirely.
That said, i am in no way critical of what he is saying. Far from it!
I simply wish it was more accessible and listener-friendly.

The heady, intellectual [though often humourous] chatter-box flavour of Mattieu's presentation is highly recommended. I strongly suggest you enjoy it in bite-size pieces with ample time for reflection and processing the enormity and the importance of his conclusions...

Compassion changes the mind and physically changes the brain.
'It is almost like a natural antidote to depression'
It reduces anger and fear.
Meditation increases our attention capacity.
It boosts the immune system, reduces anxiety and stress, and increases longevity.

An all this is presented not as spiritual speculation, but as scientific fact based on empirical evidence!
Wow! This is truly amazing!
How fortunate we are to live in an era when the personal experiences and the promises of the Buddha [who lived over 2500 years ago] are being backed up by science. Perhaps now people will finally turn towards the Path - not as a religion, per se, but as the way to unlock our inner happiness for once, and for the sake of all beings.

Incidentally, [back to my tangental mini-rant about the French, sorry guys!] the memory that Ricard's presentation style evoked in me was a meditation retreat i attended at Lerab Ling in Southern France some years ago...
Because there were several hundred 'experienced' meditators in attendance - perhaps half of whom were French - Sogyal Rinpoche wisely invited us all to keep noble silence.

Now, in English, this means something like 'no talking whatsoever, just enjoy the spaciousness of the present moment and relax into the vast expanse of the Natural Mind'.
But, apparently in French it translates as 'be as neurotic as possible and talk as much as you want even though everyone else around is silent'.
The chatter reached the lofty heights of full-on conversations with smatterings of hilarious laughter and even heated debate... So much so that some disgruntled retreatants were forced to break their own silence to complain to them or just plain hush them up.
The result was far form peaceful or compassionate as the offenders retaliated by telling them to shut up and mind their own business! Oh what fun we Buddhists have together!

But, all joking aside, Mattieu's very French patter put me in mind of this presumably national trait and those days on retreat in the mountains in the sun. I recall on that occasion asking someone organising the retreat why the French were allowed to carry on like that.

The unforgettable reply came in a flash: 'They are French! What can you do?!'

Anyway, enough from me on the matter.
Enjoy disseminating the earth-shattering truth that pervades every phrase of this incredible lecture!
May it inspire you to full awakening.
And, having shared it with others, may this simple truth liberate all beings.