Reaching out for Happiness is written by Karnjariya Sukrung for In Spirit package of Outlook, the Bangkok Post, on December 30, 2008
On his recent visit to Thailand, I had a chance to talk to Venerable Matthieu Ricard, 62, on the effect of mind training and his new book, Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill, which has been translated and published in Thai "ความสุข".
Based on scientific approach and researches as well as his 35 years of Buddhist practice, Ven. Ricard suggests mind training and altruistic love as keys to our happiness for the individual and the collective whole.
“Aristotle said happiness is the goal of all goals. We try to do this and that because we think that it will bring us happiness. We get money, not for getting money, but to earn happiness. So does it do or not? Be objective.
Ask yourself, in your life, what are the moments of genuine sense of fulfillment? Are they when you get more money, or are they times when you spend with friends, family or in nature?
What do we want in life? We have to begin thinking what really matter. There are things that matter, things that really matter, and things that really, really matter. Those are the things you need to know.
You must have moments of silence to see what comes at the surface. Quieten your mind. Try to look inside.
And if you see that the things that really, really matter, take only five percent of your time, then something is wrong. Then you should do something that can fulfill your aspiration to engage in what really, really matter to you.
It is always difficult to predict the consequences of your decisions and actions but what you can always check is your motivation.
Why am I doing that? Is it just for me or is it also taking into considerations of others?
Is it just for benefits of one person, or for more? Is it harming to others? Definitely, we should not harm anyone.
Is it for the short term or the long term benefits? We can think of selfish pleasure in the short term, but lots of sufferings will come in the long term. This is not a good bargain.
These questions are important. To have meanings to directions give you strength.
You have to be able to discriminate, what is going to bring you genuine fulfillment and what does not.
Authentic happiness is not an endless succession of pleasure. It is an optimal way of being that really gives you resources to deal with the ups and downs in life.
Pleasure changes all the time. I drink a cup of tea, very delicious. Three cups of tea, enough. Twenty cups, I got sick. The pleasurable can turn unpleasant.
Also, pleasure is vulnerable to change and circumstance. If I don’t have a cup of tea, I’m not happy. It does not last or give you a sense of fulfilling.
Happiness is not like that. The way of well being is the opposite. No matter what happens; getting a pot of tea, fine, not getting one is also okay.
The more you experience happiness, it becomes stronger. The more you eat ice cream, it won't get more delicious. You won't get any happier, you start becoming nauseated.
Our control of the outer world is limited. It is always changing, sometimes, it is illusory. The best is to control the way you experience things; how we translate our experience; happiness or suffering.
You can be terribly sad and depressed although everything is beautiful. Or you can be happy in the environment that does not look very nice. So it is the mind that is stronger than the outer environment. That is why we need to cultivate the mind.
You need to know what kinds of mental states will destroy your happiness; is it jealousy, anger or obsession? And there are other mental states that you don’t want to suppress; like altruism and compassion.
You need to cultivate the constructive ones and get rid of destructive ones.
If you genuinely construct more compassion, more inner peace, inner freedom and inner strength, day after day, it is growing, you become stronger and less vulnerable to the change outside.
Slowly, you will become a better person and you feel better, others will appreciate. When facing adversity, you will not be discouraged. Facing success, you will not be presumptuous. Good criticism, very good. Bad criticism, it is alright. You can manage and deal with whatever happens. You keep your balance. That is the result of change. That is the real criteria; slow and real change.
Therefore, we must develop the understanding of how the mind works. We can train our body, our intellect, why can’t we train our mind and altruistic love? We can. And we have the potentials to do so.
If you said, it is normal for human beings to be jealous and it is a part of our being, then why don’t you try cultivating jealousy for 24 hours? Or if you think strong ego is great, go for it, do it for 24 hours, what would you experience? Is it something genuinely good? Experiment!
Now if you do loving kindness for 24 hours, what kind of result it brings? You can make a distinction. Anyone who is honest will see the difference.
We all have it; passion, emotions, anger, and envy. We don’t need that much to encourage it or boost our anger or amplify our envy. They go themselves very well.
But there are many ways to be part of something. Take for example a glass of water. Water is H2O. I can put some medicine in that, and it becomes therapeutic water. I can put some syenite in it, it will kill me. But H2O is not medicinal or toxic, but the contents in it are.
Is it like that for mental poisons? How can we investigate that? We need some kinds of introspection. We can see behind the wandering thoughts. There is a basic nature of consciousness --- awareness that is not modified by contents (mental constructions).
To recognize that is to realize the possibility of change. You can bring antidotes, you can neutralize hatred with loving kindness, and you can stop identifying with your anxiety and anger. The awareness of anger is not anger.
The more awareness and mindfulness grows, the more anger will vanish and fade away. When we know that transformation is possible then we can put it in action.
Meditation is a way to become a better human being, then to function better in society, then to be at the better service of others.
We are working with scientists studying how the brain changes with those who do short and long term meditations; from 8 weeks and 20 years.
They find that those who do long term meditation have tremendous change in their brain. The faculty that generates powerful mental states is the result of their training.
For those who are not experienced, they were asked to meditate for 30 minutes a day for 8-10 weeks, and the study showed remarkable results.
The area of the brain that is related to stress is less active. Their anxiety and stress diminishes; the immune system and production of antibody increases, high blood pressure decreases, the traits of anger and the tendency to depression goes down. These lead to conditions to happiness and increase the quality of life.
I’d suggest you do meditation for 30 minutes every day, best in the morning when your mind is not too covered by thoughts. It will give you a different taste to the day. You will be less affected by whatever happens during the day.
And like any trainings, change is not going to happen within a snap. We don’t mind spending 15 years going to schools and learn professional skills. When we know and accept the fact that we need to change, we need to learn.
Your happiness can be achieved with and through happiness of others. Selfish happiness does not exist. It destroys self. You make yourself and others miserable.
Our suffering and happiness is closely linked with that of others. We are not in our own bubble. We are interdependent. So we have to learn how to live together.
Altruism is the key. Compassion and altruism love is the most constructive emotion of mental states.
It is the thing that makes us speak and act in favour of others. It is attuned with reality, which is interdependence.
Living together does not mean that everybody should think the same. Have different ideas but work together!
This is for the good of the nation, for the people, for the good of your family, and for your own good.
People have to be genuinely concerned about bringing a better society. If everyone tries to pull the strings out of personal interests, for fame, glory, power, or money, then it is not going to work because selfish interest never satisfies, endless and also bound to fail because you cannot always succeed in self interest.
If you are genuinely concerned, you will always find solutions, through dialogue and good will. That is what we need.
You can’t make good human beings by issuing new laws. A good human being needs to be developed from inside.
So first, begin with yourself by being sensible, wise, strong, altruistic, then slowly others will also change. Their anger somehow is going to reduce. The power of truth, ahimsa, is really strong. Take for example, Gandhi, a small man who brought the British Empire down by the power of truth. Non violence does not mean passiveness. Non violence means to be very determined not to use hatred.
In any situations, it is important that we cultivate love in our mind. It is our mind that generates the optimal quality of being, that is genuine happiness.
About Venerable Matthieu Ricard
In 1972, after completing his PhD degree in molecular genetics from the Institut Pasteur in France, young and promising biologist Matthieu Ricard decided to pursue his practice, not in science, but in Tibetan Buddhism.
For 35 years, the world has known Venerable Ricard as a Buddhist monk, the French translator for the Holy Dalai Lama, a photographer, a best selling author of the Monk and the Philosopher, a dialogue of himself and his father; the renown French philosopher Jean-Francois Revel.
Ven. Ricard has also coordinated more than 30 humanitarian projects ( see www.karuna-asia.org) to promote health and well being, education and cultural preservation in under-privileged communities in Nepal, Tibet, India and Bhutan.
And at the Mind and Life Institute, he works with scientists from leading institutions on collaborative researches of the effect of mind training.
On his recent visit to Thailand as one of keynote speakers at the International Conference on Buddhism in the Age of Consumerism, hosted by the College of Religious Studies, Mahidol University, Outlook has a chance to talk to Ven. Ricard, 62, on the effect of mind training and his new book, Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill.