The Monk and the Philosopher

By J-F Revel and M. Ricard –

1. Revel is a renowned French philosopher and atheist and Ricard is his son who has a PhD in biology and a very western education before moving to Asia to become a monk some 30 years ago.

2. In this dialogue, Ricard defends the validity of his life-changing experience of enlightenment. He does not see his conversion to Buddhism as any repudiation of what he knew as a scientist. Revel is a formidable proponent of liberal Western individualism, of that enlightened self-interest which
accords so well with Western science.

3. Ricard became an interpreter for the Dalai Lama.

4. Ricard: “My scientific career was the result of a passion for discovery…but science, however interesting, wasn’t enough to give meaning to my life.”

5. Two films that give a very alive and inspiriting account of Tibet and Buddhism: “The Message of the Tibetans” and “Himalaya, Land of Serenity”.

6. More than a million Tibetans – one in five of the population – died following the Chinese invasion of 1950. 6,000 monasteries, practically all of them, were destroyed. 20% of Tibet’s population were ordained monks, nuns and lamas. Spiritual practice was beyond doubt the principal goal in life for
most Tibetans. The whole culture was centered around its religion.

7. Tibetan Buddhist masters are not trying to develop a doctrine but rather to be faithful and accomplished inheritors of a spiritual tradition thousands of years old.

8. Wisdom is to recognize the ultimate nature of things…The most important science is knowledge of oneself.

9. There is no fundamental incompatibility between science and the spiritual life.

10. Buddhism is a metaphysical tradition from which a wisdom applicable in every instance and in all circumstances is derived. What leads many Christians and others to think of Buddhism as not being a religion in the usual sense is the fact that it is not a theistic tradition. Buddhism is not about
dogma. The Buddha’s teachings are like travel guides that show the way to enlightenment, to ultimate knowledge of the nature of the mind.

11. Buddha’s collected sermons fill 103 volumes of the Tibetan canon, the Kangyur.

12. Sutras: the sermons of the Buddha. Samsara: the world or ‘circle’ of rebirths. A Bodhisattva is someone who sets out on the path toward perfection, toward the state of Buddhahood, in order to be able to benefit others.

13. Buddhism concludes that suffering is born from desire, attachment, hatred, pride, jealousy, lack of discernment, and all the states of mind that are designated as ‘negative’ because they stir up the mind and plunge it into a state of confusion and insecurity.

14. Buddhism is about altruism and the inner peace that flows from letting go of that belief in a self.

15. Deep within ourselves it is important to maintain invincible compassion and inexhaustible patience.

16. Without contemplative practice, you can’t see the nature of mind.

17. Buddhism speaks of successive states of existence; in other words, everything isn’t limited to just one lifetime.

18. Nature itself becomes a book of teachings.

19. The Buddha says that death is just one state in life and that consciousness continues afterward.

20. Neurology tells us that around 90% of activity in the brain is unconscious. (Interesting!)

21. Buddhist wisdom is a method for finding some sort of serenity through self-effacement – and about the techniques for mastering the mind.

22. True patience and nonviolence consist of choosing the most altruistic solution… What counts is the motivation behind our actions and the final result of those actions.

23. Violence encourages violence, and usually has disastrous effects.

24. Another source of suffering is self-centeredness.

25. Buddhists nurture one main ambition without any limits, that of removing the suffering of all living beings throughout the whole universe.
26. Our own well-being is important, but it should never be to the detriment of others.

27. In the end, the Buddhist path consists of a new way of perceiving the world, a rediscovery of the true nature of the individual and of phenomena. It allows us to be much less vulnerable to the ups and downs of life, because we know how to take them not only philosophically, but also joyfully, using
difficulty and success as catalysts to make rapid progress in our spiritual practice. It is not a matter of withdrawing from the world, but of understanding its nature. You don’t look away from suffering, you look for a cure for it and go beyond it.

28. All the joy the world contains has come through wishing happiness for others. All the misery the world contains has come through wanting pleasure for oneself.

29. What’s so harmful is, of course, the ego’s excesses.

30. The spiritual path consists of freeing oneself from negative emotions and ignorance and, in so doing, actualizing the perfection that’s already present within us.

31. I think the simplest possible way to define Buddhism is, first and foremost, to see it as a path. The goal of that path is to attain what can be called ‘perfection’, ultimate knowledge, enlightenment,merging with the absolute, or, technically speaking, the state of Buddhahood.
32. Enlightenment is sometimes called “awakening”.

33. The Buddhist way is a discovery rather than anything else.

34. After achieving his own welfare by attaining enlightenment, the Buddha begins to deploy his vast activity to help others, to teach and show them the path. His teachings are the direct expression of his spiritual realization. They are like travel guides that lead others along the same path he took

35. Discovering ultimate wisdom within oneself. The goals isn’t to get out of the world, it is to no longer be enslaved to it.

36. We can put an end to the causes of suffering. To reach such a result, we have to cut through the root of the problem, the ignorance – the belief in a self – that causes it.

37. The Mahayana emphasized that to free oneself alone from suffering is a severely limited goal. The broader goal is to transform yourself in order to acquire the capacity to help others free themselves from suffering.

38. The primary cause of torture and war is still hatred. Any lasting peace can only come from a change of attitude.

39. Whatever happens to us is never just by chance. We have created the causes of our present sufferings ourselves.

40. If we understand that negative actions lead to suffering both for ourselves and others, and that positive actions lead to happiness, it is up to us to act now in such a way as to build our own future by sowing ‘good seeds’.

41. The Dalai Lama is always emphasizing that any religion practiced in its true spirit has the well-being of all as its goal, and so surely ought to be a factor in peace.

42. As soon as human beings allowed themselves to say, ‘There is only one true God, and that’s mine, so I have the right to annihilate anyone who doesn’t believe in him’, the cycle of intolerance and religious wars began. Genocide continues to be perpetrated in the name of religion.

43. The Dalai Lama often says, ‘We should have total conviction in our own spiritual path along with perfect respect toward other truths’.

44. To act on the world without having transformed oneself can’t lead to either lasting or profound happiness.

45. With the greatest teachers you could not find the slightest trace of ego.

46. To be able to help beings, there should no longer be any difference between what you teach and what you are.

47. By no longer cherishing and protecting the self, you acquire a much wider and deeper view of the world… Someone free of egocentric perceptions can have a much vaster effect on the world.

48. Tibetan civilization dedicated itself to the contemplative life, to developing a very pragmatic knowledge of how the mind works, in such a way as to enable people to free themselves from suffering.

49. The goal of the spiritual path is to eliminate any trace of pride, jealousy and hatred from the current consciousness, and become incapable of doing anything harmful to others.

50. Spiritual and temporal can be combined in an intelligent and constructive way, as long as one remains aware of their respective importance.

51. Buddhism considers that each person has to start where they are and use the methods that match their nature and their personal capacities.

52. Give priority to the quest for inner well-being. Buddhism can help people see how basic qualities like love, compassion, tolerance, and patience can actually be cultivated, and that it is possible to master one’s own mind. The goal is to dissolve attachment to the ego.

53. Buddhism does not try to convert anyone.

54. Someone can have a very rich spiritual life while only spending several minutes or an hour a day actually in contemplative practice.

55. What we are at present is the result of our past. Acts certainly bear their results.

56. Buddhism offers the west a vision of tolerance, open-mindedness, altruism, quiet confidence and a science of the mind. It makes it ideas available but does not try to impose them.

57. The Dalai Lama: “If you find anything I’ve said useful, make use of it. Otherwise, forget it! It is better to encourage those who believe in something to deepen their own faith. The point isn’t to convert people but to contribute to their well-being.

58. When the Dalai Lama spoke of love and compassion, everyone felt that his words were a direct expression of his experience. He was really living what he said.

59. Wars have never been waged in Buddhism’s name or with its blessing.

60. If an individual does not become more peaceful, a society that is the sum total of such individuals will never become more peaceful either.

61. Our educational systems these days hardly deal at all with becoming a better human being.

62. The Dalai Lama often says that we can do without religion, but no one can do without love, compassion and tenderness.

63. Compassion according to Buddhism is the wish to remedy all forms of suffering, and especially to tackle its causes – ignorance, hatred, desire, and so on.

64. It’s important to be aware that our joy and our suffering are intimately linked to those of others. Wisdom and intelligence give so much strength to compassion.

65. The Dalai Lama: “It is important that effective methods of contraception continue to be developed so as to avoid as much as possible any recourse to abortion.”

66. What distinguishes Buddhism from Christianity is its rejection of the notion of sin, especially original sin.

67. Man’s deepest wish is for happiness.

68. Life is short and if we want to develop our inner qualities, it’s never too soon to get started.

69. Lack of responsibility is one of the big weaknesses of our age.

70. Never stop teaching that all living beings have the same rights to life and happiness.

71. In other religions, to become a believer you have to agree to have faith in a certain amount of dogma from the start. But that is not the case with Buddhism.

72. Consider the Buddha not as a god but a guide and as a symbol of enlightenment; the Dharma isn’t a dogma but a path. Buddhism doesn’t force things or try to convert people.

73. The main thing that Buddhism has been investigating is the nature of the mind.

74. Death has become a friend. It is no more than a stage in life, a simple transition.

75. Thinking about death isn’t at all depressing, in fact, if we use it as a reminder, to help us stay aware of how fragile life is, and to give meaning to every instant of existence.

76. Einstein wrote: “The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend a personal God and avoid dogma and theology. Covering both the natural and the spiritual, as a meaningful unity. Buddhism answers this description… If there is any religion that could cope with modern
scientific needs, it would be Buddhism.

77. Unable to find happiness within ourselves, we desperately look for it outside.

78. Spiritual practice is based on experiential exploration and discovery that has to be pushed just as far into the inner world as science pushes its explorations into the outer world.

79. Buddhism isn’t a religion that requires an act of blind faith It doesn’t require people to rule out or condemn other doctrines. It is a system of wisdom, a philosophy marked by tolerance.

80. The world can only be changed by changing ourselves. A Buddhist thinks that those who know how to be content with what they already have are holding a treasure in their hands.

81. Tibetan nomads and Bhutanese farmers might not earn as much as American businessmen, but their lives have a dimension quite beyond any accountant’s spreadsheet.

82. I think it is possible to acquire wisdom, fulfillment, and serenity, all of them arising from knowledge, or from what could be called spiritual realization.

83. Finally what we all seek in life is happiness… the fulfillment of living in a way that wholly matches the deepest nature of our being… Happiness necessarily implies wisdom. The other essential components of happiness are altruism, love and compassion. How can we find happiness for
ourselves when, all around us, there are others suffering all the time? Our own happiness is
intimately linked to the happiness of others.