For many of us, ‘happiness’ seems to be elusive. In fact discontentment is often said to be part of the human condition – we’re either not satisfied with what what we have or we’re constantly trying to meet other people’s expectations. Some of us even celebrate dissatisfaction, believing it to be no more than a tool for motivation. However, when one comes to the end of their life, after having lived it chasing a carrot, one realises that they had complete, unfettered access to happiness all along.
Matthieu Ricard is a French writer with a Ph.D. in molecular genetics. He grew up deeply embedded in French intellectual circles and if you’ve read the ponderings of French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, you’ll already be quite familiar with the subtle air of pessimism surrounding these circles. “There are a lot of French intellectuals who think happiness is not at all interesting”, said Matthieu Richard in his 2004 Monterey, California TED Talk. “I just wrote an essay on happiness and there was a controversy, and someone wrote an article saying, ‘don’t impose on us the dirty work of happiness. We don’t care about being happy. We need to live with passion. We like the ups and downs of life. We like our suffering because it’s so good when it ceases for a while’”. Of course, Ricard’s opposing view was that “No one wakes up in the morning thinking, ‘may I suffer the whole day’”. Thus, in demand of an environment more encouraging of his ideals, at just 20 years old he journeyed from Paris to The Himalayas to practice Tibetan Buddhism. There, he became the close student of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, and when Khyentse Rinpoche died, he dedicated himself to fulfilling the Vajrayana master’s vision.
Matthieu Ricard sees happiness as a state of being, likening it to the sea. “Look at the waves coming near the shore”, he explains in his 2004 TED Talk. “When you’re at the bottom of the wave, you hit the bottom. When you are surfing on the top, you are all elated. So, you go from elation to depression, there’s no depth. Now, if you look at the high sea, there might be beautiful, calm ocean, like a mirror, there might be storms but the depth of the ocean is still there, unchanged”. It appears that through many, many years of meditation, Matthieu Richard has gone inward to reach the high sea, thus, altering his state of being. He has been labelled the happiest person in the world by several popular media outlets, after a brain scan revealed his abnormally large capacity for joy. When meditating on compassion, his brain produced gamma waves related to attention, memory, learning and consciousness never before reported in neuroscience literature.
Today, he is a board member of the Mind and Life Institute and a recipient of the French National Order of Merit, awarded to him for his humanitarian work in Asia. He has many materials and videos on the art of meditation, one of which is below. What’s interesting is that much of what he teaches about meditation is contrary to how many practice it today.
Image Credit: Wikipedia