February 23, 2023
In this episode, Wendy speaks with the renowned Buddhist practitioner and author Matthieu Ricard. Matthieu was integral to the founding of contemplative science, serving as both a participant and co-investigator in many early studies, and has deep expertise in compassion, altruism, and well-being. This conversation covers many topics, including:
- his roots in both science and Buddhism, and his appreciation for rigorous inquiry;
- his role as a participant and collaborator in contemplative science;
- lessons from research on compassion vs. empathy;
- how the self shows up (or doesn’t) in compassion;
- links between self-focus and vulnerability;
- hedonia, eudiamonia, and self;
- altruism and our current crises;
- reconciling three time scales of concern;
- sentience, life, and interdependence;
- caring for our whole interconnected system;
- the practice of awe;
- using photography to share basic human goodness;
- balancing fame and monastic life;
- and a poignant example of his own personal experience of care.
Born in France in 1946, son of philosopher Jean-François Revel and artist Yahne Le
Toumelin, Matthieu Ricard is a PhD in cell genetics turned Buddhist monk who has studied Buddhism in the Himalayas for the last 50 years with great Tibetan masters. He is a humanitarian, an author and photographer.
His books include The Monk and the Philosopher; The Quantum and the Lotus; Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill; Why Meditate?; Altruism: The Power of Compassion to Change Yourself and the World, A Plea for the Animals, Enlightened Vagabond, Beyond the Self: A conversation between Neuroscience and Buddhism, In Search of Wisdom, Freedom for all and Our Animal Neighbours.
As a translator from Tibetan to English, he published a dozen volumes, among which
Dilgo Khyentse, The Heart of Compassion, Shabkar, Autobiography of a Tibetan Yogin,
On the Path to Enlightenment: Heart Advice from the Great Tibetan Masters and
The Enlightened Vagabond, The life and teachings of Patrul Rinpoche.
As a photographer, he has published a number of albums, including Journey to Enlightenment (Aperture), Tibet: An Inner Journey (Thames and Hudson), Motionless Journey: From a Hermitage in the Himalayas (Thames and Hudson), and Bhutan: Land of Serenity. Henri Cartier Bresson wrote about his photographic work: “Matthieu’s camera and his spiritual life are one. From there, spring these images, fleeting yet eternal.”
As a scientist and Buddhist monk, under the umbrella of the Mind & Life Institute, he has been an active participant in the scientific research on the effects of meditation on the brain and has co-authored numerous scientific publications. He devotes all the proceedings of his books and activities to humanitarian projects in India, Nepal and Tibet through Karuna-Shechen, the organization he founded in 2000, which benefits over 400,000 people every year.
Karuna-Sechen (Matthieu’s humanitarian organization)
- Meditation: Listen to Matthieu speak about and lead a compassion meditation, Mind & Life ISCR, 2018
- Paper: Regulation of the Neural Circuitry of Emotion by Compassion Meditation: Effects of Meditative Expertise, PLoS One, 2008
- Paper: Differential pattern of functional brain plasticity after compassion and empathy training, Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 2014
- Paper: Empathy and Compassion, Current Biology, 2014
- Paper: Self-Centeredness and Selflessness: A Theory of Self-Based Psychological Functioning and Its Consequences for Happiness, Review of General Psychology, 2011
- Book: The Monk and the Philosopher: A Father and Son Discuss the Meaning of Life, with Jean-François Revel
- Book: Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill
- Book: Altruism: The Power of Compassion to Change Yourself and the World
- Book: Caring Economics
- Documentary: The Message Of The Tibetans (by Arnaud Desjardins)
- Matthieu’s photography