The Monk and the Philosopher: A Father and Son Discuss the Meaning of Life

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Jean Francois-Revel, a pillar of French intellectual life in our time, became world famous for his challenges to both Communism and Christianity. Twenty-seven years ago, his son, Matthieu Ricard, gave up a promising career as a scientist to study Tibetan Buddhism -- not as a detached observer but by immersing himself in its practice under the guidance of its greatest living masters.

Meeting in an inn overlooking Katmandu, these two profoundly thoughtful men explored the questions that have occupied humankind throughout its history. Does life have meaning? What is consciousness? Is man free? What is the value of scientific and material progress? Why is there suffering, war, and hatred? Their conversation is not merely abstract: they ask each other questions about ethics, rights, and responsibilities, about knowledge and belief, and they discuss frankly the differences in the way each has tried to make sense of his life.

Utterly absorbing, inspiring, and accessible, this remarkable dialogue engages East with West, ideas with life, and science with the humanities, providing wisdom on how to enrich the way we live our lives.

From the Hardcover edition.
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About the author

Jean-Francois Revel, a member of the Academie Francaise, was born in 1924. He studied and taught philosophy but abandoned university teaching to concentrate on writing. He was editor for many years of the influential political weekly L'Express. His books, including the best-seller Without Marx or Jesus and How Democracies Perish, have gained worldwide recognition.

Matthieu Ricard lives in the Shechen Monastery in Nepal. Born in France in 1946, he received his doctorate in molecular biology from the Institut Pasteur in Paris. In 1972 he decided to forsake his scientific career to better concentrate on his Buddhist studies, which he had begun years earlier. He has published Journey to Enlightenment, a book of photographs about his teacher, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (one of the most eminent Tibetan masters of our times and a teacher to The Dalai Lama), as well as translations of many Buddhist texts. He often accompanies The Dalai Lama to France as his personal interpreter.

From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Published on
Mar 16, 2011
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Philosophy / Religious
Religion / Buddhism / General
Religion / Philosophy
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*Why do seemingly rational, intelligent people commit acts of cruelty and violence?

*What are the root causes of destructive behavior?

*How can we control the emotions that drive these impulses?

*Can we learn to live at peace with ourselves and others?

Imagine sitting with the Dalai Lama in his private meeting room with a small group of world-class scientists and philosophers. The talk is lively and fascinating as these leading minds grapple with age-old questions of compelling contemporary urgency. Daniel Goleman, the internationally bestselling author of Emotional Intelligence, provides the illuminating commentary—and reports on the breakthrough research this historic gathering inspired.

Destructive Emotions

Buddhist philosophy tells us that all personal unhappiness and interpersonal conflict lie in the “three poisons”: craving, anger, and delusion. It also provides antidotes of astonishing psychological sophistication--which are now being confirmed by modern neuroscience. With new high-tech devices, scientists can peer inside the brain centers that calm the inner storms of rage and fear. They also can demonstrate that awareness-training strategies such as meditation strengthen emotional stability—and greatly enhance our positive moods.

The distinguished panel members report these recent findings and debate an exhilarating range of other topics: What role do destructive emotions play in human evolution? Are they “hardwired” in our bodies? Are they universal, or does culture determine how we feel? How can we nurture the compassion that is also our birthright? We learn how practices that reduce negativity have also been shown to bolster the immune system. Here, too, is an enlightened proposal for a school-based program of social and emotional learning that can help our children increase self-awareness, manage their anger, and become more empathetic.

Throughout, these provocative ideas are brought to life by the play of personalities, by the Dalai Lama’s probing questions, and by his surprising sense of humor. Although there are no easy answers, the dialogues, which are part of a series sponsored by the Mind and Life Institute, chart an ultimately hopeful course. They are sure to spark discussion among educators, religious and political leaders, parents—and all people who seek peace for themselves and the world.

The Mind and Life Institute sponsors cross-cultural dialogues that bring together the Dalai Lama and other Buddhist scholars with Western scientists and philosophers. Mind and Life VIII, on which this book is based, took place in Dharamsala, India, in March 2000.

From the Trade Paperback edition.
Matthieu Ricard trained as a molecular biologist, working in the lab of a Nobel prize—winning scientist, but when he read some Buddhist philosophy, he became drawn to Buddhism. Eventually he left his life in science to study with Tibetan teachers, and he is now a Buddhist monk and translator for the Dalai Lama, living in the Shechen monastery near Kathmandu in Nepal. Trinh Thuan was born into a Buddhist family in Vietnam but became intrigued by the explosion of discoveries in astronomy during the 1960s. He made his way to the prestigious California Institute of Technology to study with some of the biggest names in the field and is now an acclaimed astrophysicist and specialist on how the galaxies formed.

When Matthieu Ricard and Trinh Thuan met at an academic conference in the summer of 1997, they began discussing the many remarkable connections between the teachings of Buddhism and the findings of recent science. That conversation grew into an astonishing correspondence exploring a series of fascinating questions. Did the universe have a beginning? Or is our universe one in a series of infinite universes with no end and no beginning? Is the concept of a beginning of time fundamentally flawed? Might our perception of time in fact be an illusion, a phenomenon created in our brains that has no ultimate reality? Is the stunning fine-tuning of the universe, which has produced just the right conditions for life to evolve, a sign that a “principle of creation” is at work in our world? If such a principle of creation undergirds the workings of the universe, what does that tell us about whether or not there is a divine Creator? How does the radical interpretation of reality offered by quantum physics conform to and yet differ from the Buddhist conception of reality? What is consciousness and how did it evolve? Can consciousness exist apart from a brain generating it?

The stimulating journey of discovery the authors traveled in their discussions is re-created beautifully in The Quantum and the Lotus, written in the style of a lively dialogue between friends. Both the fundamental teachings of Buddhism and the discoveries of contemporary science are introduced with great clarity, and the reader will be profoundly impressed by the many correspondences between the two streams of thought and revelation. Through the course of their dialogue, the authors reach a remarkable meeting of minds, ultimately offering a vital new understanding of the many ways in which science and Buddhism confirm and complement each other and of the ways in which, as Matthieu Ricard writes, “knowledge of our spirits and knowledge of the world are mutually enlightening and empowering.”

From the Hardcover edition.
 Éste es un libro realmente importante sobre un tema que también lo es: el del peligro que entraña para la democracia y para Occidente el totalitarismo expansionista de la Rusia soviética. Jean-Francois Revel analiza con su rigor y clarividencia habituales las circunstancias y causas de la situación política mundial en la década de 1980, desmonta pieza a pieza el mecanismo de las mismas y apoya su poderosa dialéctica con multitud de ejemplos abrumadores. La democracia —afirma— está menos amenazada que nunca en el Interior y más que nunca desde el exterior.
Y señala que ello es así porque el fenómeno fundamental en la democracia es la incomprensión del totalitarismo en general y particularmente del totalitarismo comunista. Y cita ejemplos muy significativos: el de las quintas columnas políticas, porque ahuyentar los caballos de Troya sin faltar a las reglas democráticas es casi imposible, o el mito de la distensión.

Sorprende a Revel el desconocimiento de Rusia y su sistema del que han dado tantas pruebas los políticos y diplomáticos occidentales. Como ejemplos muy significativos nos habla Revel de lo que llama el mal uso de las sucesiones o milagro de Moscú y del complejo de cerco. Se refiere el primero a las tantas veces defraudadas esperanzas que suscitan en Occidente los relevos en el poder supremo del Kremlin.

Se supone entonces que un gran liberal sucederá al difunto y se proclama en seguida la necesidad de hacer concesiones inmediatas. Tan ingenua como esta posición, es la de prestarse al chantaje del complejo de cerco, uno de los más viejos trucos de la diplomacia soviética.

En una entrevista publicada en Paris-Match Revel decía a Jean Cau: Mientras los rusos no controlen la totalidad del planeta se sentirán cercados. En la entrevista Revel afirmaba que en este libro ha tratado de evitar los juicios de valor, y que el propósito esencial del mismo era el de responder a la pregunta sobre cuál de los dos sistemas, el totalitario o el democrático, está en proceso de destruir al otro. Para responder —agregaba Revel— es preciso ante todo examinar cuál de los dos, desde la segunda guerra mundial, ha hecho recular al otro.

A juicio de Revel el sistema totalitario es el gran ganador. Según él, los rusos han explotado muy bien la desinformación, de la que han hecho una auténtica ciencia de los fallos de las democracias, mientras éstas tienen una ignorancia fundamental de las debilidades de la sociedad soviética.

Por otra parte, afirma Revel, la lucha se desarrolla en una gran desigualdad de condiciones. En algunas democracias los comunistas tienen representación parlamentaria, forman parte de los ayuntamientos —en muchos casos detentan las alcaldías—, disponen de un órgano de prensa y su partido es reconocido legalmente.

Por el contrario, ningún ciudadano soviético puede crear un partido procapitalista, ni ese partido presentar candidatos a las elecciones ni conquistar alcaldías, poltronas en el Soviet Supremo o en el Politburó, lanzar periódicos anticomunistas y recibir para todo ello una ayuda financiera directa o indirecta de Occidente.

Para el autor de este libro el objetivo soviético no es la guerra. La Nomenklatura —decía Revel en la citada entrevista con Jean Cau— no desea morir más que nosotros. Pretende una tal superioridad militar que haga de las democracias unos esclavos políticos. Lo que se llama la finlandización.
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