July 2, 2012

Matthieu Ricard

Green Army: Persons of Interest

Let one walk alone
Committing no sin
With few wishes
Like elephants in the forest

— Based on a Buddhist poem.


The Eight Worldly Conditions

Siddhartha Gotama (c563/480 – c483/400 BCE):
In days gone by this mind of mine used to stray wherever selfish desire or lust or pleasure would lead it.
Today this mind does not stray and is under the harmony of control, even as a wild elephant is controlled by the trainer. …

What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: our life is the creation of our mind.

Marcus Aurelius (121 – 180):
The whole universe is change and life itself is but what you deem it.

William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616):
There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.
(Hamlet, 1600)

John Milton (1608 – 74):
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a heav'n of hell, a hell of heav'n.
(Paradise Lost, Book I, 1667)

Bhagavad Gita:
Delusion is the child of ignorance. …
Dwelling on sense-objects gives birth to attachment, attachment gives birth to desire.
Desire (unfulfilled) brings into existence the life of anger.
From anger delusions springs up, from delusion the confusion of memory.
In the confusion of memory the reasoning the reasoning wisdom is lost.
When wisdom is nowhere, destruction.

Heraclitus (535 ~ 475 BCE):
No man ever steps in the same river twice.
For it is not the same river.
And he is not the same man.

Lucretius (99 – 55 BCE):
For Time changes the nature of all things in the world; each stage must be succeeded by another, nothing remains as it was; all things depart and Nature modifies all things and compels them to change.
(The Essays of Michel de Montaigne, 1580, M A Screech, Translator, Penguin, 1991, p 681)

Virgil (70 – 19 BCE):
Their minds' ideas are ever turning round; the emotions in their breasts are driven hither and thither like clouds before the wind.
(Georgics, I, 420-2, 29 BCE)

David Hume (1711 – 1776):
[The ego] is nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions, which succeed one another with an inconceivable rapidity, and are in a perpetual flux and movement …
[The mind is] a kind of theater, which several perceptions sucessively make their appearance; pass, re-pass, slide away, and mingle in an infinite variety of postures and situations.
(Jostein Gaarder, Sophie's World, pp 226-7)

George Orwell (1903 – 1950):
[The] main motive for 'nonattachment' is a desire to escape from the pain of living, and above all from love, which, sexual or non-sexual, is hard work.
(Reflections on Gandhi, 1949)

Siddhartha Gotama (c563/480 – c483/400 BCE)

Diamond Sutra

One who gives rise to the awakened mind does not deny objects or say that they are nonexistent. …
As stars, a lamp, a fault of vision.
As dewdrops or a bubble.
A dream, a lightning flash, a cloud.
So one should see conditioned things.
(p 14)

[If] you are caught up in ideas, then you will he caught up in the self.
And even if you are caught up in ideas about nothingness, you will still be caught up in the self.
That's why we should not get attached to the belief that things either exist or do not exist.
(p 124)

Sutta Nipata

All the delightful things of the world — sweet sounds, lovely forms, all the pleasant tastes and touches and thoughts — these are all agreed to bring happiness if they are not grasped and possessed.
But if you regard them merely as pleasures for your own use and satisfaction and do not see them as passing wonders, they will bring suffering.
(p 109)


[People] live within complex sets of religious or worldly ideas and emotions that they believe to be final, established, and therefore real.
They project this [static] self-created world onto their ideas of past and future and the present moment.
They try to crystallize reality into permanent shapes and categories.
(p 100)

Majjhima Nikaya

[The] teaching is like a raft that carries you across the water to the farther shore but is then to be put down and not clung to.
(p 107)

Those who only have faith in me … will not find the final freedom.
But those who have faith in the … path, they will find awakening.
(p 120)

Apart from consciousness … no absolute truths exist.
(p 125)

Whether the world is eternal or transient, there is suffering, and I teach the way to understand it.
My teaching does not depend on whether I exist after death or not, because I am concerned with suffering here and now.
(p 130-1)

When an eye and a shape are there, then the consciousness of seeing arises.
From this consciousness comes sensation; that which is sensed is thought over; that which is thought over is projected outward as the external world.
(p 169)

Visuddhi Magga

When a lute is played, there is no previous store of playing that it comes from.
When the music stops, it does not go anywhere else.
It came into existence by way of the structure of the lute and the playing of the performer.
When the playing ceases, the music goes out of existence.

In the same way all the components of being, both material and nonmaterial, come into existence, play their part, and pass away. …
(p 72)

There are actions but there is no actor.
The air moves but there is no wind.
The idea of a specific self is a mistake.
Existence is clarity and emptiness.
(p 73)

[The] words living entity and person are but ways of expressing the relationship [between:] body, feeling, and consciousness …
[When] we come to examine the elements of being one by one, we find [that, in an absolute sense,] there is no entity there.
(p 119)


There is freedom from desire and sorrow at the end of the way.
The awakened one is free from all fetters and goes beyond life and death.
Like a swan that rises from the lake, with his thoughts at peace he moves onward, never looking back.
The one who understands the [emptiness] of all things, and who has laid up no store — that one's track is unseen, as of birds in the air.
Like a bird in the air, he takes an invisible course, wanting nothing, storing nothing, knowing the emptiness of all things. …
(p 12)

To travel with fools makes the journey long and hard and is as painful as travelling with an enemy.
But the company of the wise is as pleasant as meeting with friends.
(p 98)

Empty your boat … and you will travel more swiftly.
Lighten the load of craving and opinions and you will reach nirvana sooner.
(p 123)

[We are what we think.]
All that we are [arises with] our thoughts …
With our thoughts we make the world.
(p 157)

Digha Nikaya

Secrecy is the mark of false doctrine.
(p 46)

… I detest and will not undertake the so-called miracles of magic power and divination.
I and my followers attract nonbelievers only by the miracle of truth.
(p 119)

Surangama Sutra

You should inquire deeply and directly into the distress of the mind and find out
  • what has been created and
  • who is the self that is suffering.
(p 111)

Itivuttaka Sutta

[Life is to be] lived for the sake of seeing into things and understanding them.
(p 124)

Anguttara Nikaya

All conditioned things are impermanent.
(p 133)

Bhaddekaralta Sutra

Do not go after the past.
Nor lose yourself in the future.
For the past no longer exists,
And the future is not yet here.
(p 140)

Mahaparinirvana Sutra

I have shown that the self is not as people think of it …
But that does not mean that there is no self. …
If something
  • is true,
  • is real,
  • is constant,
  • is a foundation of a nature that is unchanging,
this can be called the self.

(Anne Bancroft, Editor, The Pocket Buddha Reader, Shambhala, 2001, p 196, emphasis added)

Matthieu Ricard (1946)

Meditating on the Nature of the Mind

Few of us would regret the years it takes to complete an education or master a crucial skill.
So why complain about the perseverance needed to become a well-balanced and truly passionate human being?
(p 136)

An ethic that is built exclusively on intellectual ideas and that is not buttressed at every point by virtue, genuine wisdom, and compassion has no solid foundation.
(p 250)

When the mind examines itself, what can it learn about its own nature?
The first thing it notices is the endless series of thoughts that pass through it.
These feed our sensations, our imagination, our memories and our projections about the future.
Do we also find a 'luminous' quality in the mind that illuminates our experience, no matter what its content?
This luminous quality is the fundamental cognitive faculty that underlies all thought.
It is that which, when we are angry, sees the anger without letting itself be drawn into it.
This simple, pure awareness can be called pure consciousness, because it can be perceived even in the absence of concepts and mental constructs.
(p 168)
Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche:
Just by sitting quietly and observing how rapidly, and in many ways illogically, my thoughts and emotions came and went, I began to recognize in a direct way that they weren't nearly as solid or real as they appeared to be.
And once I began to let go of my belief in the story they seemed to tell, I began to see the 'author' beyond them — the infinitely vast, infinitely open awareness that is the nature of mind itself.

Any attempt to capture the direct experience of the nature of mind in words is impossible.
The best that can be said is that the experience is immeasurably peaceful, and, once stabilized through repeated experience, virtually unshakable.
(The Art of Meditation, 2010, pp 173-174)

Michel de Montaigne (1533 – 1592)

[There] is no permanent existence, either in our being, or, in that of objects.
We ourselves, our faculty of judgement and all mortal things are flowing and rolling ceaselessly; nothing certain can be established about one from the other, since both judge and judging are ever shifting and changing. …
And if you should … try to grasp what Man's being is, it would be exactly like trying to hold a fisful of water …
[Since] all things are subject to … change, Reason is baffled if it looks for a substantial existence in them, since it cannot apprehend a single thing which subsists permanently …
(p 680)

[In Nature,] all things are either born, being born, or dying.
(An apology for Raymond Sebond, p 682)

No matter what falls within our knowledge, no matter what we enjoy, it fails to make us content and we go gaping after things outside our knowledge, future things, since present goods never leave us satisfied — not … because they are inadequate to satisfy us but because we clasp them in a sick and immoderate grip …
(On one of Caesar's sayings, p 347)

As Nature has furnished us with feet to walk with, so has she furnished us with wisdom to guide us in our lives. …
The more simply we entrust ourself to Nature the more wisely we do so. …
Were I a good pupil there is enough, I find, in my own experience to make me wise.
(p 1218)

If each man closely spied upon the effects and attributes of the passions which have rule over him as I do upon those which hold sway over me, he would see them coming and slow down a little the violence of their assault.
(p 1219)

When I dance, I dance.
When I sleep, I sleep; and when I am strolling alone through a beautiful orchard, although part of the time my thoughts are occupied by other things, for part of the time too I bring them back to the walk, to the orchard, to the delight in being alone there, and to me.
… Nature has provided that such actions as she has imposed on us as necessities should also be pleasurable, urging us towards them not only by reason but by desire. …
If you have been able to examine and manage your own life you have achieved the greatest task of all.
(p 1258)

Nothing is so beautiful, so right, as acting as a man should: nor is any learning so arduous as knowing how to live this life naturally and well.
And the most uncouth of our afflictions is to despise our being.
(On experience, p 1261)

(The Essays of Michel de Montaigne, 1580, M A Screech, Translator, Penguin, 1991)

Yuval Noah Harari (1976)

Professor of History, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

The Law of Nature

{The first principle of monotheist religions is
God exists.
What does He want from me?
The first principle of Buddhism is
Suffering exists.
How do I escape it? …}

Gautama’s insight was that no matter what the mind experiences, it usually reacts with craving, and craving always involves dissatisfaction.
When the mind experiences something distasteful it craves to be rid of the irritation. …
As long as the pain continues, we are dissatisfied and do all we can to [resist or] avoid it.
Yet even when we experience pleasant things we are never content.
We either fear that the pleasure might disappear, or we hope that it will intensify. …

Gautama found that there was a way to exit this vicious circle.
If, when the mind experiences something pleasant or unpleasant, it simply understands things as they are, then there is no suffering.
If you experience sadness without craving that the sadness go away, you continue to feel sadness but you do not suffer from it.
There can actually be richness in the sadness.
If you experience joy without craving that the joy linger and intensify, you continue to feel joy without losing your peace of mind.

But how do you get the mind to accept things as they are, without craving?
To accept sadness as sadness, joy as joy, pain as pain?
Gautama developed a set of meditation techniques that train the mind to experience reality as it is, without craving.
These practices train the mind to focus all its attention on the question,
What am I experiencing now?
rather than on
What would I rather be experiencing? …

Gautama grounded these meditation techniques in a set of ethical rules meant to make it easier for people to focus on actual experience and to avoid falling into cravings and fantasies.
He instructed his followers to avoid killing, promiscuous sex and theft, since such acts necessarily stoke the fire of craving (for power, for sensual pleasure, or for wealth).
When the flames are completely extinguished, craving is replaced by a state of perfect contentment and serenity, known as nirvana (the literal meaning of which is ‘extinguishing the fire’).
Those who have attained nirvana are fully liberated from all suffering.
They experience reality with the utmost clarity, free of fantasies and delusions.
While they will most likely still encounter unpleasantness and pain, such experiences cause them no misery.
A person who does not crave cannot suffer. …

He encapsulated his teachings in a single law:
  • suffering arises from craving;
  • the only way to be fully liberated from suffering is to be fully liberated from craving; and
  • the only way to be liberated from craving is to train the mind to experience reality as it is.

Know Thyself

According to Buddhism, most people identify happiness with pleasant feelings, while identifying suffering with unpleasant feelings. …
The problem, according to Buddhism, is that our feelings are no more than fleeting vibrations, changing every moment, like the ocean waves. …

Why struggle so hard to achieve something that disappears almost as soon as it arises?
According to Buddhism, the root of suffering is neither the feeling of pain nor of sadness nor even of meaninglessness.
Rather, the real root of suffering is this never-ending and pointless pursuit of ephemeral feelings, which causes us to be in a constant state of tension, restlessness and dissatisfaction.
Due to this pursuit, the mind is never satisfied. …

People are liberated from suffering not when they experience this or that fleeting pleasure, but rather when they understand the impermanent nature of all their feelings, and stop craving them.
This is the aim of Buddhist meditation practices.
In meditation, you are supposed to closely observe your mind and body, witness the ceaseless arising and passing of all your feelings, and realise how pointless it is to pursue them.
When the pursuit stops, the mind becomes very relaxed, clear and satisfied.
All kinds of feelings go on arising and passing — joy, anger, boredom, lust — but once you stop craving particular feelings, you can just accept them for what they are.
You live in the present moment instead of fantasising about what might have been.

The resulting serenity is so profound that those who spend their lives in the frenzied pursuit of pleasant feelings can hardly imagine it.
It is like a man standing for decades on the seashore, embracing certain ‘good’ waves and trying to prevent them from disintegrating, while simultaneously pushing back ‘bad’ waves to prevent them from getting near him.
Day in, day out, the man stands on the beach, driving himself crazy with this fruitless exercise.
Eventually, he sits down on the sand and just allows the waves to come and go as they please.
How peaceful! …

Buddha agreed with modern biology and New Age movements that happiness is independent of external conditions.
Yet his more important and far more profound insight was that true happiness is also independent of our inner feelings.
Indeed, the more significance we give our feelings, the more we crave them, and the more we suffer.
Buddha’s recommendation was to stop not only the pursuit of external achievements, but also the pursuit of inner feelings.

(Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, 2014)

Andrew Newberg & Mark Waldman

Reflections on the Meditation, Relaxation and Consciousness

[If] you want to reach enlightenment, or feel a unity with God [you'll] need to meditate … for at least thirty minutes [a day.]
Of course, there's no guarantee that you'll have a unitary or mystical experience …

Advanced meditators can achieve deep states of unity and connectedness through intensive practice …
(p 210)

If parietal activity declines, you alter your sense of self …
[And if done often enough, this] may permanently alter the structure of [the thalamus — a] part of the reality-processing circuit in the brain. …

When you consciously direct your [attention toward] a particular object, the brain blocks out sensory and neural information that does not pertain to the object of contemplation [— screening] out anything it considers irrelevant.
As your meditation progresses, this blocking becomes more intense.
The end result is intense awareness of the object, and a loss of awareness of [everything else.]
If the object of meditation disappears, as sometimes happens in the most intense mystical states, you [may] become aware that "you" are not your thoughts [— raising] the paradoxical question of what "you" may actually be.
[This typically occurs] after many months of intense meditation.

Focused awareness sometimes sometimes creates the uncanny sensation of losing your sense of self.
As you begin to realize that "you" is a rather arbitrary neural construction, activity in the parietal area of the brain decreases, and [the] sense of self begins to dissolve.
Most practitioners describe this states as being simultaneously enlightening and disturbing, because a core sense of self is one of the earliest neural constructs [to develop] in the brain. …
[However, the only people at significant risk from this] are those with serious underlying personality disorders.
(p 211)

[The] mind produces an endless stream of … feelings and thoughts.
By simply becoming more aware of what you think, feel, say, and do, you train your brain to become more organized, [orderly,] and calm.
[Mindfulness diminishes stress and enriches life.]

The Illusion of the Universe

[While having] a conscious intention or goal underlies [almost all forms] of meditation and prayer … there is one style [that] involves the conscious pursuit of … no goal at all.
[It seeks] to achieve absolute inner silence.
No emotions or thoughts — just pure awareness or consciousness …

Many people have had spontaneous, momentary experiences of emptiness, but deliberately evoking such a state for more than a few seconds often takes years of practice. …
[This state] has been variously defined as pure consciousness, nonduality, the negation of physical reality, seeing the world or the mind as an illusion, pure Godness, supreme spirit, or nothingness. …
(p 212)

[This resembles] the state reached through intense meditation on a single object when the [distinction between the subject and object disappears entirely.]
(p 213)

Becoming One with God, The Universe, and Ourselves

… Nearly every spritual experience, in some small way, changes our sense of reality and the relationship we have with the world.
Generally, it increases our sense of unity and wholeness … in the way we conduct our lives.
[Almost] three-quarters of our respondents [reported] a sense of oneness with the universe or a unity with all of life …
[Such] feelings are … associated with a greater sense of purpose and meaning … a degree of self-transcendence and a suspension of personal egotism.
[One] no longer leels the need to control the external environment …
Past and future are suspended, and [an awareness of] the present pervades one's consciousness.
[Some felt they were] in the presence of God, while others [simply experienced] the suspension of negative moods.

What makes a person more tolerant of other religions?

People who score higher on our belief acceptance scale have less religious prejudice than those who score lower.
Those engaged in eastern spiritual practices were more accepting … than those who adhered to Western monotheistic traditions.
Women were more comfortable with other belief systems and … religious practices [than men].
High socioeconomic status … predicts greater tolerance [while] level of education was the greatest predictor [of a readiness to accept others.]
[People] who had unity experiences [too, were] more accepting of other people's beliefs.

(How God Changes Your Brain, 2009, p 81)


The Nature of the Mind















Matthieu Ricard (1946)

  • Contemplating Happiness, All In The Mind, ABC Radio National, 2 July 2017.
  • Cultivating Genuine Altruism, Big Ideas, ABC Television, 28 June 2011.

    Compassion without wisdom is blind.
    Compassion without action is sterile.

  • The Art of Happiness, Atlantic Books, London, 2007.


    Renunciation … is not about giving up what is good and beautiful.
    [It] is about disentangling oneself from the unsatisfactory and moving with determination toward what matters most.
    It is about freedom and meaning …
    [Freedom] from mental confusion and self-centered afflictions …
    [Meaning] through insight and loving-kindness.
    (p 4)

    What I [have] discovered [has] never called for blind faith.
    [Buddhism is] a rich, pragmatic science of [the] mind, an altruistic art of living, a meaningful philosophy, and a spiritual practice that [leads] to genuine inner transformation.
    Over the past thirty-five years, I have never found myself in contradiction with the scientific spirit [—] the empirical search for truth. …
    I have [come to understand that] achieving durable happiness … is a skill.
    [One acquired by] sustained effort in training the mind and developing a set of human qualities, such as inner peace, mindfulness, and altruistic love.
    (p 7)

    [My] return to science [came] in two steps:
    • first physics and the nature of outer reality, then
    • cognitive sciences and the nature of mind.
    (p 10)

    [The] dialogue [with the astrophysicist Trinh Xuan Thuan] had mostly to do with the philosophical, ethical, and human aspects of science.
    The next step … was to collaborate in scientific studies about the heart of Buddhist practice: transforming the mind.
    (p 11)

    One could invite expert meditators to the labs and study the effect of years of mind training.
    How would their ability to deal with emotions and even their brains have changed?
    This kind of study had always been one of [the late Francisco Varela's] dreams.
    (p 12)

    Talking About Happiness

    [Happiness] is not a mere pleasurable feeling, a fleeting emotion, or a mood, but an optimal state of being.
    (p 19)

    Anyone who enjoys inner peace is no more broken by failure than he is inflated by success.
    He is able to fully live his experiences in the context of a vast and profound serenity, since he understands that experiences are ephemeral and that it is useless to cling to them.
    There will be no "hard fall" when things turn bad and he is confronted with adversity.
    He does not sink into depression, since his happiness rests on a solid foundation.
    (p 22)

    As influential as external conditions may be, suffering, like wellbeing, is essentially an interior state.
    Understanding that is the key prerequisite to a life worth living. …

    [Happiness] is the purging of mental toxins, such as hatred and obsession, that literally poison the mind.
    (p 23)

    The Two-Way Mirror: Looking Within, Looking Without

    We willingly spend a dozen years in school, then go on college or professional training for several more …
    [We] work out at the gym to stay healthy …
    [We] spend a lot of time enhancing our comfort, our wealth, and our social status.
    [And] yet we do so little to improve the inner condition that determines the very quality of our lives.
    (p 34)

    Can We Cultivate Happiness?

    Why, for instance, should there be any limit to love or to compassion?
    We may have varied dispositions to cultivate these human qualities, but we all have the potential to progress continually throughout our life, through persistent efforts.
    (p 37)

    Must We Settle for Being Ourselves?

    We are very much like birds that have lived too long in cage to which we return even when we get the chance to fly away.
    We have grown so accustomed to our faults that we can barely imagine what life would be like without them. …

    [It] does occur to us to think,
    I should try to develop altruism, patience, humility …
    [We] tell ourselves that these qualities will come to us naturally in the long run, or that it's not a big deal and that we've gotten along just fine without them up to now.
    (p 38)

    Developing Attention

    [Focus] all your attention upon a chosen object.
    It can be an object in your room, your breath, or your own mind.
    [Your] mind will wander.
    Each time it does, gently bring it back to the object of concentration …
    As you persevere, your concentration will become more clear and stable. …

    Cultivating attention and mindfulness in this way is [the foundation of] all other kinds of meditation.
    (p 39)

    False Friends

    Happiness and Pleasure: The Great Mix-up

    One intrinsic aspect of [authentic happiness] is selflessness, which radiates from within rather than focusing on the self.
    One who is at peace with herself will contribute spontaneously to establishing peace within her family, her neighborhood, and, circumstances permitting, society at large.

    [There] is no direct relationship between pleasure and happiness.
    This distinction does not suggest that we mustn't seek out pleasurable sensations. …
    (p 42)

    [Only when pleasure is] tainted with grasping and impedes inner freedom, giving rise to avidity and dependence, [is it] an obstacle to happiness.
    [If] it is experienced in the present moment, in a state of inner peace and freedom, pleasure adorns happiness without overshadowing it.
    (p 43)

    When the Messenger Becomes the Message

    [I] have spent thirty-five years living among … people whose inner serenity and joy help them to withstand most of the ups and downs of life.
    These people have nothing further to gain for themselves and are therefore entirely available to others. …

    If the wise man can be happy, then happiness must be possible.
    This is a crucial point, since [many believe] that true happiness is impossible.

    The wise man and the wisdom he embodies do not represent an inaccessible ideal, but a living example. …
    The point here is not that we need to reject … the lives we are leading, but that we can benefit … from the wisdom of those who have elucidated the dynamics of happiness and suffering.
    (p 54)

    From the Hermitage to the Office

    [It] is possible to undergo serious spiritual training by devoting some time every day to meditation [while continuing to lead] regular family lives and doing absorbing work.
    (p 55)
    After a while your thoughts will become like a peaceful river.
    If you practice regularly, eventually your mind will easily become serene, like a calm ocean.
    Whenever new thoughts arise, like waves raised by the winds, do not be bothered by them.
    They will soon dissolve back into the ocean.
    (p 58)

    The Alchemy Of Suffering

    Making the Best of Suffering

    The eighth-century master Shantideva writes:
    If there is a cure, what good is discontent?
    If there is no cure, what good discontent?
    (p 72)

    Managing Suffering

    [We can] distinguish between two types of suffering: psychological pain and the mental and emotional suffering it causes. …
    [A] considerable percentage of pain sensation is linked to the anxious desire to suppress it.
    It is the mind that reacts In pain with fear, rejection, despondency, or a feeling of powerlessness …
    [If] we can't escape it, it is better to embrace it than to try to reject it.
    The pain persists whether we succumb to dejection or hold on to our resilience and desire to live, but in the latter case we maintain our dignity and self-confidence …

    There are various methods to achieve [this:]
    • mental imagery …
    • [cultivating] love and compassion [and]
    • developing inner strength.
    (p 73)

    The Veils Of The Ego

    [We] freeze the flow of consciousness when we conceive of an "I" enthroned between a past that no longer exists and a future that does not yet exist.
    (p 81)

    The Crystallization of the Ego

    Among the many aspects of our confusion, the most radically disruptive is the insistence on the concept of a personal identity: the ego.
    Buddhism distinguishes between
    • an innate, instinctive "I" — when we think, for instance, "I'm awake" or "I'm cold" — and
    • a conceptual "self" shaped by the force of habit.
    We attribute various qualities to it and posit it as the core of our being, autonomous and enduring.

    [We treat the self as] highly vulnerable [— something that needs to be constantly] protected and satisfied …
    [We feel:]
    • aversion for anything that threatens the self [and]
    • attraction to all that pleases it, comforts it, boosts its confidence, or puts it at ease. …
    We create the illusion of being separate from the world [as a defense against] suffering [when, in fact, it is this very] ego-grasping and self-importance [that attracts] suffering.
    (p 83)

    [By] reinforcing the separate identity of the self, we fall out of sync with reality.
    The truth is, we are fundamentally interdependent with other people and our environment.
    Our experience is simply the content of the mental flow, the continuum of consciousness, and there is no justification for seeing the self as an entirely distinct entity within that flow.
    [By habitually] affixing the "I" label to that mental flow … we come to identify with it and to fear its disappearance.
    [A] powerful attachment to the self [develops which forms the basis of] the notion of "mine" — my body, my name, my mind, my possessions, my friends, and so on …
    [This, in turn,] leads either to the desire to possess or to the feeling of repulsion for the "other."

    This is how the concepts of the self and of the other crystallize in our minds.
    [It is this false distinction that is the foundation] of all mental affliction, be it alienating desire, hatred, jealousy, pride, or selfishness.
    [We] see the world through the distorting [lense of our illusory self.]
    (p 84)

    This erroneous sense of a real and independent self [springs from] egocentricity, which persuades us that our own fate is of greater value than that of others. …
    [It] places the self at the center of the mind [creating] an entirely relative point of view.
    [And it is from this fixed point of view that we come to hope, or worse yet, insist,] that "our" world prevail over that of others.

    What to Do with the Ego?

    [The West] holds the self to be the fundamental building block of the personality.
    (p 85)

    [This idea arises] from the fact that some people who suffer from mental problems are said to have a fragmented, fragile, or deficient of self. …
    [However, this individualistic] belief in an established self … confuses ego and self-confidence.
    (p 86)

    For Buddhism … genuine self-confidence is natural quality of egolessness.
    To dispel the illusion of the ego is to free oneself from a fundamental vulnerability.
    [The] sense of security derived from [an exaggerated sense of self is illusory.]
    Genuine confidence comes from [the accurate] awareness of [the] basic quality of our mind …
    Such recognition imparts peaceful strength that cannot be threatened by external circumstances or inner fears, a freedom that transcends self-absorption and anxiety.
    (p 87)

    Between the theatrics and occasional ferocity of the rampant ego and the warm simplicity of the egoless, the choice is not a hard one.
    The idea that a powerful ego is necessary to succeed … stems from the confusion between attachment to our own image and the resolve to achieve our deepest ambitions.
    The fact is … self-importance [attracts] all sorts of mental projectiles — jealousy, fear, greed, [attraction,] repulsion — that perpetually [threaten to] destabilize it.
    (p 88)

    [The] self is just a name we give to continuum, just as we name a river the Ganges or the Mississippi.
    Such a continuum certainly exists, but only as a convention based upon the interdependence of the consciousness, the body, and the environment.
    It is entirely without autonomous existence.

    The Deceptive Ego

    Rather than seeing [the self] as multiple and elusive, we make it a unitary, central, and permanent …
    (p 89)

    The Deconstruction of the Self

    The concept of personal identity has three aspects: the "I," the "person," and the "self."
    These three aspects are not fundamentally different from one another, but reflect different ways we cling to our perception of personal identity.

    The "I" lives in the present …
    [It] is the "I" that thinks "I'm hungry" or "I exist."
    It is the locus of [the stream of] consciousness, thoughts, judgment, and will.
    It is the experience of our current state. …

    [The "person"] is a dynamic continuum extending through time and incorporating various of our corporeal, mental, and social existence. …
    [It] can refer to
    • the body ("personal fitness"),
    • intimate thoughts ("a very personal feeling"), character ("a nice person"),
    • social relations ("separating one's personal from one's professional life"), or
    • the human being in general ("the respect for one's person").
    (p 90)

    Its continuity through time allows us to link the representations of ourselves from the past to projections into the future.
    It denotes how each of us differs from others and reflects our unique qualities.
    The notion of the person [connotes] the overall relationship between the consciousness, the body, and the environment.
    It [only] becomes inappropriate … when we [mistake it for an] autonomous entity. …

    [The "self" is that] invisible and permanent thing that characterizes us from birth to death.
    [It] is not merely the sum of "my" limbs, "my" organs, "my" skin, "my" name, "my" consciousness, but their exclusive owner.
    We speak of "my arm" and not of an "elongated extension of my self".
    A person without limbs feels his physical integrity is diminished, but clearly believes he has preserved his self.
    If the body is cut into cross sections, at what point does the self begin to vanish?
    We perceive a self so long as we retain the power of thought.
    (p 91)

    When Our Thoughts Become Our Worst Enemies

    Contemplating the Nature of the Mind

    [Countless] thoughts born of our sensations, our memories, and our imagination are forever streaming through our mind.
    But there is also a quality of mind that is always present no matter what kind of thoughts we entertain.
    That quality is the primary consciousness underlying all thought.
    It is what remains in the rare moment when the mind is at rest, almost motionless, even as it retains its ability to know.
    That faculty, that simple open presence is what we may call pure consciousness, because is exists even in the absence of mental constructs. …
    In pure consciousness we experience the mind as empty of inherent existence.
    (p 101)

    Thoughts emerge from pure consciousness and are then reabsorbed in it, just as waves emerge from the ocean and dissolve into it again. …
    [When] past thoughts have fallen silent and future ones have yet to emerge, you can perceive a pure [consciousness unadulterated by] conceptual concepts.
    [It is] by direct experience [that one learns] what Buddhism means by the nature of the mind.
    (p 102)

    Watch the nature of the gap between thoughts, which is free from mental constructs.
    Gradually extend the interval between the disappearance of one thought and the emergence of the next.
    (p 103)

    The River Of Emotion

    The Impact of the Emotions

    If an emotion strengthens our inner peace seeks the good of others, it is positive, or constructive …
    [If] it shatters our serenity, deeply disturbs our mind, and is intended to harm others, it is negative, or afflictive.
    As for the outcome, the only criterion is the good or the suffering that we created by our acts, words, and thoughts, for ourselves as well as for others.
    That is what differentiates … indignation caused by injustice from rage born of the desire to hurt someone.
    The former has freed people from slavery and domination …
    [It] seeks to end the injustice … or to make someone aware of the error of his ways.
    The second generates nothing but sorrow.
    (p 111)

    The Scientific Perspective

    It is … possible to act firmly and resolutely to overpower a dangerous person without feeling … hatred.
    (p 112)

    What We Mean by "Negative" Emotions

    [Negative emotions] distort our perception of reality …
    Attachment idealizes its object, hatred demonizes it. …
    [Positive] emotions and mental factors strengthen the clarity of our thinking and the accuracy of our reasoning, since they are based on a more accurate appreciation of reality.
    (p 116)

    Buddhism prescribes rigorous training in introspection, a practice that involves stabilizing the attention and heightening clarity of thought. …

    When our discursive thoughts have been calmed through practice and our mind is clear and focused, we can examine the nature of our emotions and other mental states with great[er] efficacy.
    (p 117)

    Calming the mind and looking within

    [Instead] of paying attention to outer sights, sounds, and events, turn your "gaze" inward and "look" at the mind itself.
    [Observe] your awareness itself, not the content of your thoughts.
    Let the mind gently come to rest, as a tired traveler finds a pleasant meadow in which to sit for a while.
    (p 118)

    Disturbing Emotions

    Is It Possible to Free Ourselves of Negative Emotions?

    The three principal ways are antidotes, liberation, and utilization.
    • The first consists of applying a specific antidote to each negative emotion.
    • The second allows us to unravel, or "liberate," emotion by looking straight at it and letting it dissolve as it arises.
    • The third uses the raw power of emotion as a catalyst for inner change.
    (p 123)

    The Great Leap To Freedom

    Free from the Past, Free from the Future

    Inner freedom allows us to savor the lucid simplicity of the present moment, free from the past and emancipated from the future.
    Freeing ourselves from the intrusion of memories of the past does not mean that we are unable to draw useful lessons from our experience.
    Freeing ourselves from fear of the future does not make us incapable of approaching it clearly, but saves us from getting bogged down by pointless fretting.
    (p 163)

    A Sociology Of Happiness

    Gross National Happiness

    [While] buying power has risen by 16 percent over the past thirty years in the United States, the percentage of people calling themselves "very happy" has fallen from 36 to 29 percent.
    (p 184)

    Unlike GNP, the economic indicator that measures cash flow through an economy, GNH measures the happiness of the people as an indicator of development and progress.
    In order to improve the quality of life for its people, Bhutan has balanced cultural and environmental preservation with the development of industry and tourism.
    It is the only country in the world where hunting and fishing are banned throughout the land.
    In addition, 60 percent of the land is required by law to remain forested.

    There is a certain amount of poverty, but no destitution or homelessness. …
    Throughout the countryside, every family has land, livestock, and a weaving loom and can meet most of its needs.
    Education and health care are free.
    Maurice Strong:
    Bhutan can become like any other country, but no other country can ever return to being like Bhutan.
    (p 185)

    Happiness In The Lab

    Meditators in the Lab

    [Four states] were chosen as the objects of further research: the meditations on "altruistic love and compassion," on "focused attention," on "open presence," and on the "visualization" of mental images.

    There are methods in Buddhist practice devoted to cultivating loving-kindness and compassion.
    Here, the meditators try to generate an all-pervading sense of benevolence, a state in which love and compassion permeate the entire mind.
    They let pure love and compassion be the only object of their thoughts: intense, deep, and without any limit or exclusion. …

    Focused attention, or concentration, requires focusing all one's attention upon one chosen object and calling one's mind back each time it wanders.
    Ideally this one-pointed concentration should be clear, calm, and stable. …

    Open presence is a clear, open, vast, and alert state of mind, free from mental constructs.
    It is not actively focused on anything, yet it is not distracted.
    The mind simply remains at ease, perfectly present in a state of pure awareness.
    When thoughts intrude, the meditator does not attempt to interfere with them, but allows the thoughts to vanish naturally.

    Visualization consists of reconstituting in the mind's eye a complex mental image, such as the representation of a Buddhist deity.
    (p 190)

    [When] we compare the activity levels of the left and right prefrontal cortexes [people] who are customarily more active on the left side … mostly feel pleasant emotions.
    Conversely, those whose right prefrontal cortex is more active feel negative emotions more often.
    (p 193)

    [Meditating] on compassion [is associated with an] extraordinary increase of left prefrontal activity …
    This corroborates the research of psychologists showing that the most altruistic members of a population … enjoy the highest sense of satisfaction in life.
    (p 195)

    Ethics As The Science Of Happiness

    One Thousand Innocents or One?

    Andre Comte-Sponville:
    If you had to condemn one innocent (or torture one child, as Dostoevsky frames it) to save humankind, should you do it? …
    [Justice] must not be sacrificed [for] the happiness of the greatest number.
    (p 243)

    [The] question here is not one of accepting it, but of avoiding as much suffering as possible. …
    It is not a question of [whether to treat an] innocent child as merely the vehicle for saving other people's lives.
    [The] issue is to choose the lesser of two evils in terms of suffering. …

    It is easy here to fall prey to both abstraction and sentimentality. …
    It is sentimental to respond to the death of an innocent child just because we can imagine it vividly, while viewing the hundreds of inhabitants of the town as only an abstract entity.
    We need to turn the question around:
    Is it acceptable to sacrifice one thousand innocents to save one?
    [Practical] ethics must take into account, with insight and compassion, all the ins and outs of a given situation.
    [It requires] an impartial and altruistic motivation, as well as the unflagging desire to ease the suffering of others.
    [And is] the hardest to put into practice because [it transcends] the automatic resort to the letter of the law and moral codes.
    (p 244)

    [Such] ethics require a kind of flexibility that is itself a source of danger. …
    Francisco Varela:
    In real life … we always operate in some kind of immediacy of a given situation …
    We have a readiness-for-action proper to every specific lived situation.
    The quality of this readiness depends on the quality of our being and on the altruistic nature of our motivation, not on the righteousness of our abstract moral principles.
    Tenzin Gyatso:
    Sometimes, we have to act at once.
    This is why our spiritual development is of such critical importance in ensuring that our actions are ethically sound.
    The more spontaneous our actions, the more they are likely to reflect our inner disposition in that moment.

    The Idealization of Good and Evil

    We may identify two [major forms of ethics:]
    • one based on absolute principles and
    • one based on lived experience [such as the pragmatic ethics of Buddhism].
    (p 245)

    Duty is constrained by the necessity of being universal and disregards specific cases. …
    Francisco Varela:
    The proper units of knowledge are primarily concrete, embodied, incorporated, lived;
    knowledge is about situatedness and and context;
    the uniqueness of knowledge, its historicity and context, is not a 'noise' concealing an abstract configuration in its true essence. …
    [For Buddhism, evil] is not a demonic power external to ourselves, and good is not an absolute principle independent of us.
    Everything occurs in our minds.
    Love and compassion are reflections of the true nature of all living beings — what we have called basic goodness.
    Evil is a deviation from this basic goodness which can be remedied.
    (p 246)

    Utilitarian Ethics

    [The] major shortcoming [is the risk of] reducing [genuine happiness to pleasure].

    Condemnation, Punishment, and Rehabilitation

    Revenge is a deviation from justice, since its main intent is not to protect the innocent but to hurt the guilty …
    [Any] act whose primary motivation is to inflict suffering or to kill, as in the death penalty, cannot be considered ethical.
    (p 247)

    The Limits of Utilitarianism

    Utilitarianism advocates the maximization of the overall of pleasures …
    However, because it has no meaningful criteria for assessing happiness … this maximization principle can … lead to the sacrifice of certain members of society. …

    According to Rawls, an action cannot be good if it is not first just. …
    In [prioritizing the] just over the good [he idealizes] the just and depreciat[es] the good by presupposing man to be fundamentally selfish and unable to function without first calculating his own best interests.
    (p 248)
    John Rawls:
    Since each desires to protect his interests, his conception of the good, no one has a reason to acquiesce in an enduring loss for himself in order to bring about a greater net balance of satisfaction.
    In the absence of strong and lasting benevolent impulses, a rational man would not accept a basic structure merely because it maximized the algebraic sum of advantages irrespective of its permanent effects on his own basic rights and interests.
    We may have to accept the fact that exacerbated individualism, born of a powerful attraction to the self, is ubiquitous in contemporary societies. …
    Charles Taylor:
    Much contemporary moral philosophy … has focused on what is right to do rather than on what is good to be …
    [On] defining the content of obligation rather than the nature of good life …
    [It] has no conceptual place left for a notion of the good as the object of our love and allegiance or as the privileged focus of attention and will.
    (p 249)

    [A teacher must be compatible with his or her teaching.]
    Ethics is not like any ordinary science.
    It must arise from [a deep] understanding of human qualities [based on a personal] journey of discovery …
    An ethic that is built exclusively on intellectual ideas and that is not buttressed at every point by virtue, genuine wisdom, and compassion has no solid foundation.
    (p 250, emphasis added)

    Ethics and Neuroscience

    [When facing an ethical dilemma] we must overcome the powerful emotional conflicts that arise when the decision entails a painful sacrifice or a personal loss.
    [Neuroscientific] research indicates that [the] brain regions associated with reasoning and cognitive control are [the ones] involved in resolving moral dilemmas in which utilitarian values require difficult emotional decisions …

    [Philosopher and neuroscientist Joshua Greene] has speculated that the social and emotional responses that we have inherited from our primate ancestors underlie the absolute prohibitions … according to which certain moral lines ought not to be cross regardless of the greater good that might … be achieved.
    Joshua Greene:
    [The] Kantian 'rationalist' approach [may,] psychologically speaking, [not be] grounded [in] pure practical reason, but in a set of [primordial] emotional responses that [have] subsequently [been] rationalized.
    (p 251)

    Happiness In The Presence Of Death

    Keeping Death in Mind to Enrich Our Life

    Accepting death as a part of life serves as a spur to diligence and saves us from wasting our time on vain distractions. …
    We may blame ourselves only for what we have neglected to do.
    Someone who has used every second of her life to come a better person and to contribute to others' happiness can die in peace.
    (p 254)

    Other People's Deaths

    Since there is no material way to avert it, we prefer to remove death altogether from our consciousness.
    When does come along, it is all the more shocking, because we are unprepared for it.
    Meanwhile life has been slipping away day after day, and if we have not learned to find meaning in its every passing moment, all it has meant to us is wasted time.
    (p 256)

    A Path

    Where the Path Leads

    Enlightenment is what Buddhism calls the state of ultimate freedom that comes with a perfect knowledge of the nature of mind and of the world of phenomena.
    The traveler has awakened from the sleep of ignorance, and the distortions of the psyche have given way to a correct vision of reality.
    The divide between subject and object has vanished in the understanding of the interdependence of all phenomena.
    A state of non-duality has been achieved, above and beyond the fabrications of the intellect and invulnerable to afflictive thoughts.
    (p 263)

    Unlike Rainer Maria Rilke, who wrote that "we will all die unfinished," Buddhism says that we are all born complete, since each being holds within him a treasure that needs only to be actualized.
    (p 264)

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