Matthew Ricard: “You have to welcome death with open arms”

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Matthew Ricard at the Spear Cave in eastern Tibet in 2021.Rafael Demandre (Arpa Publishers)

Matthew Ricard (Aix-les-Bains, France; 76 years old) Something like a great ambassador of Buddhism to the West. Doctor of Molecular Biology from the Pasteur Institute in Paris, where he was tutored by Nobel laureate François Jacob, he left his career and was ordained as a Buddhist monk in 1978. Now he published his autobiography, Memoirs of a Buddhist Monk (Veena), where his life passes and his Buddhist teacher play a special role. He is the son of the philosopher Jean-François Ravel and the painter Yahane Le Toumelin. He grew up surrounded by thinkers, but didn’t find a reason to be his own until years later. Answer the interview over the phone.

ask. He has said in the book that his life started at the age of 21.

answer. This is the moment when I found the true meaning of my existence. I have had the opportunity to meet very capable people: writers, artists, scientists… which disappointed me. When I met my first teacher, I noticed a deep association with them. I wanted to be someone like him. The messenger message must be; This phrase summarizes this certainty.

P. What did you discover on your first visit to India?

R. It was the first time I had opened myself to any religion. For some, Buddhism is a religion, for others it is a philosophy. For me, it is the path of knowledge, the path of transformation that leads from ignorance to knowledge, from suffering to liberation.

P. He is currently spending a few months in France and not in the ashram where he lives in Nepal, as he is taking care of his mother. The story is about 100 years old.

R. My mother has followed a parallel path to me. He has also adopted Buddhism. He doesn’t have anything. When she separated from my father, she was left with very little income. I don’t have much, I donated everything to humanitarian projects I created myself, the Karuna-Shechan Foundation, which helps 400,000 people in India, Tibet, Nepal… Saved a little to help when she got old. I look after them along with three other people I’ve hired. This was my duty as a son.

P. Have you planned a system for your ultimate old age?

R. I hope to stay in my ashram until I move out. And when I can’t go any further, there’s a monastery nearby where I know I’ll be looked after.

P. One of his teachers told him that we should die without the slightest attachment to what we have left behind and leave this life “like an eagle flying in the blue of the sky”.

R. In Buddhism the moment of death is a transition, we must try to live it peacefully and approach death with open arms, it is not easy if the soul is gray. To be with people is to die in pain.

P. It will be very difficult to learn it.

R. You have to be able to contemplate death in order to value every moment that passes. The thought of death is not terrible, it clings to every moment.

P. He trained to be a scientist in one of the best places. Except that, was it painless?

R. When a fruit is ripe, it spontaneously falls. After seven round trips to India, my time had come.

P. Can you tell me what is the process through which we experience the true nature of our existence?

R. Jealousy, hatred, passion… are mental poisons, they make us unhappy. can we fix it? The way of Buddhism is to prove yes. By meditating we transform our soul.

P. Buddhism affirms that the reality we experience is a self-delusion, that we are all one thing, consciousness.

R. Absolutely. There is an explanation in our perception of things. We can see a beautiful mountain or be in awe of it. How our consciousness translates to reality is critical to the quality of our existence. Buddhism serves to bridge the gap between reality and perception.

P. He asked his first teacher a question: ‘Should I start a family?’

R. So in that sense I had possibilities. He told me: ‘Wait until you’re 30.’ And in the meantime the man rebuilds his life.

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