The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

Compassion, happiness, moral judgment

Matthieu Ricard is one of these people I find interesting even though I don’t know much about them. He is an ordained Buddhist monk, journalists have given him the title of being the world’s happiest man, he is an internationally best-selling author, and has a Ph.D. in cellular genetics.

The NYTimes recently interviewed him and I’m taking his advice “You should not get quickly discouraged!”

Skills take time, and understanding his approach to life doesn’t happen in an instant. What he is describing is his experience, and thus how compassion has become a practice for him.

He describes compassion as being “about remedying the suffering and its cause”, that is “wherever it is, whatever form it takes and whoever causes it.”

One of the interesting details in his approach is how he shifts the role of the self, acknowledging that it isn’t always holding the steering wheel, but may be subject to something, for example, hatred. I guess that all of us have found ourselves triggered by something and reacting outside of our awareness. Confronted with people who are in a position that is the polar opposite of one’s own and who don’t seem to be receptive to compassion, his suggestion is still to exercise compassion. One does it in wishing “that the cruelty, the indifference, the greed may disappear from these people’s minds.”

The point here isn’t to change them, it is to trust that there is a chance that a seed can be planted without expecting it to happen. He connects compassion with happiness and human warmth. Being compassionate is a way to share human warmth. In his words: “If you can, as much as possible, cultivate that quality of human warmth, wanting genuinely for other people to be happy; that’s the best way to fulfill your own happiness.” While sharing human warmth isn’t about us, but about the compassion we create, there is no reason to deny that it does us good too. If one cares, it’s impossible not to feel the warmth too.

But then, how to deal with indignation? Well, it will always be there too, and Ricard defines it as related to compassion. He too experiences it all the time, that is whenever there are things that should be remedied!

But he doesn’t use indignation to become angry. He uses it to search for how to bring compassion.

Whatever moral judgments we have, it has its reason to be and may be necessary. But that too doesn’t need to trigger anger. In many instances, moral judgments find their pendant in the law which is there to then act within the scope of the law. And if there isn’t, there is still no reason to opt for anger instead of compassion.

Writing helps to at least gather some intellectual understanding of Matthieu Ricard’s descriptions. To go beyond needs the reminder that it is a skill he developed through practice and meditation. That is, only practicing it ourselves, can transform intellectual understanding into a visceral understanding.


Share this post:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *