I wish to introduce you to one of my favourite thinkers.   Matthieu Ricard holds a doctorate in molecular biology from the Pasteur Institute, in Paris.   He is a multitalented scholar who interrupted his research into cell genetics to become a Buddhist Monk. He not only translates Buddhist texts but also acts as one of the chief interpreters for the Dalai Lama.   In addition he is a prolific photographer and has done sterling work in raising money for the underprivileged in India, Nepal and Eastern Tibet.

Much of the information in this blog is culled from an article in Tricycle which you can either read or restrict yourself to my personal interpretation!    https://tricycle.org/magazine/why-meditate/?utm_source=Tricycle&utm_campaign=a2f224650e-daily_Dharma_2019_2_28_NS&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1641abe55e-a2f224650e-307275697

Because Matthieu is immersed in scientific methodology I respect his capacity to interpret Buddhist texts and philosophy for the Western mind.   He has played an important role in the scientific study of Buddhism by being the first subject, who is a long term meditator, to be examined in an EEG machine.   I had read about this research about ten years ago and I was highly impressed when I learned about the results of his meditation on compassion when it was evaluated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.   The readings, when measuring Matthieu meditating on compassion, were the most extreme that had ever been witnessed. The needle measuring the requisite brain waves went right off the graph paper!    I was so impressed by this overt demonstration of the power of meditation that when a new course was offered in Mindfulness and Meditation by our local Stellenbosch University, I was the very first person to enrol.

Matthieu, in conversation with a journalist from Tricycle Magazine, says that one of the main pursuits of Buddhism is, “To bridge the gap between the way things appear and the way things are.”   So often our suffering is caused because we interpret events or conversations unrealistically.  Buddhism helps us to understand that events and happenings are not always as they may appear to us.   Most of our perceptions are from the interpretation we place on our sensations, rather than an accurate portrayal of reality.   So, one of the aims of Buddhist practice is to determine the difference between reality and our interpretation of events.    The study of Buddhism precepts is a therapeutic route to our realistic interpretation of our experiences.

A newspaper headline describing Matthieu as the “Happiest man in the world” has been oft quoted, and he was asked how he felt about this description.    “Of course, it is better than being called the unhappiest man in the world,” he replied.  Happiness, however, can be over-rated as a personal goal according to Buddhist precepts.

He then went on to say, “Thinking that happiness is just an endless succession of pleasant experiences seems more like a recipe for exhaustion than it is for happiness. Happiness is a way of being, not a sensation. If you are only looking for pleasure, then you need to know that there’s probably no way that the brain could sustain pleasurable sensations forever.”   He believes that genuine happiness is related to wisdom.   Pleasure by itself is over-rated.   Whilst there is nothing wrong with pleasure, it cannot be equated with true happiness.   For true happiness, a person needs to be attuned to reality and free from mental toxins such as hatred and craving.

Matthieu has some interesting things to say about evolution.   If we need to wait for genes to change for people to become more altruistic and compassionate, we may need to wait for 50,000 years.   However, if the wisdom of Buddhist psychology and philosophy can be culturally acquired then there can be a major transformation towards more peaceful solutions to conflicts in just a couple of generations.

It would be great if the current major trend of seeing more and more people with a Western cultural orientation assume the skills of mindfulness and meditation,  could lead to the evolution of a greater understanding between all cultures, and ultimately we could achieve greater understanding and altruism between people of different social and political backgrounds.

“So the idea is to gradually progress from a state of mind where unfavourable conditions prevail, to another state that is characterized by stable attention, inner peace and clarity, confidence, courage, openness toward others, benevolence, the ability to deal with emotions, and other qualities of a vast and calm mind,” says Ricard.

For Matthieu in conversation view:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N4QetA3ypdQ

 

Yesterday I was invited to give a talk to members of our local University of the Third Age about “Ageing and Sageing.”   This invitation resulted from the events of last year when I had the privilege of hosting Gary and Charolotte Carlson of Sage-ing International who live in Alburqueque, New Mexico.   They volunteered to visit Cape Town after their tour of the Kruger National Park so that we could share our experience and knowledge of the process of Eldering.  We had been interacting over the internet, but this would be the first time we would meet.   The Carlsons offered to facilitate some workshops to give Capetownians the benefits of their international experience and teaching.

In my presentation yesterday, I spoke about the pioneering work of Rabbi Zalman which he describes so eloquently in his book entitled  “Ageing and Sageing.”   The foundation of his philosophy can be summed up in the following words, “What is the point of an extended life, if we do not develop an extended consciousness?”   He further states, “Fortunately our culture’s limited view of ageing is undergoing a profound reconceptualization.   We are the first generation to apply the insights of humanistic and transpersonal psychology and contemplative techniques from our spiritual traditions to the ageing process itself, giving birth to what some people call the conscious ageing movement.

It so happened that yesterday was the first day that my new website called A Mind of Grace was ready to launch.  I feel this is propitious.   Whilst Zalman passed away at the beginning of the technological revolution, he could never have foreseen the possibility that the process of blogging may form an integral part of the “ageing and sageing” process.  I am looking forward to experimenting with this opportunity to blog and share ideas with an international audience.    I believe the process is intimately tied up to my intention of practicing the art of conscious eldering.

This morning I had a further opportunity to practice some ‘sageing skills’.   The process of transforming South African schools from the dynamics of the apartheid era to the more progressive approach of our new democracy is proving extremely challenging.   My domestic worker took a seat in my study when she arrived today to talk to me about her strong emotional reaction to a story that appeared in this morning’s Cape Times.   A local school, which under the apartheid system was reserved for white learners, now has learners of all races.   An unfortunate incident was reported in today’s newspaper about an altercation between a learner and a teacher which took place a few days ago at a local school.  It has involved a degree of violence by the pupil when she shoved her desk towards the teacher, who then retaliated with physical blows to the learner.  The events had been widely reported on social media.   Albertina has two daughters; a teenager, and another daughter in her early twenties.   She was particularly disturbed by this altercation, because of the violence involved and complains that today’s children have no respect for their parents, She perceives this problem to exist amongst her children’s generation of school goers.

I had recently watched the moving TED video entitled, “My son was a Columbine shooter. This is my story.”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7xfyN-yBZ7c  The mother’s poignant recount of healing during the past 20 years since this shocking incident, may help Albertina to realise that rebellion amongst school children is not a new phenomenon.    She recognised the pain that this mother had worked with during the intervening years.   That she had come to some degree of equanimity and acceptance.   I hope that my novel form of therapy may assist my employee to come to terms with the difficult relationship sometimes encountered between parents and their children.

I do believe that part of the sageing process is to keep in touch with the responsibilities of the mothers of today, as well as the current challenges faced by children of this generation