Matthieu Ricard is a French Buddhist writer and monk who has lived in a monastery in Nepal for more than 37 years, where he has been a disciple of great Buddhist masters. His spiritual adventure began in 1979 when he decided to change his brilliant scientific career to the study and practice of Tibetan Buddhism. In fact, he has contributed, especially, in the idea of union of East and West; of science and spirituality.
In addition to the numerous humanitarian projects he has carried out, Matthieu Ricard is an active member of the Institute for Thought and Life. This institution has successfully completed numerous scientific investigations on mental training, meditation practices and brain plasticity.
After a life dedicated to the visionary projects of his teachers, we collect some of the keys to his life. What can lead a man to completely abandon success to live in Nepal? How can a man of science get rid of everything to embrace spirituality?
First years and contact with Buddhism
Matthieu Ricard was born in France in 1946. From a young age, he frequented the French intellectual circles to which his family belonged. His father was a philosopher, journalist and writer; and his mother, a renowned painter. Matthieu’s education was complemented by studies in classical music, photography and ornithology. He obtained his PhD in Molecular Genetics from the Pasteur Institute, under the supervision of one of his mentors, the French Nobel Prize winner, François Jacob. After finishing his studies at the Pasteur Institute, Matthieu Ricard decided to leave the scientific world and focus on the practice of Tibetan Buddhism.
In 1972, he travels to the north of India and settles in the Himalayas, where he trains and studies with several of the great Buddhist masters. This contact with Buddhist spirituality ended up turning Ricard into a disciple very close to the teacher Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. His teacher was a visionary who dedicated his life to the consolidation of many temples, schools and monasteries. Sites dedicated to the study and practice of Tibetan Buddhist teachings. Since the death of his teacher in 1991, Matthieu Ricard has immersed himself in continuing the work that he had begun, devoting all his time and work to it.
Matthieu Ricard’s humanitarian projects
They are, to date, 110 humanitarian projects that Matthieu Ricard has developed in Tibet. Among them, the creation of health clinics, schools and numerous bridges and infrastructures stands out. One of the schools was built to serve and train more than 800 orphaned children arriving in Nepal across the Himalayan border. This school has also hosted hundreds of elderly people.
Matthieu Ricard is co-director of the Buddhist monastery of Shechen in Nepal. From this place, he develops the projects of Khyentse Rinpoche. Ricard is also the author of a large number of books that help to unite and understand different cultures, in particular, Western and Eastern. All the profits that he collects from his publications are destined to finance his humanitarian causes.
Ricard has created foundations of international diffusion, getting important affiliates in the rest of the world that collaborate in their projects in Bhutan, Nepal and India. In recognition of his work of preserving the cultures of the Himalayas, he was granted the French National Order by French President Françoise Mitterrand in 1989.
Connection with the West
He has accompanied the Dalai Lama, as a personal interpreter, in his travels to French-speaking countries in recent decades. He is a particularly active member of the Institute for Thought and Life, led by professor and specialist in neuroplasticity, Richard J. Davison. In the same way, Ricard has participated in rehearsals at the Universities of Princeton, Berkeley, Maastrich and Leipzig.
Matthieu Ricard participated in a study carried out by the University of Wisconsin, in which he underwent functional magnetic resonance image (fMRI) tests that yielded spectacular data. Ricard has achieved the highest known human activity level in the left prefrontal cortex.
Left prefrontal cortex is an area associated with positive emotions, something really significant. Matthieu Ricard reached levels of -0.45, more than unusual results that earned him the nickname “the happiest man in the world”. The results of this study constitute the fifth most consulted scientific reference in history.
The keys to the happiest man in the world
In relation to these surprising results, Ricard has pointed out that he is not the only one, besides emphasizing that the key lies in training in meditation on love and compassion. For him, these results only prove, once again, the great benefits of meditation. In addition, in some way, it invites us to think that, perhaps, humanitarian work and the connection with spirituality, stripped of the material, may have contributed to some extent.
The work of Matthieu Ricard has been translated into some 21 languages and sold in various countries. All his literary work is a very valuable contribution to the understanding of human nature and the world. They emphasize titles like: In defense of the happiness, In defense of the animals or The infinity in the palm of the hand. In the latter, it reflects a conversation with the astrophysicist Trinh Xuan Thuan and the dialogue between cultures is established.
Approaching Mattieu Ricard is an approach to spirituality, an attempt to reconcile the West and Buddhism. At the same time, the reading of his works is totally inspiring and reflective. Maybe, happiness is not as far as it seems, but it requires some effort and dedication.
“This book is the inspiring result of a profoundly interesting dialogue between Western science and Buddhist philosophy. It contributes to a better understanding of the true nature of our world and the way we live our lives.”
-H.H. Dalai Lama-