Martin Summerhayes (martinsummerhay) wrote,
Martin Summerhayes

Altruism and an evening with Matthieu Ricard

“We have so far to go to realize our human potential for compassion, altruism, and love.”
― Jane Goodall, Harvest for Hope: A Guide to Mindful Eating

The first question you might ask is, who on earth is Matthieu Ricard? He is a is a French buddhist monk who moved to Tibet in his 20’s, spent 25 years in retreat and then wrote a best selling book with his dad. Oh and he has been working with world leading neural scientists and is called the “happiest person in the world”, something he denies. Anyway, how come I spent an evening with Matthieu?

As part of my mindfullness journey, I came across the the Action for Happiness movement [for further details, please go to ] and subscribed to their newsletter. One of their announcements a while ago was that coming to London in May, was Matthieu Ricard, the french buddhist monk that I have seen speak on TED talks. He was going to give a talk on Altruism and the power of compassion in living.

I booked the ticket and waited in anticipation for the day to come. It duly did this week. On Tuesday, I hopped onto a train and travelled to London to have a day of both business and spiritual pleasure. I made my way in the early evening to Kings Cross St Pancras and the Camden Centre. 6:30pm, the doors opened and we all entered the building. I settled down and looked around at the most broad ranging group of people I have seen at an event in ages - young, old, business dress, casual, English and other languages and nationalities, a wonderful, eclectic group. Over 850 people! 7:00pm came and the lights went down and Matthieu came on stage and after a brief introduction from the host, he spoke for nearly an hour and a half on Altruism and Compassion.

Some of the fascinating facts I picked up and remember from the event, included:

Sustainable Harmony, we need to practice altruism in support of the 1.3billion different species that live on this planet along with us.

At the current rate of extinction, 30% of the species, or 3.9 million will have died out by 2050, that is in only 35 years - less than a lifetime away. This is the going to be the 6th extinction event. The last one, the 5th, was the extinction of the dinosaurs!

With the current rate of resource depletion, we will need 3, yes, 3 whole earth planets in terms of resources, to maintain the current level of resource consumption by 2050!

He made a joke about a rhino running across the stage and if we saw it now, we would panic and run away. But he said, that if people are saying that climate change will impact us in 50 years, how would you react to the warming that a rhino would run across the state in 50 years time. Phuff, not an issue for me.

He also talked about the fact that there are 1.3 billion people currently below the poverty line and that we need to sustainably help them. That the top 1% of wealth owners in the world, own 80% of the resources and they should think of sustainable growth, not ripping the earth apart to grow their own wealth. He mentioned that for £100,000 he can build and run a school for 2,000 children.

Violence in Society. He talked and asked us if we felt more afraid of violence now than ever before. About 50% of the people in the audience, felt that violence was increasing. Matthieu challenged us and said that it has been falling and falling significantly since the 1950’s. He quoted the murder rate in Oxford from the 1350’s [Oxford is the closest city to where I live, so my ears pricked up] and the number was 100 in 100,000 of people then. Now it is 0.6 in 100,000 people.

I had read somewhere, but he mentioned it as well. The average person, by the time they reach the age of 20, will have seen over 40,000 murders on TV and in films. 40,000; that's mass murder on an incredible scale!

He stated that 99% of news coverage around the world is negative and is self fulfilling in terms of generating the perception of violence increasing, by building and building on the negative feelings all the time.

In summary, violence is not increasing, only our media fed, false perception of it.

Altruism and Compassion
He spent most of the time on the fact that the Mind and Life are intrinsically joined and can not be dealt with separately. That compassionate living is not about being selfish, but reaching out to help people in spite of any difficulty you might have yourself. That helping others, helps ourselves to live better and more fulfilling lives.

He put up a quote from Martin Luther King that struck home to me:

“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness." - Martin Luther King”

The final piece that I noted, was the “10 second meditation” he talked about. For 10 seconds, maybe every hour for 4 or more hours a day, which is less than a minute; just pause, look around and when you see someone, say to yourself:

May you be safe and free from suffering
May you be as happy and as healthy as it is possible to be
May you have ease of being

"Even the biggest changes start with the smallest actions." If you have followed the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Programme, or any other mindfulness pracices, meditation or buddhism, you will recognise this is one of the befriending meditations. I have followed this meditation every wek and can attest to the power it gives me to lead a more altruistic life.

In summary, Mathieu finished with:

We need three things.

Enhancing cooperation: Cooperative learning in the school instead of competitive learning, Unconditional cooperation within corporations -- there can be some competition between corporations, but not within.

Sustainable harmony: Sustainable harmony means now we will reduce inequality. In the future, we need to do more with less, and we will need to continue to grow qualitatively, not quantitatively. We need to extend altruism to the other 1.6 million species on the planets.

We need local commitment, global responsibility: We need to focus on altruism across everything we do.

At the end of the evening, I queued up and bought a copy of his latest book, joined the autograph queue and politely asked Mathieu to sign it. It is now by my side and I am enjoying its key messages.

The book is called Altruism: The Power of Compassion to Change Yourself and the World

P.S By the way, Matthieu appeared on the Chris Evans Breakfast show on BBC Radio 2 on THursday 28th May. With an audience of over 9,850,000 people every day, lets hope that if at least 0.1% of the people listening thought about Altruism and decided to do something about it, that would be 985,000 activist on top of the 850 people at the evening talk, that is nearly 1 million people starting an altruistic life.

The episode is available from the BBC, but only for the next 28 days

As always, I leave you with a quote….

“I believe all suffering is caused by ignorance. People inflict pain on others in the selfish pursuit of their happiness or satisfaction. Yet true happiness comes from a sense of inner peace and contentment, which in turn must be achieved through the cultivation of altruism, of love and compassion and elimination of ignorance, selfishness and greed.”
― Dalai Lama XIV

Tags: altruism, compassion, dalai lama, life, matthieu ricard, mindfulness, ted, zen buddhism

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