Alexandre Jollien and Matthieu Ricard: on the way to inner freedom

- through Francois Leclercq

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How to be free by freeing oneself from the causes of suffering? When a psychiatrist, a philosopher and a Buddhist monk meet at the foot of the mountains to approach the paths of liberation, it is as much to say that the path runs alongside the spiritual peaks of everyday life. In their latest book, The Liberty is for us, Christophe André, Alexandre Jollien and Matthieu Ricard trace a joyful and unmarked route to inner freedom. Join the rope.

In your new book, you tackle the gigantic construction site of inner freedom. What have you discovered?

Alexandre Jollien: Personally, I do not consider myself liberated, but on the way to liberation. Everyone leaves with a baggage full of trauma. This book is an invitation to everyone to move towards more freedom, to take stock, to see what tools are available and what art of living we can apply on a daily basis.

Matthew Ricard: In Buddhism, inner freedom is almost the equivalent of attaining enlightenment since the absence of enlightenment leads to confusion, bewilderment, being under the yoke of ignorance and all the poisons animosity, malevolence, obsession, jealousy, arrogance, lack of discernment… These two concepts come together very well. Throughout my life, I received teachings on this subject and tried to progress as best I could, while being extremely lazy and not very good at the start. We are prisoners of samsara which is characterized by all these mental poisons. Freedom from it is a central theme in Buddhism.

This book is an exploration, made in three, of the various aspects of inner freedom. We have different but complementary points of view: Christophe is a doctor and treats patients on a day-to-day basis who cannot be treated except by great principles, saying: “We have to do this and that! » Alexandre is a philosopher, he had a life course full of challenges, and he was often told: « You must this, you must be that… It's easy to say ». For my part, I thought a lot about their insights, their life paths, and these new experiences opened me up to other areas of understanding. This is why our dialogue brought me a lot.

Many people think that freedom from the causes of suffering means no longer encountering difficult living conditions. Is it sufficient ?

Matthew Ricard: No, that is not enough. We all have an addiction to the causes of suffering, which is why samsara is self-perpetuating, but getting used to samsara is not good business. To free oneself from it, it is necessary to determine the deep causes of the suffering which are related to the distortion of reality or to the gap which exists between me and the others for example. In this book, the path we follow to progress, as best we can, towards inner freedom takes various paths. Alexandre, you talk about “progredience”…

Alexandre Jollien: Yes, we are “progredientes”. Etymologically, “progrediente” means one step after another. The first step consists in identifying the alienations, the attachments. Chögyam Trungpa said that in matters of spiritual goal, it is a question of having the state of mind of a mechanic who, faced with a completely dented car, does not judge the driver. In the spiritual path, we are often in the commentary: when one suffers from suffering, the other tries to give him advice. I often say that Matthieu is a coachbuilder of the soul… He simply rolls up his sleeves to repair the vehicle. (laugh)

Matthew Ricard: A suburban coachbuilder!

Alexandre Jollien: Maybe, but a field coachbuilder. This is what is magnificent. So freedom is first of all an invitation to embark on an itinerary. The Liberty is for us, it only engages me, but I could not do this path alone, I am too incompetent, I need the other to move forward.

Matthieu, you specify that this book is not “a personal development manual in five points and three weeks”, but that it consists for you of sharing a sum of knowledge acquired over two millennia.

Matthew Ricard: This term personal development is quite fishy. We could prefer “transpersonal” or “development with the other, by the other”… It is true that we live in a world hit by an epidemic of narcissism. If it is a question of locking oneself in the bubble of the ego to feel good and to arrange a small personal nirvana in a corner, like one goes in a spa, that is neither interesting nor liberating. In the airports, there are books of the type The secret to being happy in three points and three weeks, but, there are no secrets, and let's remember: on the way to inner liberation, it is not easy, but it is possible by making efforts.

“Let's not lose sight of the fact that the path to inner freedom is the most beautiful adventure there is, but it requires effort. » Matthew Ricard

Alexandre Jollien: This is also what Chögyam Trungpa says when he talks about spiritual materialism and the fact that one cannot be rid of the ego. We feed ourselves with illusions when we seek to have a super ego, magnificent, strong... The idea of ​​inner liberation is to return to the starting point which consists in telling ourselves that, whatever we do, the ego is shaped to make us suffer. It is from this observation that we can move forward.

How do these fake news broadcast daily by "Mental FM", according to your own image Alexandre, blur our inner freedom?

Alexandre Jollien: I will take another image that speaks to me, that of the notifications. On our mobiles, we are bombarded with notifications when, for example, we receive text messages or emails. It's unbearable ! In his time, Pascal said that the man without application faces despair. By application, he meant the various activities of man, but we can humorously transpose this term application to today: thus, man without "app" finds himself face to face with emptiness, that is what is terrible ! We seek to furnish even with fake news of the mind rather than confronting ourselves with a state of being that is unknown to us.

As Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche said, personal development and Buddhism are not compatible. Weren't you worried that your toolkits could be compared to personal development? What is the difference ?

Alexandre Jollien: There is the notion of asceticism. There are thousand-year-old traditions that teach us that it is vital to establish a daily way of life, an art of living so as not to be caught up in resistant slopes. With regard to toolboxes, we come back to the image of the mechanic: the idea is not to have the best car in the world, but to understand the mechanisms – mechanics, one might say – of the mind, to save us from suffering.

Matthew Ricard: These toolkits are not easy methods! They arrive after we have discussed, exchanged, a day or more, on a subject… It is in a way the quintessence of our dialogues. The toolbox sometimes offers tasks that are far from easy, because they serve to get rid of egocentrism, narcissism, frenzied individualism...

Training the mind would consist, you write, in slaloming peacefully between the tyranny of the “I” and the dictatorship of the “we”. Even if it is full of pitfalls, would the path be traced?

Alexandre Jollien: First, following the ridge path between the dictatorship of “we” and the tyranny of “I” is extremely hard, and for my part, not so obvious! We cannot be amateurish, the problem is serious. This is not trivial, suffering! The dictatorship of “we” is to be molded by conformism, the fear of rejection, the idea of ​​displeasing; the tyranny of the "I" is the narcissism that disturbs life. Having an itinerary, a didactic compass, can therefore revive our determination. As Aristotle says: “The ridge path is itself a perfection”. About this, Swami Prajnânpad said: “It is calculation”. It is not a question of going there casually and saying to oneself: “One day, I will be liberated! And if I have the Awakening bonus, so much the better! Nor is it about clinging to a pre-established goal, but neither is it about wandering right, left, and doing spiritual tourism.

According to Chögyam Trungpa, “the spiritual itinerary cannot be considered as an organized trip”. He advises not to blindly follow guides of all kinds. In the current chaos, have we not, more than ever, need teachers to show the way?

Alexandre Jollien: We must first listen to the compass of the heart to go to the master. A guru, in the pejorative sense, is centered on himself. Thanks to Matthieu, I met Jigmé Khyentsé Rinpoché; there is no doubt that we are in the presence of a master. For what ? Because this man is totally selfless. He is not a Buddhism salesman or the apostle of an ideology, but someone who is totally given to the other and who has a virtuosity – and the word is weak – in practice. We should not confuse a master who teaches us to become ourselves with the dictators of the tyranny of the “I”. In the book, I criticize this, because you have to be very prepared before devoting yourself to teaching a master.

Your point of view on this subject, Matthieu…

Matthew Ricard: I don't see why I would have spent fifty years in the Himalayas if it wasn't to be with my masters. The master has an important function which is to show the way. The Buddha taught: "Do not accept what I have taught out of mere respect for me, but discover it for yourself." The master will not do the work for you, he will show you what are the pitfalls to avoid, the right path to follow, the good travel companions, etc. if you want to escape suffering. Then it's up to you to decide. The texts are very precise on this subject. It is said that a master must examine a disciple for twelve years! And a disciple a master for twelve years! First by far – what do people say about him? What do I hear? Does that sound inspiring? What are its teachings? How is he ? Where is she ? Then a little closer. Then a little closer still, to see if this master really justifies the trust placed in him, if he is sincere, authentic, honest, coherent and if he can take you further. The characteristics of the masters are described in length and breadth, so if one commits prematurely to a master, it is that one lacked caution!

A genuine teacher should have nothing to lose or gain from welcoming one or two more disciples, but everything to give and to share, and to gather the qualities associated with knowledge – the teaching of Buddhism which he conveys. and that he transmits – and those related to the realization, that is to say a deep spiritual practice so that his teaching does not remain a dead letter. Because, as Dudjom Rinpoche said: “To have great realization without infinite compassion, something is missing”. Obviously, this is setting the bar very high, but we must place this trust in a "good friend", a spiritual friend like His Holiness the Dalai Lama or my teachers Kangyur Rinpoche and Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche... I can give you a simple example: that of my second master, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. I spent thirteen years almost day and night with him. I received his teachings while watching him interact with kings, simple peasants or poor humans, without making any difference. He never judged others. Never did he have a single word, action or thought that would have harmed anyone in the slightest way. To rub shoulders with such a being, we realize that it is not trivial, and even rather surprising...

What is the importance of trust to move towards this inner freedom?

Alexandre Jollien: What kind of trust are we talking about? Confidence in oneself, in others, in life… Confidence in the path? What do you do when you don't have this innate confidence, or rather when it has been shattered by the trials of life? I come back to the notion of “friends in good” or coachbuilder. We are not into personal development, because we do not believe that everything is in our hands. On the road, we need teammates to support us, not to judge us. The first step is to come to terms with his lack of confidence. Confidence is fragile, embryonic, it's a small seed, but I know that once germinated, it will allow me to go through life. Aristotle says this is the way that leads to virtue. Often, we say to ourselves: “I don't have confidence. The day I find her again, I will finally be able to take acts of trust. Aristotle shows us, on the contrary, that it is by posing acts of trust that we can acquire it, along the way.

Matthew Ricard: To follow up on what I mentioned about the authentic masters, when it has been determined that such and such a guide was authentic, at that moment, you have to say to yourself: "Well, for the moment, I am at the beginning of the path, I do not control all the elements, but from now on, it is necessary to trust him".

What would be your three tips for moving towards this inner freedom?

Alexandre Jollien: First: root yourself in a practice, be it prayer or meditation, and be diligent in asceticism. Second: to be surrounded by good friends, to form a “we”. Finally, devote yourself to others and practice generosity and solidarity.

Matthew Ricard: Shantideva used to say that there is no big difficult task that cannot be broken down into small easy tasks. This is what you have to do to move forward step by step. That doesn't mean it's always easy, but it does help. Secondly, these efforts are not about fulfilling dull duties, it is the joyful effort to go in the right direction. The paramita of perseverance is defined as "joy towards virtue". In this case, it is to progress towards inner liberation and all the qualities related to it, in particular unconditional benevolence. In short, it is about having enthusiasm in realizing the potential we have to achieve this inner freedom; knowing that we all have Buddha-nature and that, whatever our starting point, it is possible to achieve it. Finally, it takes effort, day after day, hour after hour, minute after minute. We don't get there just because we want to! I remember His Holiness the Dalai Lama who met a group of 300 people coming out of a three-year retreat, and who said to them: “Don't think you are aces, you are at the beginning of the path. It's a good start, but if you think you've had three years of retirement and it's great, you'll be able to stop there… You have to make efforts until the end! And he added, “Only when you have achieved perfect Enlightenment can you relax. Let's not lose sight of the fact that the path to inner freedom is the most beautiful adventure in which we can embark, but it requires effort.

How can Buddhism respond to the challenges of our time?

Alexandre Jollien: Buddhism has such a profound knowledge of the human mind and the science of the mind that it can provide a key to open the door to what is best in the human being. To rediscover the treasure of Buddhism is truly to make man and woman greater, more generous and freer.

Matthew Ricard: There are people who think that, when we say that Buddhism is a science of the mind, we are talking nonsense... Except that the Buddha did say: "Transforming your mind, mastering your mind, such is the teaching of Buddhism. So, yes, it's to save his mind, but from what? Of the fundamental causes of suffering which are ignorance and the distortion of reality. If that was not possible, as the Dalai Lama says, it would be better to have a good beer and go to the beach, and above all not to worry. But if it is possible, it is a pity to neglect this possibility. Buddhism makes a diagnosis – we talk about Buddha as a therapist – we are sick and there is a treatment to follow, something that mainly addresses the very root of suffering. It's quite welcome for everyone.

What do you expect from a digital medium like ours?

Alexandre Jollien: For me, Buddhist News is really converting the gaze and precisely dispensing the Buddha's teaching, showing its eminent topicality, also showing its richness and complexity, beyond the caricatures, and making contact between everyday life, life – I was going to say practical – and the teaching of this outstanding master, of this benefactor for humanity that is the Buddha.

Matthew Ricard: Yes, indeed, first of all to give a fair idea, as much as possible, of what Buddhism is, because it is a bit over the top, and also sometimes denigrated for somewhat ridiculous reasons. So, to present an authentic vision of Buddhism, then also to remember that Buddhism does not proselytize. The Dalai Lama always says, "I didn't come to make one or two more Buddhists." So give this correct vision. I very much hope you get there.

We try through our works, our discussions, to present our personal paths. Me, I present in a way the point of view of Buddhism, which is not the rather superficial side of these easy books which do a little personal development - "Above all do not get tired, relax, go down slowly in yourself even” etc. Maybe you can remedy that in Buddhist News. And that you can talk, for example, about this book that is very close to my heart, The Wanderer of Awakening. You could say that it's my favorite "flap" since it sold only a thousand copies. I'm not trying to play the soup man, but I wonder about the gap that exists between a book that is the quintessence of what authentic Buddhism represents and its reception by the general public. I spent thirty years collecting testimonies on the life of this master, Patrul Rinpoche. I am amazed by the difference in reception between our conversation book (The Liberty is for us) and this kind of works, which presents a Buddhism without concessions, a necessary return to the sources, but which has more difficulty to echo. It is a question of civilization and culture: why this type of book does not attract crowds? It's up to everyone to ask themselves this question.

photo of author

Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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