Olivier Germain-Thomas: when Buddhist encounters made on the paths of Asia become the honey of everyday life...

- through Henry Oudin

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Eternal curious, Olivier Germain-Thomas has always conceived and practiced philosophy without borders. Inspired by India and Buddhism, the writer bears witness to his Asian adventures in several of his books. He finds in the way of the Buddha, all schools combined, a force to develop compassion and benevolent love. A treasure accessible to all, whatever their culture or religion.

The magnolia is no longer in bloom at the beginning of May. Olivier Germain-Thomas receives our call on a bench, behind a beautiful old Norman building, the Ayurvedic cure center of Tapovan (Seine-Maritime). The place, green and peaceful, is preparing to host its 11th literary and artistic days, on the theme of the “faces of love”. For the former radio producer for France Culture, now 75 years old, “these meetings are an opportunity to build bridges between European culture and Indian thought”.

This desire to know other cultures has always been part of Olivier. A student curious about the thoughts of the world, enrolled in a course in literature and philosophy at the Sorbonne, he quickly decided not to confine himself to the study of Greek and European wisdom. "I told myself that there were, elsewhere, men and women who, for centuries, even millennia, had been reflecting on the great universal questions: those of time, of death, of love, of the meaning of life, the origin of the world, etc. ". At 24, he therefore embarked on a doctorate on the aesthetics of Buddhist philosophy of the first centuries. He left for India where his academic approach took a spiritual turn in this other world. This first trip allows him to approach the richness of Hindu festivals, pilgrimages, but also the complex relations between castes, men and women. In this immense country, traveling by train is a moment of magnificent fraternity where strangers with whom he shares a few hours, do not hesitate to ask him what he thinks of God...

The mVipassana Edition, le influence du Vajrayana and la strength du Zen

He will often return to this country which fascinates him. Over the years, his many wanderings have been punctuated by luminous encounters. Olivier remembers in particular a man, seated, who guarded the site, in Sanchi, a Mecca of Buddhism in the center of the country. “I found in this modest being a beautiful simplicity linked to an authentic wisdom. No big words, but a “being there”, present to what was”. Then it is the meeting with Master Goenka, of Theravada tradition, one of the greatest teachers of Vipassana meditation. The writer participates, under his authority, in ten days of intense meditation. At the end of the internship, he must remain motionless for five hours. “When it ended, I felt like almost nothing had happened, that time was like a sheet of paper,” he recalls.

Back in France, he continued his inner journey in contact with other masters. At the center of Karma Ling, in Savoy, Kalou Rinpoche, grand master of Tibetan Buddhism, marked him deeply. “It only lasted an hour, but it was enough to feel its presence and the intensity of its radiance”. And, later, he rubbed shoulders with the Zen master on several occasions Taisen Deshimaru. “He didn't speak English very well, but sometimes the contact happens without language. I liked his life force. »

These masters, Theravada, Vajrayana and Mahayana, are his points of reference. For Olivier, regardless of the vehicles and the schools, the main thing is to approach Buddhism through practice: "We have within us a spiritual force that we must deploy, through meditation and compassion" .

The reality of impermanence

Olivier Germain-Thomas recognizes this: “There are periods of my life when I no longer practice. To remedy this little indiscipline, I sometimes meditate more intensively. It is easier for me to practice in a group than alone in my room, even if I try to do it when I feel my mind available”. But, he adds, “Thoughts cannot always be disciplined. Sometimes they come and attack me. It is not a question of hitting them above, but of looking at them while smiling at their transience. It allows, in life, not to cling to one's own person or property, because we know that it is ephemeral. The ephemeral, impermanence, one of the pillars of meditation.

“There is a spirituality in the Middle Way that can help atheists, Christians, Jews, Muslims to realize that we have within us a treasure that modern society wants to destroy, to make us consumers. »

With these words, the weather confirms the law of impermanence. The wind disrupts communication. "Five minutes ago, I was in full sun, and here are the clouds which announce the rain", he notes. He tries, again, to describe his meditative experience. Not easy, even if the verb is his job. “No doubt because writing is stimulated by passions, whereas meditation consists in moving away from them”. What is certain, however, is that "the practice puts us in a state of openness and benevolence such that we accept much more the possible dissatisfaction that would come from others". Olivier shares all this with his wife, a yoga enthusiast, and his four children: "I introduce them to meditation by simply telling them that it exists, that it's powerful, luminous, and that, from now on, it's up to them to play if they wish.

Within us lies a universal treasure

To allow as many people as possible to take an interest in this philosophy of life, Olivier Germain-Thomas has written hundreds of pages on Buddhism. Essentially experiences lived in Japan and India, or with Tibetan masters in France. He also tried to highlight the Dharma during his 36 years as a producer at France Culture, by inviting Taïsen Deshimaru, Dr Jean-Pierre Schnetzler, Jacques Brosse, Philippe Cornu, Buddhist nuns, and so many others …

The wind blows strongly. It's raining cats and dogs now, Olivier goes to take shelter behind a wall. "We talk about my past, but despite my age, I always want to open doors", says the writer happily, who insists: "The Dalai Lama repeats that one can very well practice the philosophy of the Buddha without being a Buddhist. This tradition does not belong to one people, one culture or one era. Along with Christianity, it is one of the deeply universalist religions. Twice a year, Olivier, who remains attached to his Christian roots, attends Benedictine monasteries. Before taking refuge in the warmth of the center where he resides, he makes one last point: “There is, in the Middle Way, a spirituality which can help atheists, Christians, Jews and Muslims to become aware that we have within us a treasure that modern society wants to destroy to make us consumers. The storm is raging, but Olivier remains optimistic. The sun will surely be back the same evening. This is the reality of impermanence

photo of author

Henry Oudin

Henry Oudin is a Buddhist scholar, spiritual adventurer and journalist. He is a passionate seeker of the depths of Buddhist wisdom, and travels regularly to learn more about Buddhism and spiritual cultures. By sharing his knowledge and life experiences on Buddhist News, Henry hopes to inspire others to embrace more spiritual and mindful ways of living.

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