Matthieu Ricard, aside from being known as ‘the world’s happiest man’, is a Buddhist monk, translator to the Dalai Lama, an author, scientist, speaker and humanitarian.
At 26-years-old the Frenchman left behind his molecular biology studies and settled into a life of serenity and spiritual training under his Buddhist teachers, high up in the heavens on the other side of the world.
But he returned to the Western fold and set about trying to teach the world how to be happy, and how to show empathy, kindness and compassion to one another.
He has an indomitable belief in the goodness of the human spirit. But it’s not just that he’s an optimist; he tells Salt that science is also on his side.
“People are basically good. If you look at evolution, one of the difficult points was how evolution can explain altruism; now you see all the great evolutionists like Martin Nowak with ideas that actually say cooperation has been much more creative to evolution than competition. Those are not just eccentric guys; they are the core of the science.”
He asserts that many have the wrong impression about humanity: “Everyday good does not make much commotion and people rarely pay attention to it; it doesn’t make the headlines in the media like an arson, a horrible crime, or the sexual habits of a politician.”
However Ricard believes inspiring kindness is all around us: “There’s this vast exaggeration of the negative aspect of human activities. When you tell people that violence has constantly declined over the last five centuries people say ‘it’s impossible, it’s not true’. But violence has steadily decreased – it’s about 100 times less than five centuries ago all over the world.
“Look at NGOs; the rise of the NGO is the true revolution of the 20th century. There are millions of NGOs and people who spend their time trying to do something for others, so why do we not give more attention to that?”
To read Salt’s full feature on Matthieu Ricard, and his new book ‘Altruism’, pick up the new issue on 1 September.
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