CREDOS : Mind over matter — III

Matthieu Ricard

The aim of knowledge is to end suffering, which is fundamentally caused by a specific form of ignorance. This ignorance is based on a misconception of the reality of the external world and of the self or an “I,” which we imagine to be the centre and prime agent of our being.

These false assumptions give rise to a host of problematic mental states and eventually to destructive emotions. We then want to protect the “I,” to please it and remove whatever threatens it. This gives rise to the impulses of taking and rejecting, which soon evolve into hate, excessive attachment, pride, greed, jealousy, etc.

Some issues explored in this conference included how emotions, both constructive and destructive, change in the course of evolution, play a crucial role in survival, and help rapid problem solving in complex situations. Survival of the species is a good example: In some instances, an uncontrollable fit of anger might be the most appropriate response to keep a threatening individual at bay, or to urge someone in danger to move swiftly out of it. But for someone whose goal is to free herself from ignorance and escape from the endless cycle of rebirth (the goal of Buddhism), all forms of anger should eventually be eliminated. Every morning, one of the participants presented a topic in the presence of the Dalai Lama and a host of rapt guests, covering such questions as: Which brain mechanisms regulate negative emotions and allow us to distinguish normal expression of these emotions from their destructive extremes? Are there differences in patterns of emotional expression from culture to culture? —