Dalai Lama’s French translator sits down with the Daily

Tom Moran

For almost 20 years, Matthieu Ricard has served as the French translator for the Dalai Lama. Ricard, a bestselling author, award-winning photographer, doctor of cellular genetics and Buddhist monk, will speak at Northrop Auditorium today about cultivating one’s inner conditions for genuine happiness.

On Thursday, he spoke with The Minnesota Daily to discuss his philosophies and the controversies surrounding Tibet.

So tell me about your new book on happiness and meditation.

Well, it’s mostly about happiness. Meditation is an exotic term. What it really means is to cultivate or become familiar with something.

Meditation is not just emptying your mind and sitting quiet and relaxing. It’s really about transforming what you are and the quality of every instant of your life. So that’s actually cultivating skills that inner condition for genuine happiness, rather than always putting your hopes and dreams in the outer conditions.

Why is happiness so important and what does it mean?

Happiness is not just euphoria or jumping for excitement every moment, and it’s not an endless succession of pleasurable experiences. That’s a recipe for exhaustion. And so, happiness is a way of being.

A way of being, the more you experience it, the more it deepens, the more it becomes stable. It doesn’t depend on the outer circumstances for the very good reason that it is what gives you the resources to deal with confidence and what you encounter in life. So if it’s just a tool to deal with whatever comes your way it can’t be too vulnerable to the ups and downs of life. So it’s a very different thing than just pleasurable sensations.

Could you talk about your relationship with the Dalai Lama?

I had the fortune to learn with some of the greatest Tibetan Buddhist teachers, and one of my teachers happened to be one of the Dalai Lama’s teacher. So I used to meet the Dalai Lama on and off. Then from 1989, just before he received a Nobel Peace Prize, I became his French interpreter.

Since I’ve lived in the East for 40 years in the Himalayas now, I also have developed humanitarian projects inside Tibet, and in Nepal and India. I’m also quite involved in following the tragedy that is unfolding now in Tibet with the brutal repression on the part of the Chinese authorities.

Your trip to the United States, is it political at all?

Well I do answer questions whenever they come in interviews, and I still do a lot with the European media. But mostly it was to do this conference here tomorrow and then also to participate in the meeting between the Dalai Lama and doctors and scientists in Rochester.

What do you think students in Minnesota could do to lend their support to those in Tibet if they wanted to?

So there’s two ways to know that also young people care, maybe write to their congressperson. And also, since there must be many Chinese brothers and sisters at the University, they get a very biased picture from Chinese media that just speak of a few Tibetan hooligans that want to split the country and then this person, the Dalai Lama, that is against the Olympics. This cannot be further from the truth.

This should be understood, this is not a splitist struggle. This is just for human rights, for freedom – freedom of religion, freedom of culture, freedom of language and freedom of aspiration. People want to live the way they want.

The Dalai Lama has always advocated nonviolence, dialogue with China, and is facing a blunt, sort of nondialogue answer. And he’s been treated by them as a snake dressing in monk’s robes. So more peaceful and nonviolent and open to dialogue is hard to find.

I think young Chinese friends should know a more objective feature of Tibet. This is not anti-Chinese; the Dalai Lama always speaks of his Chinese brothers and sisters and he made a beautiful appeal for our two communities to be at peace and live in harmony. It is something that is against the oppression from the government and not in any way against the Chinese people and again he’s still supporting the Olympics.

You’re a photographer, author and humanitarian, does any of your passions rise above the others?

My deep longing is to spend more time in the Himalayas because that’s where I’m able to go deeper in my spiritual practice and somehow build up the necessary compassion, altruism and wisdom. Not that I have a lot of it, but it is the way to build it further. And so I think we need inner transformation to better transform the world.

Is your inner transformation ever complete?

It can be. In my case, it’s such a long way, I don’t see it complete soon. In Buddhist terms, what we call Buddhahood, the state of Buddha, is precisely a state where all the shadows of mental confusion and mental poisons have been removed and there is only the light of wisdom and compassion. So this is the ultimate reach of my training. In that sense, yes, it can be complete.