A Science of Awakening

By Matthieu Ricard on April 12, 2010

How should I lead my life? How should I live in society? What is knowable? These three questions have been puzzled over through the ages.  Ideally, our lives should lead us to a feeling of plenitude, so that we have no regrets at the moment when we die. Life in society should inspire us with a sense of universal responsibility. Knowledge should teach us about both the nature of the world around us and about our own minds.

These same questions lie at the heart of the practice of science, philosophy, politics, art, social work and spirituality. Artificially compartmentalizing these activities, as so often happens in our lives today, leads inevitably to diminished perspectives.  Without a wisdom bred of altruism, science and politics are double-edged swords, ethics is blind, emotions run wild, and spirituality becomes self-delusion.

The main difference between the pursuit of knowledge in science versus in Buddhism is their ultimate goals. In Buddhism, knowledge is acquired essentially for therapeutic purposes. The objective is to free ourselves from the suffering that is caused by our undue attachment to the seeming reality of the external world and by our servitude to our individual egos, which we imagine reside at the center of our being. Buddhism is basically a science of Enlightenment.

There are many signs of success in the contemplative life. But the most important is that after a few months, or years, your self-centeredness has lessened and our altruistic love has increased. If grasping, animosity, pride and envy still remain as strong as before, then we have wasted our time.

Buddhism's way of looking at the world allows us to draw up a priority list covering our goals and activities, and thus take control of our lives. Its analysis of the mechanisms of happiness and suffering clearly shows the divergent results of selfishness versus altruism.