True novelty

By Matthieu Ricard on June 21, 2010

If you're always looking for novelty, you're often depriving yourself of the most essential truths. The antidote to suffering and to the belief in a self consists of going to the very source of your thoughts and recognizing the ultimate nature of the mind. How could such a truth ever grow old? What novelty could ‟outmode” a teaching that lays bare the very workings of the mind? If we get tired of such truths and run after endless ephemeral new ideas, we're only getting further from our goal. Attraction to novelty has one good side, and that's the legitimate desire to discover fundamental truths, to explore the depths of the mind and the beauty of the world. But in absolute terms, the novelty that's always ‟new” is the freshness of the present moment, of nowness, of clear awareness that's not reliving any past or imagining any future.

The negative side of the taste for novelty is the vain and frustrating quest for change at any price. Very often, fascination with things that are new and different is a reflection of inner impoverishment. Unable to find happiness within ourselves, we desperately look for it outside, in objects, in experiences, in ever stranger ways of thinking and acting. In short, we get further away from happiness by looking for it where it simply isn't to be found. The risk with that is that we may completely lose any trace of it. At the most ordinary level, the longing for novelty arises from an attraction to superfluity, which erodes the mind and disturbs its serenity. We multiply our needs instead of learning not to have any.

If the Buddha and many of those who've followed him really attained ultimate wisdom, what could we hope for that would be better and ‟newer” than that? The novelty of the caterpillar is the butterfly. Everyone's goal is to develop the potential for perfection within. To attain that goal, we need to take advantage of the experience of those who've already trodden that path. That experience is far more precious than the invention of any amount of new ideas.

So to summarize, I'd say that unlike running after novelty, the spiritual life makes it possible to rediscover simplicity, something for which we've rather lost the taste. To simplify our lives by no longer torturing ourselves in order to obtain things we don't really need, and to simplify our minds by no longer always turning over the past and imagining the future.