Beauty will save the World

« Beauty will save the world. »

« La beauté sauvera le monde. »
La beauté qui sauvera le monde, c’est cette beauté qui unifiera l’intérieur et l’extérieur, l’être et le paraître, la forme et le contenu, le corps et l’esprit.

Dostoïevski

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Absolute respect of Life

“Secular ethics beyond all religions is the absolute respect of all forms of life”.

«L’éthique séculière au-delà de toutes les religions, c’est le respect absolu de toute forme de vie ».

Albert Schweitzer

We are back to Europe!

We have arrived in Lisbon! So gooood to feel back home, be able to meet our best friends, and enjoy beautiful region around Lisbon.

This is now a new phase in our journey, slowly settling down after 11 months of non-stop mouvement, a way to get back to normal life before returning to our home in Carry-le-Rouet (small village close to Marseille) mid-August where the real life will start again with shopping, school for kids and business!

In the meantime, we take this last opportunity to have a full month of leisure life to relax… and shape new dreams!

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Our new base camp in Lisbon for 2 weeks: thanks Arthur & Lili;-)

North India Roadtrip – The Video!

Here is the full feature movie of our 3 weeks in North India. A roadtrip across the states of New-Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Himachala at the northernmost point of the country !

Such a great trip in many beautiful cities like Agra, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Dharamsala, and many more. Amazing sceneries, great people, dirty roads, sacred animals everywhere, and sometimes bad weather, but always a real adventure like nowhere else!

Here is the last movie of our Beautiful World Tour before we returning to Europe where other adventures are awaiting for us.

Enjoy !

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Taking-off from India!

After 11 months around the planet, we are taking-off back to Europe!!! The whole family is soooo happy!

Our last day in New-Delhi has been wonderful, having been invited by a lovely family. Everywhere across India, we had many friendly encounters, and we really hope to be back here one day, hopefully in a not too distant time!

Thank you Shashi and friends for your warm welcome!

Bye India!

 

Time to be Nice

Like many people, we have been shocked to learn about the new terrorist attack in France, hitting again many innocents and childrens just enjoying life by the sea.

As Isaac Asimov said, “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent”, and what we have seen in Nice is another example of ignorance and blind hate.

In these tough moments, I believe it’s always good to look inside ourselves for wisdom and remember some great leaders.

No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.

Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom

North India road-trip – The Photo Album

This is it. Our time in India is almost over, and we are leaving the Himalayas today.

After the retreat, we could enjoy the Dharamsala countryside, visiting waterfall, temples including beautiful Norbulingka, craftsmanship centers and a beautiful Tibetan school, all under the lovely monsoon weather (I think we didn’t see the sun even once;-)

 

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Norbulingka gardens and temple near Dharamsala

This area of India was definitely the most peaceful once, and it was great again to see all those communities living together in peace. It was also quite moving to see this Tibetan community thriving here, perpetuating the Tibetan culture and arts, with the desire to be able to go back one day in Tibet, be it a free country, or an autonomous province within China, the “middle-way” proposed by the Dalai-Lama. With their many monks & nuns and living compassion culture across all ages, the Tibetan people are a living exemple of what world peace & love should be.

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Norbulingka Buddhist temple

We will be back here one day!

Please find the complete North India road-trip photo album here, with the best pictures of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Himichala states we visited.

And below a quick snapshot of the last days in Mc Leod Ganj. Now heading back to New-Dehli before taking-off for Europe!

May Tibetans we able to return their home country any time soon!

 

Tushita meditation retreat – The inner journey

What an experience ! I was expecting something strong, and I haven’t been disappointed…

This Meditation retreat took place in Tushita (literally “land of joy”), a Tibetan Buddhist Meditation center founded in 1972 by two Tibetan Lamas (spiritual guides or teachers), Lama Thubten Yeshe and Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche (who is still alive) on the top of a hill in Mc Leod Ganj, a small village near Dharamsala where the Dalai Lama resides in exile since 1959.

105 students gathered from 30 different countries to attend the “Introduction to Buddhism” course, and surprisingly enough (for me), 60% were below 30 years old, which gives me hope for the future!
This 10 days course is very well designed, with a good mix of lectures, Q&As, discussion groups, and my favorite part, guided meditations.
All students committed to remain silent during the whole stay, but there where enough discussions during specific moments to engage in great debate about the meaning of the teachings.

So after traveling physically for 11 months around the world, this is the (rather long) story of a 10 days intense inner journey just out of the retreat.

Geshe La, our spiritual teacher

The “Dharma” (Sanskrit word describing the spiritual Buddhist teachings, particularly those of the Buddha, literally “which holds one back from sufferings”) lectures were given by Lobsang Tengyur, called by all “Geshe La”, a title given to monks who have successfully completed 20 years of study of the Holy Scriptures from the Buddha, kind of a Buddhist PhD.
Geshe La is a Tibetan monk who was born in Nepal near Copan monastry, and lived from the age of 8 in Sera Jey monastry south of India.

The Dharma teaching

As Geshe La was speaking in Tibetan, a Russian interpreter called Anna was doing the fantastic job of translating both the meaning of words and the philosophic meaning of content, which is a tough job, translating rich spiritual believes from a metaphorical language into the descriptive english language… So the lectures were well structured, and despite the language gap, the group could quickly discover or learn about Buddhism culture and Religion.

I personally believed I knew already a bit, but considering the depth of this culture, I discovered that in fact I knew very little. At the end of the course, I was really impressed that such a rich culture and philosophy of Happiness could emerge in North Asia, with concrete solutions for all beings, more that in any other culture.

During those ten days, we went through key concepts of the Buddhist philosophy & Religion, studying the law of Karma (the natural law of cause and effect), the Samsara of cyclic existence and related infinite rebirths in human condition or another (like animals), and for Four Noble Truths of the Buddha that included the causes of suffering and the path to be freed from sufferings, with the ultimate goal to reach Nirvana or Enlightenment, that is the cessation of sufferings and the end of the endless cyclic existences.

If you embrace this path of the Dharma with the superior intension of “Bodhicitta” (the wish to liberate yourself and ALL sentient beings from sufferings), you will become a Buddha, following this path shown by the historical Buddha Shakyamuni 2600 years ago (known to be the 4th Buddha), with many more to come.

This is possible because all sentient beings share the same “Buddha Nature”, the potential to reach Enlightenment, even if it might take just one life or thousands, depending on your karmic accumulation (Buddhists have a much broader perception of time, counting in “eons”, some kind of beginning-less eternity measure).

This theoretical knowledge is completed by very pragmatic practices, from the practice of the Six Perfections (virtues leading to Enlightenment), and of course Meditation, with different practices aiming at progressively approaching the realization of the “Emptiness of inherent existence” of all phenomena we perceive, a notion that helps to understand our distorted or exaggerated view of reality (called Ignorance or Delusions) as the main cause of our sufferings together with Karma.
Once this false view is reduced, it unleashes the human mind with its natural abilities for Loving Kindness and Compassion.

The “Emptiness of inherent existence”, wait – what?

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The Emptiness of my room;-)

This is a very confusing notion for most people, that is presented as the key to eliminating Ignorance. It is pretty obscure to most of western minds, because told in hundreds of different ways in the Buddhist tradition, but also because this realization transcends our cognitive abilities.

With several other Tushita friends, we got really passionate about the understanding of this concept that is taking a huge part of the past and current Buddhist literature, with experts such as Jeffrey Hopkins and His Holiness who have written dozens of thick books on the topic.
My personal obsession was mostly that the notion was so confusing that it might turn people away from practicing Meditation, so I tried my best to give it a concrete meaning with actionable insights.

As this is a complex topic, you can find my humble executive summary of what I understood at the bottom of this post (probably too boring for most people;-)

Universal Secular Ethics

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Buddhist Stuppa at Tushita: a symbol for Peace & Compassion

The great value of all those teachings was the non-dogmatic and non-proselyte approach, Geshe La always insisting of the universal nature of some wisdom (what the Dalai-Lama is calling “Secular Ethics”) beyond any religion, and what was a matter of personal believe (Religions):
“Never take what I’m telling you for granted: you always need to check by yourself, from you own experience!”
“Only take was is meaningful for you and leave the rest!”
“You have the right not to believe, but you have the responsibility to respect others beliefs.”

This really is the gift of Buddhism to the world: values that can be shared across Humanity and across all Religions. This is the current message of the Dalai Lama who is bridging over other spiritual leaders to make such “Secular Ethics” emerge for the good of Mankind.

Two small frustrations

In these lectures, I have been a bit frustrated by two points:

1) It got a bit too far (for me) in the pure religious practice dimension of Buddhism. Many consider original Buddhism scriptures, the historical Buddha Shakyamuni own words from 2600 years ago, are a philosophy or psychology of happiness, with many concrete advices and results you can experience and verify by yourself to achieve peace of mind and happiness.

Of course, through time and contact with other Religions of the East, different religious forms have emerged (Mahayana, the actual form of Tibetan Buddhism, Theravada in Sri Lanka and South-East Asia, etc…), with many codified rituals and believes that I call “Myths & Legends” (like any Religion has), with all due respect. Some of us got a bit overwhelmed by some Mahayana complex world descriptions (like the 6 Realms), and it’s of course at that moment that some Orthodox Buddhists (if such thing exists!) got nervous about protecting the original Holy Buddha’s scriptures, which is what leads to integrism in any other Religion. How wrong.

Because Meditation was presented as included in the “Religious Practice” part of Buddhism, I was afraid that non-religious people would turn away from it, even if Geshe La was quite specific about the universal dimensions of the Buddhist philosophy and practices that should speak to all, and of the ability to pick and choose any of the practices that make sense for one.

Buddhism doesn’t do any proselytism: the believers do not try to convert anyone, they just give the Dharma to those who seek happiness.

2) The lack of reference to Science, which is probably a miss as Buddhism is the only Religion than openly engages with Science to seek for commonalities and mutual enrichment in theory and/or experience. Those efforts have gathered many believers and scientists for a decade, with very interesting research conducted in Neuro-science, Affective Psychology, and even Quantum-Physics. Some Buddhists monks did even specialize in making this bridge with science happen, like the french monk Matthieu Ricard who has been working a lot on the Neuro-science dimension.

Even if many scientists are careful about definitive conclusions on similarities and on the nature of the reality described in Buddhism, I believe it is worth mentioning those research with science, especially about the efficiency of Meditation and its multiple benefits on stress management (called “MBSR: Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction”), cognitive enhancement… and of course happiness! In the latest experiments of neurologic signals of happiness as measured on non-meditators / beginners / and advanced meditators, the Buddhist monks (including Matthieu Ricard) were completely “off-chart”: their measures were in multiples of others!

Those were my two small frustrations, but they didn’t prevent at all to enjoy the rest!

The Lama (Guru) inestimable gift

In fact, my true personal realization was the importance to receive such spiritual teachings from a “master” (Lama or Guru in Sanskrit) who is speaking from his heart and leading by example. This might be even more important than the content itself…

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Receiving precious Dharma from Gueshe La in the Gompa

Geshe La was teaching for his very first time, and I have been moved by his incredible sincerity, humbleness, and very warm heart that did show great compassion to us students without any possible doubt. This is the kind of experience and knowledge you can not get from books, but only through this very warm and connected human experience. That’s why the Buddhists insist so much on the importance of having a master and keeping a “lineage” of teaching across time.

Geshe La, being very modest, was insisting that he was not knowledgeable enough yet (to his point of view) to be a teacher, and that he was just a “postman” of the Buddha’s words, and a friend. For a first teaching to such a challenging audience, I believe he did very well, and I truly hope he will continue giving this precious gift to people seeking to become better and more happy persons.

Q&As: the cultural & language “canyon”

The Q&As were the only real frustration of the retreat, as the gap mentioned above become a “canyon” during the interactive Q&A between the teacher and the western students.
Clearly, it’s a tough job for a monk who has very little experience of our world to engage in challenging questions from the (sometimes) tortured mind of westerners😉

So we often got “lost in translation”, not really going into the depth of the thinking, but again, it was striking to see Geshe La doing his best, always staying very humble and providing very concrete and simple answers when he could. He was otherwise honestly sharing his own limits with laughter:
“How would I know, I’m just a monk!”, or “I don’t know well enough yet to speak”, or “Check if my answer makes sense to you, and verify by yourself!”.

Engaging Discussion Groups

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Vincent, Inbal and Sanjay from Group

One hour a day, we could discuss with each other in small groups of 8 to 10 people like during an MBA class (“Master of Buddhism Administration”;-). I was so lucky to get in a group with a lot of diversity: 3 Israeli, 1 Indian, 1 Danish, 1 South African, 1 American, and 1 french (me). The very diverse backgrounds allowed to share many different point of views, and I believe this was the very best way to debate an integrate the meaningful teachings for each of us.

Through the discussions, and sometimes just presence and empathic listening, I made strong contact with several great persons, like the wonderful Inbal from Jerusalem. Those are contacts made for life!

Amazing Guided Meditations

As explained, the number one Buddhist practice is Meditation, and the group Meditations at Tushita were particularly well made. Better than what I ever accounted before.

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One of the meditation halls

They were conducted by a young Irish guy called Tommy, and he found a very efficient way to guide this large group of people with very different experiences, from beginners to more advanced practitioners having done Vipassana Meditation before and having several years of practice.

The efficiency came from the unique blending of classic advices for a good posture, a good flow, some opened suggestions to trigger motivation or visualizations, some personal experiences, and always a great sense of humor (with funny anecdotes like when you queue for a long time to access the only joy of the day, peanut butter, and the guy before you finishes the jar;-).

Everybody could relate to him, and I believe this kept everybody really engaged with the practice even in the toughest moments (like when your knees start really hurting after sitting still for an hour…).
Moreover, he was very generous with his time, always answering all questions after session with the sincere motivation to help us all.
I will miss Tommy’s voice!

For me, having a (little) bit of experience, the true discovery was the Buddhist Meditation mix, a mix of “Stabilization or Focus Meditation” (pure focus on the breath to stop all unwanted thoughts), “Analytical Meditation” (after the mind is calmed, razor-sharp analytical thinking on a problem to reach a conclusion or insight helpful to progress) or “Generative Meditation” (training of the mind to generate positive emotions through visualizations for example).
This made the meditations all different and productive, so such a sequencing will definitely be part of my routine!

Thank You Tushita!

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Mystic forest around Tushita

Having done a fantastic Vipassana Meditation retreat long time ago, I wanted to do such a retreat again, and the end of the Beautiful World Tour was really to best moment to do it!

The place is wonderful, peaceful and quiet, and the staff and volunteers were all great people, fully dedicated to making our experience truly transformative.

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Fighting for food with a cousin

We all had many memorable moments. Rapid eye contacts while keeping silence with wonderful beings. Endless debates on profound teachings. Sometimes pain during the (not so) long Meditation sessions. Hours watching the monkeys and understanding why we (I) feel so close to them, and where some our angry and caring behaviors come from. Eating the delicious food every day. Sometimes fighting for survival when a monkey male was stealing your food (see picture)… I think I truly enjoyed every single moment of those 10 days! 

I left with a lot of learnings, some moving experiences (than are too personal to be shared), new friends for life, and hopefully a bit more wisdom.

“Happiness is as simple as a little bit of Loving Kindness and Compassion to your family, friends, and other sentient beings if you can.”

A big thank you to the Tushita institution for allowing already 10000 people to experience Dharma teachings made accessible to all, including western minds like mine.

For all those interested in Meditation and Buddhism, Tushita or any of the 160 FPMT centers in the 38 countries around the world are a must!

The Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT.org) is an international, non-profit organization founded in 1975 by Lama Thubten Yeshe and Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche, aiming at teaching how to develop compassion step-by-step to make a positive contribution to world peace every day.

 


BONUS: The “Emptiness of inherent existence” – my humble executive summary (for those interested)

IMG_9612Here is my humble understanding of this complex topic after reading quite a bit (especially HH the Dalai Lama who had the clearest words on the topic):

Things (phenomena) are “empty of inherent existence” because:

1) At physical and philosophical level:
One can demonstrate (mentally) that things only exist relative to causes and conditions, to dependence on parts, and are constantly changing at any moment in time. They are therefore Interdependent and Impermanent, thus NOT existing in absolute terms (“in and out of themselves”, Absolutism), NOR non-existing at all (Nihilism).

Concretely: it means you need to look at things, events, people from a broader perspective to understand the Interdependence and Impermanence of what we perceive.

2) At physiological and psychological level:
The real world objects are perceived as phenomena from our senses that are providing only certain information to us, what they can provide (we see only a small portion of visible light, etc…).
This give a certain image of “reality” that is then interpreted by our brain, automatically projecting a concept (our cognitive processing works mostly trough conceptualization: that’s how the brain works) and attributing subjective qualities.
And this is were the biggest distortion happens to my humble point of view, but also where we have to most ability to correct.

Indeed, our “Ego” (perception of self), so crucial in our lives for survival (inherited from our animal condition), can perceive and project dramatically wrong attributes to things through anger and/or attachment.
Just think about your first love at the very beginning, how you have been emphasizing the good qualities (often the ones that flatters your ego) and discarding the bad ones, and how your perception completely flipped around at the end of the relationship when you could only see the bad qualities.

This realization leads to the understanding that :
A/ This mis-perception self-maintains in a vicious circle both Attachment and Anger as the two root causes of our Ignorance of reality: realizing this dramatically reduces our habit to rely on Attachment and Anger, freeing us from destroying afflictive emotions that are very well described in the Buddhist system.

B/ Our happiness almost solely depend on our own mind, very little on external conditions such as material comfort (if you are of course not desperately suffering from you body because of a disease in a terminal phase…)

Concretely: “Dissolve your Ego the best you can, and you will be much closer to the reality of things, and a much more happy person!”

3) At Physics science level:
This is where it gets really complex: many people in the last decades have been trying to compare the view of reality between Buddhism and Quantum Physics as both share the two key ideas above:
true interdependence of matter itself (2 particles like electrons that meet become instantly “depended” or “entangled” with faster than light information, whatever the distance)
interdependence between object and observer, with some events arising because of the observation itself!

Which made a famous scientist say: “What co-arises (inter-dependently at matter level) co-arises (from the mind)”.

Concretely: it means some highly realized meditators, those very few humans getting close to Enlightenment, are able to realize this ultimate nature of reality through direct experience in Meditation. For most people, it’s hard to believe they can achieve this in their current lifetime, so I consider this a research that should not block people in practicing meditation for the most approachable goal of dominating the Ego a bit better!

Last point, it is important to say that Buddhist scholars reject any Meta-physical interpretation based on the Emptiness understanding (like the existence of a supreme creating power for instance): it is supposed to describe the ultimate nature of reality, same as for the Quantum physicists (even if some agree that Quantum Physics is only a model of “what we can know”, thus not the ultimate description of reality).

That’s it for that topic. I’m now up for some more reading on the topic that is keeping some people busy for their lifetime. But if thinking is good, experience through “Calm Abiding” Meditations is certainly the way to go to become a Buddha!