The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness

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9780307346254: The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness

Book by Mingyur Rinpoche Yongey Swanson Eric

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1

THE JOURNEY BEGINS

If there is any religion that would cope with modern scientific needs, it would be Buddhism.

         --Albert Einstein

When you're trained as a Buddhist, you don't think of Buddhism as a religion. You think of it as a type of science, a method of exploring your own experience through techniques that enable you to examine your actions and reactions in a nonjudgmental way, with the view toward recognizing, "Oh, this is how my mind works. This is what I need to do to experience happiness. This is what I should avoid to avoid unhappiness."

At its heart, Buddhism is very practical. It's about doing things that foster serenity, happiness, and confidence, and avoiding things that provoke anxiety, hopelessness, and fear. The essence of Buddhist practice is not so much an effort at changing your thoughts or your behavior so that you can become a better person, but in realizing that no matter what you might think about the circumstances that define your life, you're already good, whole, and complete. It's about recognizing the inherent potential of your mind. In other words, Buddhism is not so much concerned with getting well as with recognizing that you are, right here, right now, as whole, as good, as essentially well as you could ever hope to be.

You don't believe that, do you?

Well, for a long time, neither did I.

I would like to begin by making a confession, which may sound strange coming from someone regarded as a reincarnate lama who is supposed to have done all sorts of wonderful things in previous lifetimes. From earliest childhood, I was haunted by feelings of fear and anxiety. My heart raced and I often broke out in a sweat whenever I was around people I didn't know. There wasn't any reason for the discomfort I experienced. I lived in a beautiful valley, surrounded by a loving family and scores of monks, nuns, and others who were deeply engaged in learning how to awaken inner peace and happiness. Nevertheless, anxiety accompanied me like a shadow.

I was probably about six years old when I first began to experience some relief. Inspired mostly by a child's curiosity, I began climbing into the hills around the valley where I grew up to explore the caves where generations of Buddhist practitioners had spent their lives in meditation. Sometimes I'd go into a cave and pretend to meditate. Of course, I really had no idea how to meditate. I'd just sit there mentally repeating Om Mani Peme Hung, a mantra, or repetition of special combinations of ancient syllables, familiar to almost every Tibetan, Buddhist or not. Sometimes I'd sit for hours, mentally reciting the mantra without understanding what I was doing. Nevertheless, I started to feel a sense of calm stealing over me.

Yet even after three years of sitting in caves trying to figure out how to meditate, my anxiety increased until it became what would probably be diagnosed in the West as a full-blown panic disorder. For a while I received some informal instructions from my grandfather, a great meditation master who preferred to keep his accomplishments quiet; but finally I summoned the courage to ask my mother to approach my father, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, with my request to study formally with him. My father agreed, and for the next three years he instructed me in various methods of meditation.

I didn't understand much at first. I tried to rest my mind in the way he taught, but my mind wouldn't rest. In fact, during those early years of formal training, I actually found myself growing more distracted than before. All sorts of things annoyed me: physical discomfort, background noises, conflicts with other people. Years later I would come to realize I wasn't actually getting worse; I was simply becoming more aware of the constant stream of thoughts and sensations I'd never recognized before. Having watched other people go through the same process, I realize now that this is a common experience for people who are just learning how to examine their mind through meditation.

Although I did begin to experience brief moments of calmness, dread and fear continued to haunt me like hungry ghosts--especially since every few months I was sent to Sherab Ling monastery in India (the primary residence of the Twelfth Tai Situ Rinpoche, one of the greatest masters of Tibetan Buddhism alive today, and one of my most influential teachers, whose great wisdom and kindness in guiding my own development are debts I can never repay) to study under new teachers among unfamiliar students, and then sent back to Nepal to continue training under my father. I spent almost three years that way, shuttling back and forth between India and Nepal, receiving formal instruction from my father and from my teachers at Sherab Ling.

One of the most terrible moments came shortly before my twelfth birthday, when I was sent to Sherab Ling for a special purpose, one that I had been dreading for a long time: formal enthronement as the incarnation of the first Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. Hundreds of people attended the ceremony, and I spent hours accepting their gifts and giving them blessings as if I were somebody really important instead of just a terrified twelve-year-old boy. As the hours passed, I turned so pale that my older brother, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, who was standing beside me, thought I was going to faint.

When I look back on this period, and on all the kindness that was shown to me by teachers, I wonder how I ever could have felt as fearful as I did. In hindsight, I can see that the basis of my anxiety lay in the fact that I hadn't truly recognized the real nature of my mind. I had a basic intellectual understanding, but not the kind of direct experience that would have enabled me to see that whatever terror or discomfort I felt was a product of my own mind, and that the unshakable basis of serenity, confidence, and happiness was closer to me than my own eyes.

At the same time that I began my formal Buddhist training, something wonderful was taking place; though I didn't realize it at the time, this new turn of events would have a lasting impact on my life and actually accelerate my personal progress. I was gradually being introduced to the ideas and discoveries of modern science--in particular the study of the nature and function of the brain.

A MEETING OF MINDS

We have to go through the process of sitting down and examining the mind and examining our experience to see what is really going on.

         --Kalu Rinpoche, The Gem Ornament of Manifest Instructions, edited by Caroline M. Parke and Nancy J. Clarke

I was only a child when I met Francisco Varela, a Chilean biologist who would one day become one of the most renowned neuroscientists of the twentieth century. Francisco had come to Nepal to study the Buddhist method of mental examination and training under my father, whose reputation had attracted quite a number of Western students. When we weren't studying or practicing, Francisco would often talk to me about modern science, especially his own specialty, the structure and function of the brain. Of course, he was careful to frame his lessons in terms a nine-year-old boy could understand. As others among my father's Western students recognized my interest in science, they too began teaching me what they knew of modern theories about biology, psychology, chemistry, and physics. It was a little bit like learning two languages at the same time: Buddhism on the one hand, modern science on the other.

I remember thinking even then that there didn't seem to be much difference between the two. The words were different, but the meaning seemed pretty much the same. After a while, I also began to see that the ways in which Western and Buddhist scientists approached their subjects were remarkably alike. Classical Buddhist texts begin by presenting a theoretical or philosophical basis of examination, commonly referred to as the "Ground." They then move on to various methods of practice, commonly referred to as the "Path," and finally conclude with an analysis of the results of personal experiments and suggestions for further study, typically described as the "Fruit." Western scientific investigation often follows a similar structure, beginning with a theory or hypothesis, an explanation of the methods through which the theory is tested, and an analysis comparing the results of the experiments against the original hypothesis.

What fascinated me most about simultaneously learning about modern science and Buddhist practice was that while the Buddhist approach was able to teach people an introspective or subjective approach to realizing their full capacity for happiness, the Western perspective explained in a more objective fashion why and how the teachings worked. By themselves, Buddhist and modern sciences both provided extraordinary insights into the workings of the human mind. Taken together, they formed a more complete and intelligible whole.

Near the end of that period of traveling between India and Nepal, I learned that a three-year retreat program was about to begin at Sherab Ling monastery. The master of the retreat would be Saljay Rinpoche, one of my principal teachers at Sherab Ling. Saljay Rinpoche was considered one of the most accomplished masters of Tibetan Buddhism of his day. A gentle man with a low voice, he had an amazing ability to do or say exactly the right thing at exactly the right time. I'm sure some of you have spent time around people who had a similar kind of impact, people able to teach incredibly profound lessons without appearing to be teaching at all. Just the way they are is a lesson that lasts for the rest of your life.

Because Saljay Rinpoche was very old, and this would most likely be the last retreat he might ever lead, I wanted very much to take part in it. I was only thirteen years old, however, an age generally considered too young to tolerate the rigors of t...

Revue de presse :

“Compelling, readable, and informed.”
Buddhadharma

“Rinpoche’s investigations into the science of happiness are woven into an accessible introduction to Buddhism”
Tricycle

“There is real wisdom here. Fresh and clear. Mingyur Rinpoche has offered us what may well be an essential link between the Buddha and contemporary neuroscience and physics. He effortlessly makes connections between seemingly disparate and complex disciplines, and makes the journey sparkle. His voice is generous, intimate, and refreshingly personal. As he repeatedly reminds us, our experience of ourselves and our world is none other than an interactive projection of our mind; and most important, our minds can change. Our neurons can change structure and function, merely by observing the flow of our mental activity. Through repeated familiarity with positive mind states, such as love and compassion, and by transforming our limiting mental conceptualizing into vast freedom, we can achieve the already present basic mind of clarity and knowing—true happiness. Read this book.”
—Richard Gere

“An extraordinarily clear book on the whys and the hows of cultivating mindfulness effectively in our lives. It makes use of the idiom and exciting discoveries of modern science in ways that are easy to understand and entirely relevant to the meditation practices themselves.”
—Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of Coming to Our Senses and vice-chair of the Mind and Life Institute

“The first of its kind . . . a truly compelling and infinitely practical fusion of Tibetan Buddhism and scientific ideas. Mingyur Rinpoche is a teacher for our time, uniquely gifted to bridge these two worlds.”
—Sogyal Rinpoche, author of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

“It is extraordinary to see the words lineage, compassion, spacetime foam, and limbic resonance all in the same book. . . . The Joy of Living is a personal, readable, and wonderfully warm and clear guide to changing the way we see ourselves and the world.”
—Sharon Salzberg, author of Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness

“Mingyur Rinpoche is a charismatic teacher with a heart and smile of gold. The clarity, humor, and wisdom of his stories and teachings are collected in this book, and it will always be with me as a most valued companion. This is one of those rare books where you meet the author and learn from his radiance.”
—Lou Reed

“A beautiful tapestry of Buddhist insight woven together with modern science, this book is a landmark in the development of a contemplative neuroscience . . . a must-read for anyone interested in the causes and consequences of happiness.”
—Richard J. Davidson, professor of psychology and psychiatry and Director, Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior at the University of Wisconsin–Madison

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