on 22 February 1999
Western scientists and philosophically minded intellectuals often have contempt for religion, and some think it is a justified contempt that religious leaders have brought upon themselves by not living up to their principles - and by being ignorant of science, insisting upon theological premises and conclusions that no"philosopher" could accept.
So a culture at cross-purposes has been built up in the West. At times it has led to spiritual heartsickness and anxiety, the abandonment of hope that life has meaning. What people are left with on the whole is nihilism, the view that nothing exists except phenomena apparent to the senses, and that consciousness is an accidental product of matter, that one's mind does not survive death. Given the barren desert in which the spirit has to dwell, it seems courageous rather than merely materialistic that people just get on with trying to improve their standard of living, and it adds poignancy to the fascination with money and sex and celebrity, the recourse to entertainments and the love of sports.
This book, The Monk and the Philosopher, provides an antidote to the conflict between Western science and philosophy and traditional religion. It illustrates the highest possible vantage point from which to see meaning directly and simply, that is, a principial metaphysical tradition of wisdom, in this case, Buddhism.
The Monk and the Philosopher is a dialogue between a father who is an authority on Western philosophy (one of his books is entitled, From Thales to Kant) and a son who in his twenties took a doctorate in molecular biology at the Institut Pasteur and later became a monk in the Tibetan Buddhist Tradition.
From the very first exchange between father and son the book provides a surprising jolt of energy and clarity to the reader. Unnecessary things weighing on the mind fall away and one is welcomed into an invigorating world of essentials. The company of these two first rate minds, narrating the experiences of life that led them to the conclusions they hold - atheist humanism versus the view on the path toward Buddhist enlightenment, raises one's own capacity for "the examined life" that Socrates considered the only kind "worth living," and makes one feel the thrill of the mind working as a powerful instrument capable of cutting through sloth, avoidance and fuzziness to arrive at the threshold of a new awareness. (Like Keats, "Then felt I like some watcher of the skies when a new planet swims into his ken").
These are conversational exchanges, challenging and harmonious, between a western philosophically and scientifically minded father and a son who has come out the other side of the scientific investigation of truth as residing exclusively in the deciphering of matter and has lived for thirty years with Tibetan Lamas, monks, nuns and lay people as an outstanding exponent of the Tibetan Buddhist Tradition. They are fascinating, civilized, candid, wise, funny, deeply tragic about Tibet, serene, and full of loving-kindness. The Frenchness of the two men is perhaps what contributes the "clear ideas", the capacity to express ideas with logical rigor at the same time as one is charming and entertaining one's interlocutor with the elegance and ease of one who knows the world and is able to maintain a healthy detachment from any sort of fanatical insistence upon one's standpoint. It is a family dialogue between a savant and a sage.
Certainly the deep compassion that radiates through the dialogue comes from the effect on both men, to one degree and another, of their privileged encounter with Tibetan Buddhist communities. Therein the experience of the worst that man can inflict upon his neighbor has been met with wisdom and compassion, so that the Tibetans are qualified to be the teachers of a western philosopher and a molecular biologist. What is profoundly admirable about these two brilliant companions in the search for truth is that they are eminently capable of learning from the wisdom and compassion of their Tibetan Buddhist friends.
on 8 April 1999
Utterly absorbing, inspiring, and arcane, this remarkable dialogue engages East with West, ideas with life, and science with the humanities, providing' wisdom on how to enrich the way we live our lives. The undercurrents andsubtle tensions makes this one of the most thoughtful and humane exchanges on the East versus West front. Recommended as a possible classic and milestone in the Buddhist conversion of Western science and philosophy.
on 28 January 2015
I came across this book when I read a review about some research on meditation that involves Matthieu Ricard in Scientific American. I decided it would be worth reading the book but I have to say that, the Forward to the book by Jack Miles, worried me. I had to read it three times with a dictionary in hand to simply understand it. However, when I got into the meat of the book - the conversation between Matthieu and his father, it was a revelation. For me, I found it presented a different way of looking at some of the issues that you find yourself pondering on late at night when the house is quiet and everyone's gone to bed. I'd recommend reading it chapter by chapter with a few days in between rather than in one sitting. My view is that it's a book you need to allow time to digest.
on 25 August 2013
The book is a great and thought provoking read. I have become lost in the translation of the Western Literature on sale. That said, I have found a link and topical debate between father and son on a massive topic in my world.
I have to confess that I was also apprehensive ordering from the US. I liked the service from the Marketplace seller. Great packaging and speedy delivery albeit over the Atlantic. Will be ordering from them again, thanks.