Self & Ethics: The Science of Altruism, Part 1

Self & Ethics: The Science of Altruism, Part 1


As we consider the views of both Buddhist philosophy and Western science on the nature of the self, what are the implications about our interactions with others, and our behavior in the world? What can we make of the idea that the self is constructed, and that all phenomena, including “selves,” are interdependent and mutually co-arising? In this presentation, I will discuss how the way we conceive of the self has deep repercussions on our relation to ourselves, to others, and to the world. I will also distinguish the notions of altruism, empathy, and compassion, and present a way to enact both individual change and societal change by adopting a more compassionate, selfless attitude. Specifically, I will explore the concept of altruism and attempt to show that it is a natural predisposition among human beings. Although some philosophers and psychologists have believed that we are irredeemably selfish, there are no scientific studies supporting such theory; indeed, a significant number of people do behave altruistically. I will also argue that altruism seems to be the only concept allowing us to reconcile the needs pertaining to the short term of the economy, the midterm of the quality of life, and the long term of the environment. Applications will be considered, including enhanced cooperative learning in schools and stronger cooperation within corporations, as well as the notion of sustainable harmony, which aims at reducing inequalities and preserving our environment and the other 8.7 million species who are our co-citizens on this planet.

  • Dialogue 30
    19 sessions
  • December 17, 2015
    Sera Monastery, Bylakuppe, India
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Matthieu Ricard

Matthieu Ricard, PhD, is a Buddhist monk at Schechen Monastery in Kathmandu, Nepal. Born in France in 1946, he received a PhD in cellular genetics at the Institut Pasteur under Nobel Laureate FrancoisJacob. As a hobby, he wrote Animal Migrations (1969).He first traveled to the Himalayas in 1967 and has lived there since 1972, studying with Kangyur Rinpoche and Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, two of the most eminent Tibetan teachers of our times. Since 1989, he has served as the French interpreter for His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He is the author of The Monk and the Philosopher (with his father, the French thinker Jean-Francois Revel); The Quantum and the Lotus (with the astrophysicist Trinh Xuan Thuan); Happiness, A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Import-ant Skill; and Why Meditate?. He has translated several books from Tibetan into English and French, including The Life of Shabkar and The Heart of Compassion.As a photographer, Matthieu has published several albums, including The Spirit of Tibet, Buddhist Himalayas, Tibet, Motionless Journey, and Bhutan. He devotes all of the proceeds from his books and much of his time to 120 humanitarian projects in Tibet, Nepal, and India—and to the preservation of the Tibetan cultural heritage—through his charitable association, Karuna-Shechen. Ricard has been deeply involved in the work of the Mind & Life Institute for many years.