I read about this talk in the local newspapers and wanted to get tickets for it, but unfortunately, the tickets were given out very quickly. The last person I expect to get the tickets from was Bee, as she has been travelling alot lately for work. But she called me out of the blues, in between travelling to Philippines and China, and asked if I was interested to attend with her.
Ven Mathieu Richard has a PhD in cell biology. (Read about him here: http://www.matthieuricard.org/en/index.php/about/) One wonders why men of such high intelligence and of science embrace Buddhism (yes, I am thinking of Ajahn Brahm) when they must have been brought up as Christians at birth. He said his calling came when he saw the Tibetan monks and vowed to be just a little like them, and that changed his life.
Ven Ricard was humbly embarrassed to be on stage, high up above everyone in the audience, which he apologised before and after his talk. His French accented English was charming and easy to understand.
It was eye-opening listening to him, as he tapped on his MacBook (eye-opening to that too!) and showed us his powerpoint slides of what Scientists at the Mind and Life Institute had discovered about the brains of monks and laypeople who meditate. What was well-known is that there is no conflicts between science and Buddhism. Buddhism is basically the science of mind.
You can read more about the research here http://www.mindandlife.org/research-initiatives/. What I took home from the talk was that long-term meditators (more than 50,000 hours) could control their mind and (thus their emotions.) One experiment demonstrated that the meditators could raise and lower their real or imaginary pain. Meditated inner bliss can reduce unpleasant aspect of pain even though the pain is still there. More than that, the meditators were not affected by the anticipation of pain and after shocks.
The attention to vigilance tasks (that need sustained attention) did not reduce after 45 minutes, and the tasks were done well and with ease.
The research have shown that meditation produces an enzyme that slows aging, reduces anxiety, strengthens immune system. (All presented with graphs and charts etc.)
Ven Ricard went on to talk about Happiness, a subject that had cropped up a lot for me last weekend (I am reading the book The Happiness Advantage, attended this talk on Friday night and attended the Happiness Seminar on Saturday. Am I one happy person? Maybe, and at least I know how now.) He says that happiness is a way of well-bring, a trait and not a sensation. It’s a combination of positive emotions that is usually measured by subjective questions such as : how often do you get angry? jealous? Do you sleep well? Do you meditate?
Interestingly, his research has shown that marriages do not buy happiness…well initially it does but then married people gradually shows the same degree of happiness as singles after some time.
Also, money buys happiness if you live below the poverty line but will not bring happiness if you are above the poverty line. However, spending money on others promotes happiness.
As a newbie meditator, I was inspired by the talk to continue my meditation practise. After two weeks of nightly practise (and this morning too), I feel an improvement in mindfulness. Perhaps what inspires me is how unselfish Buddhism is, for Ven Ricard says he would rather bring this benefit to the masses as a secular practise and remove the Buddhist aspect for more people to accept it.
Happiness is really in your hands, or your mind.