Source of material commented on: http://tinyurl.com/3cnjl2 (via New Heaven New Earth news service, www.nhne.org/)
A recent article by Anthony Barnes in the Independent (UK) describes Matthieu Ricard—a Buddhist monk who is the French interpreter for the Dalai Lama—as "the world's happiest man." The good news for all of us is that, in Ricard's view, happiness is not simply the result of good fortune or good genes. Rather, it is a "skill" all of us can learn, if we will just put time and effort into training our minds.
Ricard's primary form of mind training is meditation. He took part in a scientific study of long-term meditators that produced some striking results:
MRI scans showed that he and other long-term meditators—who had completed more than 10,000 hours each—experienced a huge level of "positive emotions" in the left pre-frontal cortex of the brain, which is associated with happiness. The right-hand side, which handles negative thoughts, is suppressed.
Particularly striking were Ricard's own personal results: His "abilities were head and shoulders above the others involved in the trials." Presumably, this was the result of his years of training as a Buddhist monk. Fortunately, though, there's hope for the rest of us: "Further studies have shown that even novices who have done only a little meditation have increased levels of happiness."
Indeed, Ricard is convinced that anyone can improve his or her level of happiness through training the mind. In his words:
The mind is malleable….Our life can be greatly transformed by even a minimal change in how we manage our thoughts and perceive and interpret the world. Happiness is a skill. It requires effort and time.
A Course in Miracles would heartily agree. In its view, happiness comes from changing our thoughts, from perceiving our world in a whole new way. This new perception of the world is not something that magically happens overnight; it comes through putting in the effort and time to train the mind. As the Course puts it:
You want salvation. You want to be happy. You want peace. You do not have them now, because your mind is totally undisciplined, and you cannot distinguish between joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain, love and fear. You are now learning how to tell them apart. And great indeed will be your reward. (W-pI.20.2:3-8)
Notice the cause and effect here. Our minds are totally undisciplined; therefore, we do not have happiness. We're so confused in our current state that we can't even tell the difference between happiness and pain. The solution, then, is obvious: If we want to be happy, our minds must become disciplined. To become disciplined, our minds require training. And this mind training is exactly what the Course provides. In the Workbook especially, we are given countless exercises to tame our "monkey minds," including three forms of meditation. If we do these exercises as instructed, we are promised that "great indeed will be your reward."
People like Ricard and other long-term meditators give us encouraging evidence that this is not an empty promise—that mind training does indeed bring happiness. It is my hope that one day, scientists will be astounded by the MRI scans of practicing students of A Course in Miracles.