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The Monk and the Philosopher

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About the Author

Jean-Francois Revel, a member of the Academie Francaise, was born in 1924. He studied and taught philosophy but abandoned university teaching to concentrate on writing. He was editor for many years of the influential political weekly L'Express. His books, including the best-seller Without Marx or Jesus and How Democracies Perish, have gained worldwide recognition.

Matthieu Ricard lives in the Shechen Monastery in Nepal. Born in France in 1946, he received his doctorate in molecular biology from the Institut Pasteur in Paris. In 1972 he decided to forsake his scientific career to better concentrate on his Buddhist studies, which he had begun years earlier. He has published Journey to Enlightenment, a book of photographs about his teacher, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (one of the most eminent Tibetan masters of our times and a teacher to The Dalai Lama), as well as translations of many Buddhist texts. He often accompanies The Dalai Lama to France as his personal interpreter.


This wonderful book is a dialog between two intelligent and highly educated people who happen to be father and son. Revel, the father, is a French philosopher. Ricard had a promising career in molecular biology but left it to become a Tibetan Buddhist monk. Revel's knowledge of Buddhism is limited as the conversation begins, but the questions he raises are those any intelligent modern person would have. Ricard is articulate and well informed, and his answers are a marvelous introduction to Buddhist thought. Some of the issues examined include why the son went from scientific research to spiritual quest, whether Buddhism is a religion or a philosophy, Buddhism and the West, the Buddhist concept of death, and the relation of Buddhism and psychoanalysis. The book not only operates at a high intellectual level but also takes on a personal note as father and son explore each other's thoughts. Highly recommended.‘David Bourquin, California State Univ., San Bernardino

"The wonderful thing about this book is that it shows how fruitful open-hearted dialogue can be. Although these two men have pursued their humane concerns and their quest for knowledge by different means, I believe they both reveal that it's not so important whether life has meaning, but whether we give meaning to the life we live." -- His Holiness The Dalai Lama

"The Monk and the Philosopher is an intellectual banquet -- an enlightening and lively encounter that explores man-kind's most profound questions." -- Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence

French philosopher Revel (Without Marx or Jesus) and his son, Tibetan Buddhist monk Ricard, engage in a dazzling intellectual tête-à-tête on metaphysics, morality and meaning. In 1972, Ricard abandoned a promising career in molecular biology and announced his intention to study with Tibetan Buddhist lamas in Asia. Initially, Revel was disappointed with his son's decision to study Buddhism, for, as an atheist, Revel had never taken Buddhism or any other religion very seriously. He and Matthieu remained close, and father and son began a series of conversations about the different and common ways that philosophy and Buddhism describe humanity's search for meaning. The dialogues recorded in this book took place in 1996 in Hatiban, Nepal, "a peaceful spot high up on a mountainside above Kathmandu." The give-and-take between these two lively thinkers ranges from the differences between religious and secular spirituality, "faith, ritual and superstition," and Buddhist metaphysics and the philosophy of mind, and on the violence in the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Each conversation covers an astonishing range of history and philosophy from the pre-Socratics in the West to the current Dalai Lama in the East. Revel concludes from these conversations that the East can provide a system of wisdom or ethics for a West where the triumph of science has largely eradicated these systems. Ricard concludes that Buddhism does provide a "science of the mind" that deals with the "basic mechanisms of happiness and suffering." Although these talks reveal little new about either Western philosophy or Buddhism, they do offer a rare glimpse into the workings of two sparkling intellects. (Feb.)

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