The Monk and the Scientist

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Title: Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill

Date Completed: 2/26/10

Author(s): Matthieu Ricard

Copyright: 2003, Little, Brown and Company

# pages: 237

Genre: Self Improvement

ISBN: 978-0-316-05475-1

Over the last three-ish years, I’ve become very interested in learning more about the brain.  In the course of reading about new scientific lessons about how the brain works, I learned of a study using Buddhist Monks to understand the different ways the brain works.  I have also read a lot about Buddhism, so this really caught my eye.  So, when I saw this book, I was really excited to get my hands on it.

Matthieu Ricard is a Buddhist Monk who works with the Dalai Lama.  He is one of the monks who was hooked up to a big machine and studies while meditating.  Interesting enough, in-and-of itself.  But, wait!  There’s more!

Matthieu Ricard is also a scientist who mapped the genes on the chromosome of Escherichia coli bacteria at the Pasteur Institute.  There, he worked with Francois Jacob, a Nobel Prize winner.  I mean, come on.  This guy seems to always work with the greats.

So, the book is a combination of Buddhist philosophy on happiness mixed with the stark realities of the science that backs it up.  In the author’s words, ‘One goal of this book is to identify the inner conditions that favor happiness and those that hinder it.’  I think this is what makes the book interesting.  It is a mix of science, psychology, and spirituality that flows from topic to topic while keeping your interest.

I must say, and this is totally of subject, that there is one thing about the book that I won’t quickly forget.  Throughout the book, Richard describes people in ways that you would generally expect.  The great philosopher Aristotle.  Tibetan hermit Xu.  Eminent scientist Ekman. But, a line that made me laugh out loud was the great pessimist Arthur Schopenhauer. I mean, who wants to be forever know as a great pessimist?  So, I looked him up on Wikipedia.  They call him a great pessimist too.  I suddenly feel much better about my accomplishments in life.  I may not be working along side a Nobel Prize winner, or the Dalai Lama.  But, I am confident that I will not have ‘the great pessimist’ on my tombstone.  And for that, I am grateful!

ZAMM

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Title: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Date Completed: 2/14/10

Author(s): Robert Pirsig

Copyright: 2005, HarperPerennial Modern Classics

# pages: 430

Genre: Philosophy

ISBN: 0-06-083987-2

This book has been on my reading list for a very long time.  It is a modern-day classic that was written in 1974.  I didn’t really know what to expect, but I was really excited to dig right into the book.  Little did I know what I was up against.

ZAMM is two books in one.  There is the story of the author and his son as they ride across the country on their motorcycle.  It is the traditional story of a father and his son trying to figure out how their relationship works.  The second is a story of a (literally) crazy professor who is obsessed with defining the word ‘Quality.’  This is the philosophy part of the book.

You know how in college, you would read a book about a guy on a motorcycle wearing a scarf, and then you’d get to class the next day and find out it wasn’t really about a guy on a motorcycle wearing a scarf?  The motorcycle represents our vulnerability and the scarf represents the character’s attempt to block himself off from the vulnerability?  Well, I was the person who just always thought it was about a guy, a motorcycle, and a scarf.  I never really got the whole meaning behind the meaning thing.

This book is one of those really deep books that assumes that you are the kind of person who gets the meaning behind the meaning.  I’m glad I read it, but I’m also glad it’s over.  I know it isn’t a glowing review, but as with all books, you should read it for yourself and make your own judgment.  That’s what I love about reading.  It introduces you to new things and you get to make up your own mind about whether or not you like them.  There is a whole world out there to learn about.  Go read!

ZAMM

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I’m reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  I’m about halfway through.  It is a big, deep, hard book, so it is taking me a while.  Since it has been a while since my last post, I thought I’d better let everyone know that I’m reading!