He is the one whom Time and National Geographic has called "the happiest man on earth” and who has recently visited Moscow for the first time.
Born in 1975, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche is a rising star among the new generation of Tibetan Buddhist masters. From a young age, he was drawn to a life of contemplation. At the age of sixteen, he became a primary teacher at his monastery's three-year retreat center, a position rarely held by such a young lama. By the time he was twenty, Rinpoche had spent nearly half his life meditating in strict retreat. In addition to his extensive background in meditation and Buddhist philosophy, Mingyur Rinpoche has held a lifelong interest in psychology, physics, and neurology. At an early age, he began a series of informal discussions with the famed neuroscientist Francisco Varela. He came to Nepal to learn meditation from the boy's father. Many years later, in 2002, Mingyur Rinpoche and a handful of other long-term meditators were invited to the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior at the University of Wisconsin. There, Richard Davidson, Antoine Lutz, and other scientists examined the effects of meditation on the brains of advanced meditators. The results of this groundbreaking research were reported in many of the world’s most widely read publications, including National Geographic and Time. Follow-up studies were carried out at Harvard University, MIT, and other important research centers. We'll have a look at the procedure and results of these experiments in more detail a bit later. These days Rinpoche continues his involvement with this research and contributes actively to the vibrant dialogue between Western science and Buddhism. He is an advisor to the Mind and Life Institute and participates as a research subject in the ongoing studies of the neural and physiological effects of meditation. Rinpoche’s teaching style has been deeply influenced by his knowledge of science. It is his hope that the emerging relationship between these seemingly disparate fields will provide key insights to help us realize full human potential.
And how all that started with him?!
When he was young he had a panic disorder. He says it developed with him when he was around 7 years old, he had fear for natural disasters and for strangers, many other things, but sometimes fear without reason just his heart thumping and sweating. At this point he started trying to search for some solution. That's why he desperately wanted to learn meditation from his Father. His Father realizing his obvious need for meditation taught him how to do it. He called this technique 'how to make friends with panic'. But as Yongey says he was very lazy, he loved the idea of meditation but he didn't like the practice of meditation. Being a lazy boy he did not really change much with his panic attacks so then when he was 13 years old, he joined into a traditional three-year retreat. But for his first year in retreat the panic just got worse and wilder. And especially with group prayer because they sometimes used musical instruments. This noise would drive him so crazy, that he would have to go out. Finally one day he asked himself a question : "I still have 2 more years” and, "do I still want to spend two more years like this where I am unhappy or do I really want to apply meditation for two years that I had been taught?” And ... he decided to apply. What he found there is two things, the first one is what we normally say 'Yes Sir' and the second is 'Hey get out. Which he explains laughing as the new mantra. I guess you are quite familiar with that. The meaning of this new mantra is 'Yes sir' which means you believe in panic and whatever a message comes from your panic you just follow that. The panic tells you "Oh there's a problem.” You are thinking: "Yes, that's the problem, Yes Sir, whatever you say Sir” and that makes panic become your boss. And the second is 'Hey get out.' Hey-get-out means you don't like panic, you have a fear of panic, or a panic of panic, so trying to get rid of this panic you say "Hey get out, leave me alone, don't talk to much,” but the panic doesn't want to listen to you, the panic becomes worse. This is the way how panic becomes your enemy. And the third option is to make friends with your panic, you say 'Hello' and you use your panic as a friend. And after three days his panic was gone. But it is essential to mention that it was the result of a few years practice. As he says his panic was one of his best teachers: "I learned a lot from my panic and I miss my panic”. His candid, often humorous accounts of his own personal difficulties have endeared him to both Buddhist and non-Buddhist students all around the world. His best-selling book, The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness, appeared on the New York Times best seller list. His new book Joyful Wisdom: Embracing Change and Finding Freedomcame out in April 2009. So he seems to not going to stop producing valuable fruit which will help fully investigate the mind in order to develop a more complete understanding of the nature of reality, and promote well-being on the planet.
Newcomers to meditation practice (with the most frequent question)
People often say: "Hey I'm new to the Buddhist Path, I'm starting to get into it. I'm enjoying your lectures. I’ve read a couple of books here and there. But I'm not really clear on how to get going." His simple and kind answer is that two things are primarily important. Which they call in Buddhism tradition as the unity wisdom and method. Wisdom and method are notional categories. Wisdom is your understanding of the nature of yourself and the nature of phenomena. However you need to get experience which you can do through so called method that is meditation. Meditation and knowledge. These two are practical and very important as well. What is knowledge? It is something that you learn about through experience like: the nature of phenomena and your life, impermanence, constantly changing conditions. Just because you have all that basic goodness, rich and powerful potential to create existing within us you can attain enlightenment and full realization of your potential.
There is a vivid example illustrating that unlimited potential of mind. There is one story within his book, when he came to the USA in 1998 for the first time. Some people told him: you’ve been in retreat so long maybe your health is not good you have to check with a doctor. So he did. The doctor told him that everything was fine except that he needed some physical exercise. People recommended swimming, so he went to a big Olympic-sized swimming pool and tried to swim, and he wasn't much of success as a swimmer. He tried but kept drowning. As his friend said it was due to that he was too tight and suggested him relaxing. So he tried to relax and again he sank because he was too relaxed. Yongey thought, "wait a minute, I know how to swim.” When he was young he grew in the Himalayan Mountains. There were a lot of small lakes and he used to swim, but only one style: doggy paddle. At the same time as he remembered that he could swim, he became able to swim. His friend was extremely surprised and asked how come he could not swim 5 minutes before and next moment he was finely engaging himself in swimming. The point here is that even though you have the capability to swim, and if you do not recognize that capability then you are not simply able to swim. First it is important to be aware of that we have love, compassion, joy, wisdom, capability, everything existing within us. It is important for us to recognize that. It’s the knowledge, it’s the wisdom. Second it is to meditate. Maybe you can start first simple meditation. Just be aware of your breath; just relax your mind every day for maybe 15 minutes. There is no need for too long. 15 minutes of meditating cab be enough as a fruitful start. And then gradually you become ready to apply meditation in your daily life. Just starting on that you set out to learn more and more about yourself and real essence of happiness and joy.
Actually why is it important indeed?
Because the main goal with this practice is to achieve joy. Let's have a look what we mean by saying that. It's critical to understand that there are many levels of joy. Fundamental joy or the final destination of joy is unchangeable joy, boundless joy, and joy full of wisdom, love, compassion and enlightened activity, which can help for boundless sentient beings. Actually here we come across the same recommendation that joy already exists within us, but you have to recognize it.
What is the real essence of joy? It’s the quality of Buddha-Nature. The Buddha-Nature is totally free from suffering, totally free from problems. It has unchangeable joy. How to develop that? Through wisdom and experience. Although we have a lot of problems, but everybody is looking for happiness, everybody wants to free from suffering. That is the joy actually, the sign of joy which is within us. So our real home is joy. Everybody is looking for happiness with each minute and breath. That’s why here is the main importance that you recognize the joy which is developed within you, because nothing depends on the outside circumstances. Here is the beginning of unchangeable joy. Another important thing to mention is whether you get the right way of seeing joy or not. If you are looking for joy in the outside material world, outside circumstances, then your joy becomes like a stock market constantly going up and down. But actually a real joy exists only within us. So if you see joy inside of you then it is good for your life, good for your activity, good for your job, good for your relationship with others, that influences the outer material joy; the cause of joy. It becomes like a circle of goodness. "The Buddha said that all sentient beings possess Buddha Nature. Because of that we have this natural purity, peacefulness and power. We can rest the mind naturally because we already possess these qualities. If one can rest the mind naturally, that's the best meditation. Non-meditation is the supreme meditation." -- Mingyur Rinpoche
And the last thing which is reasonable to mention here is the scientific studies that he has participated in with Dr. Richie Davidson. There were brought in lots of different meditators who’d spent something like 10 to 50,000 hours doing formal practice, people who are really the Olympic athletes in meditation. And Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche was one of the cadre of highly skillful meditators who came too. It was a set of terrible experiments where they put people in FMRI and EEG something almost like video. And they put people in a big machine, it looked like a white coffin where the temperature was very, very cold. As some main power cannot function at low temperature a so it had to be cold. I don’t know the details… And there they gave kind of earphones something like the radio. And they tied his head and screw up the whole machine. He wasn’t allowed to move. Then they put him inside FMRI, it’s kind of a tunnel. A dark, cold tunnel inside there. And then he had to stay there and meditate on three points. The first is open presence. The second is a focused meditation, he had to focus attention. The last is loving-kindness, compassion. And the scientists were in the next room meanwhile, having fun, drinking coffee, talking to each other. And they said, "OK. Now stop compassion. Ok, now meditate compassion.” And it lasted for more than one and a half hours, and he could not move. And then they sent terrible noise like baby crying, girl screaming, lots of noises, different noises and he had to meditate in such conditions. After that he jokes they should have given him a Scientific Certificate of Enlightenment. So in total he was there three times and they also check with a lot of senior mediators the brain, and the left prefrontal lobe. First the brain activity got very increased and then all the different parts of the brain worked together what they call gamma synchronize, gamma frequency. And what he learned from this is these three important things. First, what they called: Neuroplasticity. That means your brain is capable of change. Ten or fifteen years before Neuroscientists didn't believe that. They believed if you are born with unhappiness, the rest of your life will be unhappy. But now they say, "No, you can change and brain has unlimited capability to change.” It organizes itself and changes the cells into different things. So, there is hope. And the second important thing is that one of the best ways to change your brain activity function from negative to positive is apply meditation. And they also tested it with beginners who had no idea about meditation. They were asked to meditate everyday, one hour for eight weeks, and they develop this lateral prefrontal lobe within ten to fifteen percent for eight weeks. And the third important point is that positive change in your brain is good for your physical body, the immune system. There are so many ongoing studies about the good for stress deductions, high blood pressure and heart, many things… Meditation is good for your life. Surely happy mind and healthy body, of course, are good for you.
As Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche says nowadays we are facing big problems in the world: recessions, global financial crisis. And the main message is don't get upset about that. Make friends. The same like what he did with his panic, he tried to make friends with his panic, and so maybe you try to make friends with these problems… Don't try to hate, don't try to resist. Try to look a different way, try to accept. If you just worry too much, the situation gets worse and there is no benefit for you. For example, if the stock market is going down, if you cry and pull your hair out, beat your chest, it won’t make the stock market one dollar to go up. That’s why, believe in your self, since you have a capability, since you have wisdom, love, power and strength. So try to use them, and go forward. Letting go is not giving up.
Science Explores Meditation's Effect on the Brain - Interview with Yongey Minguyr Rinpocher (Video in Russian)
A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty - it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man. (Albert Einstein) The most beautiful and most profound experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their primitive forms - this knowledge, this feeling is at the center of true religiousness. ( Albert Einstein - The Merging of Spirit and Science)