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The Monk and the Philosopher: A Father and Son Discuss the Meaning of Life

The Monk and the Philosopher: A Father and Son Discuss the Meaning of Life

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The Monk and the Philosopher is a collection of father-son dialogues between Jean-François Revel, a French philosopher and journalist famous for his leadership in protests of both Christianity and Communism, and Matthieu Ricard, his son, who gave up a promising career as a scientist to become a Buddhist monk in the Himalayas. The conversations recorded in this book took place during 10 days at an inn in Katmandu. The range of their subjects is immense: What is Buddhism? Why does it have such appeal to many in the West? Why do Buddhists believe in reincarnation? What are the differences between Buddhist and Christian monastic life? How do science and individualism make authentic Buddhist practice difficult for Westerners to achieve? Despite the simplicity of many of these questions, Revel and Ricard never give simplistic answers. Their discussions are rich without being dense, and, even more notably, they take every question very personally. The result is a book perfectly suited as an introduction to the elements of Buddhist religion (with a good bit of Tibetan history thrown in) that is also an excellent description of what it has been like for one man (Ricard) to practice Buddhist faith. However, as Ricard wisely notes at the end of this book, "No dialogue, however enlightening it might be, could ever be a substitute for the silence of personal experience, so indispensable for an understanding of how things really are." The greatest strength of The Monk and the Philosopher may be its power to return readers to careful attention to the way we pass our days. --Michael Joseph Gross

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What a Find! -- Intellectual Insight into Buddhism

It's hard to find a good intellectual book on Buddhism. Many of the books out there are either written in the lighter "self help" style, are tartgeted at more serious practitioners or are a little too Zen for me to grasp without building some context first. For someone like myself, exploring Buddhism as an alternative or supplement to my traditonal protestant upbringing, I've been looking for a book that both (i) presents Buddhist philosophy in a Western context that I can relate to and (ii) keeps the discussion on a more intellectual/philosophical level. This book delievers. Make no mistake, the subject matter is pretty dense. However, the book delighfully readable due largely to it's "dialogue" format. Both father and son and eloquent, thoughtful and respectful communicators and tend to get right into the issues of interest to me just as I begin to wonder if they are going to touch on them. As a result, I felt a definite affinity with the authors. After reading several other books on Buddhism, I finally feel as though I have a foundation for understanding it. I have built my context and now I want to learn more. For that I am grateful and highly recommend this book.

the monk and the philosopher

The Monk and the Philosopher Gautama Buddha like Socrates used dialogue as his favorite method of teaching. This book also follows the Buddhas footsteps in being a dialogue between two highly intelligent individuals who happen to be father and son. The father is Jean-Francois Revel a leading French philosopher and Mathieu Ricard, a scientist turned Buddhist monk. Their conversation lasted for 10 days and covered a very wide range of Buddhist issues. Initially, the discussion focused on the controversial subject of whether Buddhism is a religion or a philosophy. The monk explained that it is more a philosophy than a religion, because it is not a dogma and allows flexibility of ideas. Moreover, it is a product of human mind who never made any claims to divinity. In fact the Buddha emphasized that his teachings be not accepted if wanting in logic and rationality. The acceptance of ideas should be like purchasing gold, the Buddha said. Before purchasing gold, "we rub it on a flat stone pound it with hammer and melt it in fire", so also every doctrine must be thoroughly examined for its validity and truthfulness. The collected sayings of Buddha (known as Sutras) cover one hundred and three volumes of the Tibetan canon, the Kangur. This is accompanied by another two hundred and thirteen volumes of commentaries written by eminent teachers and scholars. The reason for such a huge collection is the length of the time the Buddha taught without break from the age of thirty until his death at eighty. Although vast in its totality the core teachings are quiet concise. They analyze the most important problem faced by mankind - that of suffering. By suffering the Buddha meant mental anguish or agony, which is a translation of the word Dukha in Pali. According to the Buddha suffering arises when the self or the 'me' that we cherish is threatened and denied its wishes. The usual goals in life of power, wealth, fame and sensual pleasure, give only temporary satisfaction. One day or another they turn into sources of unhappiness. Pursuing purely earthly goals we have no more chance of attaining true happiness, "than a fisherman has of catching fish, by throwing his net into a dry riverbed." The Buddha warns that, "if you keep your hand in fire, it is no use hoping that you won't get burnt." The only way to save your hand is to take it out of the fire. The book briefly covers the remedy, which the Buddha advocates to overcome suffering. As suffering is born out of greed, ignorance, attachment, hatred, pride and jealousy they should be discarded and replaced by thoughts of virtue, loving kindness and compassion. The book does not describe the techniques of meditation in any detail, as this was not very appropriate for the purpose of discussion, but the basic principle is explained, which is to maintain awareness of the present moment, free of any discursive thoughts. Gradually, the meditator becomes better and better in the pr

Truth be told

Though, I am merely a layman regarding Buddhism, I found this book to be everything Ive been searching for. Ive read countless books on Buddhist philosophy and have yet to find so many answers to the questions that have driven my search. Though some of the content was difficult to absorb on one read, I found it was enlightening on a second and slower read. But, most of the text was a fluent enjoyable read. In closing if your searching for some answers that take Buddhist phiolosphy from monks and mystics to the everyday Joe, than this book is perfect.

A divinely dialogue -- dream of a book

The book should be lauded for its sincerity and, most importantly, the clarity with which the two distinguished interlocutors discuss the most essential questions of living,dying and life in general. The two are eminently qualified intellectually -- one being a respected philosopher in the Western tradition and the other, a Western scientist turned Tibetan Buddhist. The father-son relationship brings a closeness and a directness to the dialogue, which is detached yet affectionate at once. In short, it is a divinely dialogue. This achievement would not be possible had it been conducted between two unrelated intellectuals. I particularly enjoyed the chapter "The red flag on the roof of the world" which is dealt with particularly sympathy to the Tibetan tragedy. While being sympathetic to the issue, they do not religiously sensationalize it. Jean Francois was particularly right in saying that for Tibetan Buddhists to have lasting impact in the Western world, it must fulfill two conditions. It should stand the test of logical thinking, and it should be "compatible" with the amazing and scientific technological development of the modern world. While Buddhism has fulfilled the first goal, it is yet to fully show that it has succeeded in the second. But it must be noted that Buddhism is increasingly showing its compatibility, particularly with the rise of Buddhism in the modern West and highly developed Asian countries like Singapore and Taiwan. Buddhism is not only compatible, but may prove to be a catalyst for a healthy and balanced development of the material world if practised properly. Modern world's craze for novelty will be eased while human beings may try to focus more on fundamental improvements in life. The problem with the human beings now is that -- thanks to the ignorance -- they tend to too many unnecessary things in their attempts to gain satisfaction. This not only fails to bring them happiness, but leads to disillusionment, dissatisfaction and immense waste of time and resources. Matthiew was particularly right in saying that the Eastern Buddhist tradition focusses "on being" while the modern thinking is centered mainly "on having." This is the fundamental difference, and as a Tibetan brought up by spiritual parents, I could not agree more with his point of view.

Atheist, humanist father and Buddhist monk son hold a dialog

Western scientists and philosophically minded intellectuals often have contempt for religion, and some think it is a justified contempt that religious leaders have brought upon themselves by not living up to their principles - and by being ignorant of science, insisting upon theological premises and conclusions that no"philosopher" could accept. So a culture at cross-purposes has been built up in the West. At times it has led to spiritual heartsickness and anxiety, the abandonment of hope that life has meaning. What people are left with on the whole is nihilism, the view that nothing exists except phenomena apparent to the senses, and that consciousness is an accidental product of matter, that one's mind does not survive death. Given the barren desert in which the spirit has to dwell, it seems courageous rather than merely materialistic that people just get on with trying to improve their standard of living, and it adds poignancy to the fascination with money and sex and celebrity, the recourse to entertainments and the love of sports. This book, The Monk and the Philosopher, provides an antidote to the conflict between Western science and philosophy and traditional religion. It illustrates the highest possible vantage point from which to see meaning directly and simply, that is, a principial metaphysical tradition of wisdom, in this case, Buddhism. The Monk and the Philosopher is a dialogue between a father who is an authority on Western philosophy (one of his books is entitled, From Thales to Kant) and a son who in his twenties took a doctorate in molecular biology at the Institut Pasteur and later became a monk in the Tibetan Buddhist Tradition. From the very first exchange between father and son the book provides a surprising jolt of energy and clarity to the reader. Unnecessary things weighing on the mind fall away and one is welcomed into an invigorating world of essentials. The company of these two first rate minds, narrating the experiences of life that led them to the conclusions they hold - atheist humanism versus the view on the path toward Buddhist enlightenment, raises one's own capacity for "the examined life" that Socrates considered the only kind "worth living," and makes one feel the thrill of the mind working as a powerful instrument capable of cutting through sloth, avoidance and fuzziness to arrive at the threshold of a new awareness. (Like Keats, "Then felt I like some watcher of the skies when a new planet swims into his ken"). These are conversational exchanges, challenging and harmonious, between a western philosophically and scientifically minded father and a son who has come out the other side of the scientific investigation of truth as residing exclusively in the deciphering of matter and has lived for thirty years with Tibetan Lamas, monks, nuns and lay people as an outstanding exponent of the Tibetan Buddhist Tradition. They are fascinating, civilized, candid, wise, fu

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