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

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  1,382 ratings  ·  116 reviews
Jean Francois-Revel, a pillar of French intellectual life in our time, became world famous for his challenges to both Communism and Christianity. Twenty-seven years ago, his son, Matthieu Ricard, gave up a promising career as a scientist to study Tibetan Buddhism -- not as a detached observer but by immersing himself in its practice under the guidance of its greatest livin ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published February 15th 2000 by Schocken (first published 1997)
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 ·  1,382 ratings  ·  116 reviews

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Dec 27, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: gave-up-on
The concept is promising: a Buddhist monk justifies why he left a promising scientific career in France to become a monk in Tibet to his well-connected father, all under the guise of an intellectual discussion on religion and rational secularism. And both men are extremely well-educated, bright and articulate. My heart just wasn't in it. Try as I might, I just couldn't get past the father's irritating, narrow-minded elitism. The son offers wonderfully clear explanations of Buddhist tenets, but I ...more
Jon Gauthier
Feb 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy, religion
This book is the first Western introductory Buddhism book I've read that speaks clearly to me.

As a cognitive scientist, I'm interested in Buddhism for reasons both intellectual and spiritual. For example, here are some of the intellectual-level topics I want to address in a study of Buddhism:

— What position does Buddhism take on consciousness and the "hard problem?" How does the Buddhist story of consciousness integrate with reincarnation belief?
— What are the consequences of rem
Jacob Elder
Aug 28, 2015 rated it liked it
I had some difficulty determining how I felt about this book by the end. It began with so much potential and was really an interesting way of introducing Buddhist teachings and ideologies through a Western lens. I began thoroughly engaged and immersed in the efforts of the son (or the monk) to properly convey his understanding of Buddhist wisdom to a skeptical and scientific community.

However, as the book went on I became a bit disenchanted with some of the patterns. As the father begins to pres
Nuno R.
A work of intelectual honesty, of inter-cultural respect and of father-son love. Through these pages, Jean François-Revel does not hold back any of his hard questions about spirituality and religion, nor does his son Matthieu Ricard try to dodge them. The result is a frank, deep talk, about some of the most fundamental questions that humans have studied and meditated about for thousands of years. All in a reunion of two sharp minds, that took place near the high mountains that are now the home o ...more
Jon Boorstin
Apr 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is a fine investigation of Buddhist philosophy by an eminent French humanist and his son, a Buddhist monk with a phd in biology. They know what a proof is. Beautifully balanced and fair minded, with an ear for the resonances between different schools of thought. Should we strive for personal success, or is that striving a snare and a delusion? What is success, truly? And how to be truly fulfilled? These two men love each other and respect each other's views. Honest and illuminating. ...more
Dec 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
"If man is no more than his neurons, it's hard to understand how sudden events or deep reflection and the discovery of inner truths could lead us to completely change the way we see the world, how we live and our capacity for inner joy. Any such major upheaval would have to be accompanied by an equally deep and sudden major restructuring of the complex circuits of neurons that determine our habits and behavior. If, on the other hand, consciousness is a nonmaterial continuum, there's no reason wh ...more
Leland Beaumont
Dec 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
The relationship between father and son is always complex. Fathers want the best for their sons, and sons balance a natural tension of wanting to learn from father, and live up to his father’s expectations, while exploring all that is new and exciting in the world. It is a respectful yet powerful tension between old and new, experience and novelty, obedience and autonomy, belief and curiosity, advice and adventure. This tension is richly realized throughout the remarkable dialogue created by the ...more
Gautham Shenoy
Dec 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This wonderful book is a dialogue between a philosopher father and a buddhist son about the ideas from the eastern and western traditions that concern themselves with the meaning of life. Jean-Francois Revel appears to be well versed with not only the works of the contemporary modern philosophers but also of the ancient greeks and the roman schools of thought. And he uses his knowledge to probe into the metaphysics, ethics, and practice of buddhism. The son, Matthieu Ricard was groomed to become ...more
Jan 13, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good topic. Did not enjoy the book’s style

3.5 Stars.

Sadly the book did not meet my expectations. Although it does a good job at laying out the basic concepts of Tibetan Buddhism (at least for someone that had not read anything about them), there were several elements that made the reading tedious or at least less enjoyable to me:
1. It often feels more as the Monk “VS” the philosopher, rather than “AND”. The father often criticizes Buddhism and very frequently highlights how its ideas are really
Dec 10, 2013 added it
Shelves: buddhism
A very interesting dialogue.

I could feel my sympathies alternate between the monk and the philosopher. Jean-Francois' erudition comes through, and as I already agree with what I think his views on religion and ideology are, I could empathise with his stance. On the other hand, my personal experience of the effectiveness of meditation at self-transformation allowed me to understand more deeply what Mattheiu said. I felt that he was somewhat more defensive of Buddhism than Jean-Francois of Western
Steve Voiles
Nov 17, 2015 rated it it was ok
This is a fascinating situation where an esteemed scientist has left science to become a Buddhist monk, rising to the inner circle of the Dali Lama, while is father is a respected philosopher of western thought. The two undertake an extended dialogue in an effort to understand each others' thinking and spiritual values.
This is a very learned conversation between two high educated people and, as such, become difficult to read for those of us with less specialized educations. Still, if you are int
Paul Loong
Aug 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
As a Easterner, when I first pick up this book, I am expecting to read a comparison of the Buddhism and Christianity. After reading it, I am shocked to find out that not only does it provide a comparison, but also that my original concept in Buddhism is totally wrong.

If you have a little knowledge or you want to know the real thinking of Buddhism, I strongly recommend you to read this book. If you are a Buddhist, this book provides a good contrast between Eastern and Western thinking.
Dec 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
I read this after loving Matthieu Ricard's book, Happiness. Ricard is a genius biologist turned Buddhist Monk and his father is the brilliant French philosopher, Jean-Francois Revel. This book is a conversation between the two! What could be more interesting? Unlike other "free-thinker vs. religious person" books where I have always taken the side of the free-thinker, I was on the side of both parties here so it was that much more enjoyable. I consider myself a spiritual free-thinking atheist. B ...more
Sep 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: buddhism
I don't think I learned anything new and I struggled with the dialog format. but it did address some of questions I had about Buddhism. Explicitly asks and answers questions like whether it considers itself a religion, whether it is nihilistic and how it sees reincarnation. a soft filing out of the details in compact and accessible portions of wisdom. the summary of western philosophy is no less valuable than the Buddhist view which dominates. In the end I can recommend it highly. :-) ...more
Sep 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned
A solid introduction about Buddhism structured in a QA. What makes it interesting is the authors backgrounds, and the fact that none of them get to drag long enough without being challenged, whether by expected or unexpected reasoning. The book is very broad allowing readers of the west into a curated insight.
Vicente Villela
Oct 27, 2016 rated it liked it
The book had a promising script and I loved the first third into it. After that I felt like more of the same was being repeated and by the end the read got heavier.
Mar 28, 2018 rated it liked it
Interesting discussion about Buddhism.

It stays at the intellectual realm from both sides. It lacks beauty or poetry.

Ultimately becomes dull.
Eduard Barbu
Jul 04, 2018 rated it liked it
“The monk and the philosopher” is a dialogue between a father (the philosopher) and his son (the monk) who lives a Buddhist reclusion in Tibet. The father, Jean-François Revel, is a known French intellectual who fought against the Communist utopia and who is strongly rooted in the Western liberal and rational tradition. In his youth, the son (Matthieu Ricard) was a promising talent who completed his doctoral study under the prominent scientist Jacques Monod ("Chance and necessity" is his most kn ...more
River Erdenebuyan
Sep 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book has changed my vision on life forever🤍
Shashank Amarnath
Feb 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
I “the egotistical me” have become interested in reading about Buddhism as mindful meditation is a sprout of this seed. Mindful meditation helps one focus on the present and also detaching ones say the reasoning-self from the feeling-self (basically breaking down contemplation narrowly).
Of course the book deals with the basic philosophy of Buddhism and questions its relevance in today’s time and not the meditation technique.
Questions like whether Buddhism believes in the existence of God? Is Bu
Feb 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: review
A biologist turned Buddhist in conversation with a philosopher about the meaning of life. If that isn't interesting by itself, they happen to be son and father. (respectively) World views separated by time and distance. What really works is that Matthieu Ricard and Jean-François Revel have absolute clarity on the points of view they represent, and yet, are not in the discussion to force their perspectives on the other.
The scope of the discussion includes scientific research, metaphysics, politi
Sep 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The book I'm reviewing today is The Monk and The Philosopher by Matthieu Ricard and his father Jean Francois Revel. Matthieu Ricard was a french biologist who fled to the mountains and became a Tibetan Buddhist monk over 40 years ago. The philosopher is his father Jean Francois who has a firm western style philosophy background. The fact that they are father and son just makes is such an interesting contrast worth looking into anyway.

Straight out of the gate in the forward lies an explanation of
Simon Lee
Jun 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Not easy to understand . Requires deep knowledge in science , Spirituality and philosophies to completely understand. A good book nonetheless.
Viraj Kulkarni
Apr 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Through an extraordinary dialogue between a father and a son, this book explores Buddhism and how it addresses some of the most profound questions about nature and reality. The father is a well-known French philosopher. The son is a scientist who has given up a promising career to become a Buddhist monk.

Eastern philosophy is enmeshed in religion and has been taught for centuries through the language of faith. This language sounds strange to the modern reader who is better acquainted with the ton
Ioana Ioana
2005, “Happiness without a happy person”

Didn’t fare well for the monk. Fake naiveté, which is the most the father can do to alleviate the lack of vital force in Mathieu’s replies (what a good father), sadly, imprints the mark of mediocrity on this book. Hardly a debate, the discussion is overshadowed by the son’s bet on the “absolute truth”. ’The ultimate nature of things, which transcends any aspect of being and non-being, of apparition and disappearance, of movement and non-movement, of si sin
Nov 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
A father, both a philosopher and atheist, discusses with his son, a ph. D. in microbiology turned into Buddhist monk, about the meeting and diverging points between Western philosophy, science and religion and Buddhism.

And so the book unfolds as a fascinating conversation that explores both Western and Eastern wisdom, presenting the main tenets of both sides in a very accessible, yet profoundly captivating style. The son explains certain aspect of Buddhism, which the father doesn't believe so an
Tom Quinn
There are some interesting passages but overall I liked this book's premise far more than its execution. I just didn't find it all that engaging. The discussions of self and materialism vs dualism were really stimulating, but much of the rest was not. Part of the issue for me is the fact that I don't often enjoy the transcribed dialogue format, plus in translation the voices seem oddly stiff or stilted. The frequent repetition of some basic background biographical information in the first sectio ...more
Lee Preston
Jul 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
I wasn't quite what to expect from the book when I first read it though I did know what I was getting myself in for.

A book that I read from cover to cover with an open a mind as I could and really enjoyed the discussion and really enjoyed the concept of the book as I haven't read one like this before.

If I could go back and read it again, I suppose I will at some point, I would read a chapter and then go away to digest the points before returning to the next chapter and so on. Had I done this, I
May 31, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who is interested in consciousness, philosophy and spirituality
Still only halfway through this book, but it's marvellous. It's written-up conversations between a French philosopher of the Western tradition, and his son, Matthieu Ricard - Buddhist monk and translator for the Dalai Lama. Because it's in the form of a conversation - you really see the personalities of, and relationship between, the two men ... and with each challenging the other, it's the perfect way to digest something of both Buddhist and Western philosophies. ...more
Apr 21, 2009 rated it really liked it
Engaging, informative, intriguing. The dialogue between the father (philosopher) and son (monk) captures much of the tension in the interaction between western and eastern ideas. As a western person with a great interest in eastern philosophy and contemplative tradition, I found that both raised questions that echoed my own. In the process, the book offers a very digestible roadmap of Buddhist history and basic points of western philosophy, especially where relevant to Buddhist ideas.
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Jean-François Revel was a French politician, journalist, author, prolific philosopher and member of the Académie française since June 1998.

He was best known for his books Without Marx or Jesus: The New American Revolution Has Begun, The Flight from Truth : The Reign of Deceit in the Age of Information and his 2002 book Anti-Americanism, one year after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. In t

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“the mind plays the essential role in satisfaction and dissatisfaction, happiness and suffering, fulfillment and failure. The mind is behind every experience in life. It is also what determines the way we see the world. The mind is the window from which we see ‘our’ world. It only takes the slightest change in our minds, in our way of perceiving people and things, for that world to be turned completely upside-down.” 2 likes
“Consideremos, por ejemplo, la omnipotencia, pues un creador ha de ser onmipotente: o bien el creador no decide crear, y en ese caso pierde su omnipotencia, pues la creación se hace sin el concurso de su voluntad, o bien crea voluntariamente y ya no es todo poderoso, porque crea bajo la influencia del deseo de crear.” 1 likes
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