Matthieu Ricard, born in France in 1946, trained as a molecular biologist at the prestigious Institute Pasteur before trading in his lab coat for the robes of a Tibetan Buddhist monk in 1972. In 1975, Ricard became the close student and attendant of revered master Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and traveled with him in Bhutan, India, Nepal, and Tibet until Khyentse Rinpoche’s passing in 1991. The author of several books, including The Quantum and the Lotus and Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill, Ricard lives in Shechen Monastery in Nepal.

During one of his frequent visits to New York, I had the opportunity to speak with Ricard about karma, a foundational Buddhist concept that is often invoked in Western culture but rarely well understood.

–Mark Magill

A lot of people think of karma in terms of “What did I do to deserve this?” It implies a notion of fate or cosmic justice. This is a view that is inspired by the Judeo-Christian tradition. In Buddhism, there is no notion of an external entity judging our actions and bestowing punishment or reward.

What is the Buddhist view? At each point in our lives, we are at a crossroads. We are the fruit of our past and we are the architects of our future. When we ask, “Why did this happen to me?” it is because of our limited view. If we throw a stone up in the air and forget about it, when it falls down on our heads, we shouldn’t complain, although we usually do. We have this notion that what happens to us is somehow independent of our own actions. We can ask, why did this happen? but the more important question is, what we are going to do about it?