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Buddhism & realism vs. Mathieu Ricard & optimism

From my undertanding of Buddhism, one should learn to see things as they really are. This includes realistic expectations about the future. Therefore, I think that optimism, an overestimation of the likelihood of positive future events, conflicts with Buddhism - just like pessimism, which is an underestimation of the probability of favourable events.

Because of this understanding I have, I was surprised to see that Mathieu Ricard (famous Buddhist monk and French interpreter for the Dalai Lama) dedicated an entire chapter on praising the benefits of optimism in his book titled "Happiness".

Also, while he mentions several studies on the advantages of optimism, he does not mention one of the studies that has associated optimism with inappropriate risk-taking (e.g. reckless driving).

What is your opinion on this?


  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran
    When we are optimistic we are optimistic. When such a view helps us in our practice then it helps us in our practice. When it does not helpful it is not helpful.

    When we are having a problem in our practice we are having a problem.

    When we are surprised then what happens? We become more open to possibilites. Or angry. Or fearful. Or trying to find the answer. Something happens. And thats what happens.

    I think Mathieu was provisional rather than definitive regarding optimism. Its just a hint or suggestion. You have to experiment.

  • aMattaMatt Veteran
    Generally, buddhism doesn't favor projecting expectation. I haven't read the book "Happiness" so I cannot comment on the content of the chapters.

    It is difficult to train the mind to shed all expecting. Perhaps in the interim it is better to be optimistic about the fruits of the practice. Ideally, we wouldn't have cause to cling to favorable or unfavorable results.

    Buddhists are people, though, and the path is a journey rather than a set rule of behaviors.
  • personperson Don't believe everything you think 'Merica! Veteran
    I haven't read the book either, but I suppose it depends on what one is optimistic about. If we're optimistic that meth will make us happy then thats mistaken. If we're optimistic that we can clear away our mental defilements and achieve enlightenment then I think that would be proper.
  • jlljll Veteran
    How do you define optimism? I have studied for my exams. I am pretty sure I will pass. Am I optimistic or realistic?
  • TheswingisyellowTheswingisyellow Trying to be open to existence Samsara Veteran
    How would it hurt if one's mind inclined toward the positive if one is not attached or clinging to outcomes?
    All the best,
  • Bodha8Bodha8 Veteran
    I have read this book some time ago and have great regard for Matthieu Ricard.
    Without getting into too much detail regarding this chapter, which is actually entitled "Optimism, Pessimism, and Naivete", I can see that the inclusion of this chapter in the book "Happiness" was an attempt to illustrate that a feeling of optimism was more likely to provide an overall attitude of happiness than one of pessimism.

    Ricard does give numerous examples of the benefits of optimism including the statement that the optimistic view provides a better understanding of reality than pessimism. I'm sorry I'm not sure which studies you are referring to that associate optimism with reckless driving.

    I am sure that Matthieu Ricard (A monk of some 40 years and an interpreter for HHDL)has a pretty good grasp of what the Buddhist view of reality should be.


  • realistic but happy or content is the best approach :)
  • AmeliaAmelia Veteran
    From my undertanding of Buddhism, one should learn to see things as they really are. This includes realistic expectations about the future.
    What about not thinking or expecting anything of the future?
  • @Amelia

    it is nice shaping a better future...
  • AmeliaAmelia Veteran
    edited June 2011
    It is good to behave and think in such a way that will be beneficial to the future. Dwelling on how we want things to be or becoming fixated on our plans, perhaps even unrealistically, is attachment.
  • I think that where we are now determines what is most beneficial. This can even vary from day to day, hour to hour :) Some days we may feel that we can take in the suffering of the whole world, other days we may feel like we just need help and would like someone to take ours! Having a realist view, as much as possible, of our own limitations helps a lot with our practise. Unfortunately I tend to be ignorant to my own shortcomings, but with practise we find out what these are and try to fix them.

    Sometimes we need to be optimistic, possibly when we are in the "I need help" stage, other times we can function quite effectively without hope and this can even be quite beneficial. As to trying to mould the future, that's quite a scary thing, I suppose if the motivation is compassion then all will be well? But we are still changing it according to "our view" of what makes the world a better place, sounds like a very sneaky avenue for ego unless we are very careful. I don't really know? What do you guys think?

    Take care, WK
  • jlljll Veteran
    Also, if Ricard's optimism made him the happiest man in the world, I want some of that.
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