Personal Development: Who Benefits?

by Matthieu Ricard
Nowadays, there’s more and more talk of “personal development,” an expression that is used very loosely and adapted to every pretext; it has become a sort of catch-all, which does not distinguish between a seven-step formula to attract others and become happy in one week, and texts that seek to shine the light inward in order to become better human beings. These texts are based on methods rooted not in the latest fads but in wisdom traditions practiced for thousands of years by individuals who have dedicated most of their lives to their cultivation.
Today when we speak of personal development, too often what is proposed are cosmetic changes that seek to pamper our narcissistic tendencies rather than eradicate our flaws and dispel the fog of our mental confusion.
Within global wisdom traditions, whether they have religious, spiritual, or humanistic origins, self-transformation has nothing to do with flattering the ego or pursuing its whims. Instead, self-transformation should help us to gradually become better human beings through sheer hard work. This statement may seem conceited at first, yet the true goal of self-transformation is to eradicate animosity, obsessive attachment, the lack of judgment, arrogance, jealousy, and other mental poisons, which disturb our life and that of others. This is no small task.
Therefore, this is neither a short-term undertaking, nor a self-centered approach, nor a means of escape where we learn to embrace our faults and dispense with the efforts to remedy them. More than anything, we must ask ourselves who will benefit from this “personal development.” If it’s just us, then it’s a complete waste of time. Self-transformation is meaningful only if it allows us ultimately to be of greater service to others. Personal development without kindness is nothing more than building an ivory tower of egocentricity. Meditation without loving-kindness is equivalent to spending a few quiet moments in the bubble of our own ego.
Self-transformation is meaningful only if it allows us ultimately to be of greater service to others.
Personal transformation should help us shift from confusion to knowledge, from enslavement to inner freedom. Its goal is accomplishing the welfare of others. There’s a Buddhist teaching which says, “What is not done for the good of others, does not merit being done in the first place.”  Don’t say you weren’t warned!
These few thoughts came to us following the publication of “Three Friends in Search of Wisdom”, the result of a mutual friendship between Christophe André, Alexandre Jollien, and myself. (Éditions Allary and L’Iconoclaste.)

Christophe André, Alexandre Jollien, Matthieu Ricard, in Paris to celebrate the publication of “Trois amis en quête de sagesse”. Photo: © Olivier Adam, 2016.

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