The Monk and The Philosopher is a book-length dialogue between father and son Jean-Francois Revel and Matthieu Ricard. Jean-Francois is an atheist philosopher, Mattheiu is a Tibetian buddhist monk. They talk about science, religion and the meaning of life. What adds some spice is that, before he was a monk, Mattheiu was a molecular biologist, with a well-received PhD and a promising career in a cutting-edge field. Below are some quotes from Mattheiu, actually taken from three far apart bits of the book (pages 17,113,218) but put together by me.

It’s true that biology and theoretical physics have brought us some fascinating knowledge about the origins of life and the formation of the universe. But does knowing such things help us elucidate the basic mechanisms of happiness and suffering? It’s important not to lose sight of the goals that we set ourselves. To know the exact shape and dimensions of the Earth is undeniably progress. But whether it it’s round or flat doesn’t make a great deal of difference to the meaning of existence…

[The goal of Buddhism] is inner science, a science that’s been developed over more than two thousand years of contemplation and study of the mind. Especially in Tibet, since the eighth century, that science was the principle preoccupation of a large part of the population. The goal was never to transform the external world, but to transform it in producing better human beings, in allowing human beings to develop an inward knowledge of themselves…

[Science,] if too hastily taken for a panacea, can also ecliplse the search for wisdom. Science is essentially analytical and therefore tends to get lost in the inexhaustible complexity of phenomena. Science covers such a vast field of discovery that it’s captivated the interest and energy of many of the brightest minds of our times. It’s like a never-ending gold-rush. The spiritual approach is a very different one, because it deals with the principles underlying knowledge and ignorance, happiness and suffering. Science only takes account of the tangible or mathematical proofs, while the spritual approach recognises the validity of intimate conviction arising from contemplative experience.

The Monk and the Philosopher: a father and son discuss the meaning of life. Jean-Francois Revel & Matthieu Ricard (1997). Schocken Books, New York

Also, Mike, whereever you are, you recommended me this book in 1998, so thanks – i’ve finally got round to reading it.