A few excerpts from the article (Conversation participants = Guy Raz, Pico Iyer, and Mattieu Ricard):
When you build the hospital, making plumbing or doing cement work obviously doesn’t cure anyone, but when the hospital is ready, how much more you can help. I see now, working in the humanitarian world, we start to help people, and we get derailed by conflict of ego, corruption — human shortcomings. So the best thing you could do instead of training to run an NGO or make accounts would be to start to become a better human being so that you can serve others better and not be distracted by trying to make everyone perfect on the way. That’s the job of the Buddha, not your job.
When I was growing up and I was going to overpriced colleges, they were always telling us, ‘You’ve got to accumulate a wonderful resume, you’ve got to climb this hurdle and this hurdle and this hurdle, become partner, become editor-in-chief, become Supreme Court judge.’ And that seems to lead to permanent dissatisfaction, because once you become a Supreme Court judge, you want to become the head of the court in the Hague, or once you get the Pulitzer Prize you want the Nobel Prize, so there’s never any end to that craving. So I think going nowhere in some ways seemed to me a more promising alternative than always trying to get somewhere. And Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman and so many of America’s great writers have always extolled the virtue of sitting where you are.
It’s easy and hard. It’s easy but it takes time. The Dalai Lama often says, ‘The problem in the West is people want enlightenment to be fast, to be easy, and if possible, cheap.‘ So by cheap, he doesn’t mean by paying money, but cheap in the sense of ‘you know, just do it casually, it will work.’ But you don’t become a good pianist instantly; we’re not born knowing how to read and write, everything comes through training, and what’s wrong with that? Skills don’t just pop up because you wish to be more compassionate or happier. It needs sustained application. But it’s joy in the form of effort. Everybody who trains to do something, musicians, sportsmen and so on, says there’s a sort of joy in their training, even if it seems to be harsh. So in that sense, it does take time. But why not spend time? We don’t mind spending 15 years on education, why not the same to become a better human being?
(So my relatives or whoever don’t freak out: No, I’m not converting to Buddhism or something like that; I do think there are things Western Christians can learn from stuff like Eastern spiritual practices and philosophy; see article referenced above.)
There’s lots more good stuff in the article itself, too – including thoughts on technology, retreats at Catholic monasteries, facing own inner conflicts, and stress management.