Summary of “In Search of Wisdom: A Monk, a Philosopher, a Psychiatrist on What Matters Most” : In this three-author book, Christophe André, psychiatrist, Alexandre Jollien, philosopher and Matthieu Ricard, Buddhist monk recount their experiences, their practices, and their journeys while covering the many topics of existence that fascinate them; their points of view, which are at times different, focus on what truly matters and open up discussions and life lessons that are full of wisdom.
In Search of Wisdom by Christophe André, Alexandre Jollien, Matthieu Ricard, 2016, 496 pages
Review and Summary of “In Search of Wisdom: A Monk, a Philosopher, a Psychiatrist on What Matters Most” by Christophe André, Alexandre Jollien, and Matthieu Ricard:
Christophe André, psychiatrist, Alexandre Jollien, philosopher, and Matthieu Ricard, Buddhist monk have, over the many years and encounters, become friends.
One day, the three men decide to meet in a house in the Dordogne forest, for several days, and to sit down together, daily, by the fireside, to converse about different subjects they care about. In In Search of Wisdom, the three authors invite us to join them over a steaming tea, in one of the worn but welcoming armchairs, in front of the fireplace, to listen in on their friendly conversation. They record their discussions in full, transcribe them and then format these hours of dialogue to make this three-author book.
“Gratitude makes us stronger and makes us aware of external resources greater than our internal resources alone.” – Christophe André, In Search of Wisdom
Thus, this work combines the sharing of the authors’ experiences and convictions, through twelve chapters:
- At the start of the book, the authors lay out their intent, journeys, and aspirations.
- The following topics are discussed throughout In Search of Wisdom: ego, emotions, the art of listening, the body, suffering, consistency, altruism, simplicity, guilt, and forgiveness.
- The last chapter is devoted to the daily practices of the three friends.
The intent of Christophe André, Alexandre Jollien and Matthieu Ricard behind In Search of Wisdom
- Christophe André’s intent:
- To be useful: helping readers to suffer less, to progress as humans.
- To spend ten days with two friends.
- And to match the image people have of themselves with what they really are.
- Alexandre Jollien’s intent:
For him, this experience is a “huge spiritual laboratory of exploration alongside two experts of happiness”. Alexandre Jollien is concerned to ensure that their words are helpful.
- Matthieu Ricard’s intent:
His purpose is to share what he has learned from his masters, spiritual or otherwise, his studies and his meditative and therapeutic practice.
Christophe André, Alexandre Jollien, and Matthieu Ricard and authors of the book In Search of Wisdom
The authors’ journeys
Alexandre Jollien’s journey:
Alexandre Jollien begins his story with the three things that life has entrusted to him:
- Disability: For him, it has become an amazing training ground.
- The writing profession: it is a passion, a calling to be a witness.
- The vocation of a father: which leads him to unlearn a lot and to always progress.
Alexandre Jollien has been disabled with cerebral palsy since birth. Due to this, at the age of 3, he entered a specialized center, which he described as a rough and long school of life. He stayed there for many years and tells us how, in this center, he was confronted very early on with the fragility of our condition and with death. His admission to the so-called “normal” school afterward is a long struggle. It takes him a long time to ease into and adapt to society.
Alexander has always had faith in God. It was when he saw one of his friends lying in a coffin one day that he felt this radical call to spiritual life. As a child, he was accompanied in his spiritual life by an extremely kind man of God, he says. Moreover, it is this man who also gives him a taste for philosophy. Today in Korea, Alexandre Jollien deepens his faith and meditation with a father, both a Zen master and a Catholic priest.
“Every moment is a gift that we have to fully appreciate.” – Alexandre Jollien, In Search of Wisdom
Christophe André’s journey:
Christophe André presents himself as someone deeply alarmed, pessimistic, and introverted. He describes himself as a “sociable loner”.
Christophe André studied medicine. It was by reading Freud that his interest in psychiatry was born at the same time. As he begins to practice medicine, he realizes that he thoroughly likes to heal people. However, he quickly realizes that psychoanalysis, which was mainstream at the time in this discipline, was not made for him. This requires a therapeutic distance which, for Christophe André, amounts to depriving oneself of the tremendous power of emotions, of compassion, and of empathy.
It is later that he discovers his psychiatry professor, Lucien Millet. He is what is called a humanist psychiatrist. Thanks to this encounter, Christophe André finally practices psychiatry as he thinks he should do: with kindness and concern for others.
Christophe André studies, subsequently, behavioral approaches, counter to Lacanian psychoanalysis, and as a result, discovers positive psychology. And when he discovers meditation, it is quite the shakeup!
Matthieu Ricard’s journey:
Matthieu Ricard discovers writings on spirituality as an adolescent. This interest grows under the influence of his mother, Yahne Le Toumelin, and his uncle, Jacques-Yves Le Toumelin, a single-handed sailor. He reads a lot of books on spirituality and often discusses these subjects with his family circle of friends.
After studying biology, Matthieu Ricard returns to the Institute Pasteur and does a thesis on cell division.
At the same time, he helps edit Arnaud Desjardins’ films on the great Tibetan masters who fled the Chinese invasion. This is when everything changes for him. He is 20 years old. Matthieu Ricard decides to go to India to meet Kangyour Rinpoche, one of these great Tibetan masters. This master has a profound impact on him. His way of being, his presence, and his kindness inspire him. He becomes his master:
‘’I had before me the epitome, not of a particular knowledge, of an exceptional skill, like that of a piano virtuoso, but simply of what the best a human being could become.’’
In the Himalayas, Matthieu Ricard studies Buddhism. For twenty-five years, he has studied Tibetan and practiced the Buddhist way. He has had almost no contact with the West.
Since writing books, Matthieu has sailed between East and West, between a purely traditional, contemplative life and a life of interaction with the modern world.
Chapter 1 – Christophe André, Alexandre Jollien, and Matthieu Ricard’s deepest aspirations
Here, the authors contemplate what truly matters in existence, what they identify, deep down, as essential.
For Matthieu Ricard:
‘’To live is not to be content with wandering between encounters and circumstances, with getting by as you can, day by day. […] Month after month, year after year, it is possible to build yourself, not to satisfy your ego, but to become a better, more altruistic, and more enlightened being.’’
1.1 – What drives the authors
In this part, the authors ponder their motivations. It is more of a discussion than clear-cut answers.
- For Alexandre Jollien: a fear of suffering
For his interest in spiritual life, Alexandre Jollien above all detects an immense fear of suffering. Over time, this mainly self-centered motivation has expanded. He says he is beginning to open to others.
“Meditation is the noblest placebos.” – Matthieu Ricard, In Search of Wisdom
- For Christophe André: a search for security and the desire to help others suffer less
Christophe André explains that he has lived for a long time in a search for security (ensuring that his family is not in material need). However, becoming a doctor allowed him to overcome this sole motivation. Today, even if he finds it very difficult to say that this is truly his only motivation, his deep aspiration is to help others to suffer less.
- For Matthieu Ricard: a form of accomplishment
Staying alive is an obvious goal for Matthieu Ricard. Nevertheless, without immediate threat, he should have, according to him, sought fulfillment, a form of accomplishment.
“At some point, regardless of any outside influence, one must be able to ask: what is it really worth it? What will allow me to think, at the end of the year, that I have not wasted my time? […] Even if things do not always go as we hope, we should be able to say to ourselves: “I have no regrets, because I did everything I could, within the limits of my capacities”.”
1.2 – The path and the goal
- According to Matthieu Ricard:
Even if the journey is sometimes arduous, the enthusiasm will remain if you progress towards the place where you really want to go. However, if you get lost and find yourself without bearings, you lose courage. Along with fatigue is disarray and the feeling of helplessness. We no longer want to walk but to sit, cower and lose hope. Therefore, the direction that we set in existence plays such an important role.
Psychologists say that it is the effort itself that brings satisfaction and that once the goal is reached, one is rather disappointed. But for Matthieu Ricard, if the goal is worth it (if it is a question of cultivating wisdom and altruistic love, for example), the path and the goal will both be rewarding.
He specifies that we often delude ourselves by pursuing illusory goals that do not really contribute to our development (such as wealth, fame, physical beauty, possessions, etc.).
“The goal I’m talking about is what inspires me, it’s not what obsesses me and to which I attach everything. The idea of a direction, or an aspiration, is more satisfying, and it is not subject to limits.”
- According to Alexandre Jollien:
For Alexandre Jollien, what matters is to progress on a path, “without absolutizing it” or denigrating other paths.
“Progressing, without being tied to a goal, is the challenge.”
1.3 – What inspires the authors
- For Matthieu Ricard:
“Whatever we do in life, we always need a guide to learn and progress. This guide, especially when it comes to spirituality, must have all the necessary qualities.”
Therefore, Matthieu Ricard describes the true spiritual master as one who:
- Has nothing to gain and nothing to lose.
- Has everything to give and to share.
- Doesn’t care about having a few more disciples: he does not seek glory, power, or wealth.
- Just wants to help others break free.
- For Christophe André:
Christophe André says he is deeply moved by the lessons learned from his patients, his children, or strangers. In fact, he cites examples in which he had the feeling of being faced with something completely admirable, faced with a model of dignity, of devotion, of altruism.
- For Alexandre Jollien:
Alexandre Jollien urges caution with gurus when one wants to follow the teaching of a master. He gives his own as an example who manifests a perfect balance between the interior and the exterior.
Chapter 2 – The ego, friend or impostor
2.1 – Diseases of the ego, according to Christophe André
The ego is not part of the current vocabulary of psychology. We speak rather of “self-esteem”, which defines all the ways of looking at oneself, of judging oneself, of considering oneself, of treating oneself. The ego is, in fact, the set of attachments to oneself, to one’s own image.
From the psychologist’s point of view, there are two major pathologies of self-esteem that cause suffering:
- Excessive attachment to oneself: this is the narcissistic person.
- Lack of self-esteem: this is a negative attachment.
In reality, the ideal goal of self-esteem work is self-forgetfulness.
“We are tenants of the earth just as we are tenants of our bodies.” – Christophe André, In Search of Wisdom
2.2 – True self-confidence, according to Matthieu Ricard
From the point of view of Buddhism, instead of speaking of “strong ego”, we prefer to speak of “inner strength”. The idea is to free yourself from the shackles of the ego, which is the primary source of everything that poisons our mind:
Forget self-esteem and focus on self-control and self-discipline.
A “good” and healthy self-esteem is essential to flourish in existence. Unhealthy self-worth can lead to serious psychological problems and great suffering.
2.3 – Self-forgetfulness, the silence of the ego, according to Alexandre Jollien
For Alexandre Jollien, the ego is:
A sort of bundle of illusions made up of desires, fears, emotions, and representations to which (to our greatest suffering) we are attached.
2.4 – Shower of gratitude
- The footprint of gratitude, according to Matthieu Ricard:
‘’I hold in my hand a sheet of paper, at least thirty-five countries have made this gesture possible.
This recognition of the interdependence of all beings and all things should continually fill us with gratitude. Like environmentalists who assess the ecological footprint of a product, we could assess the footprint of gratitude linked to those who allowed us to be together today.’’
- Comforting gratitude, according to Christophe André:
‘’There is nothing that we are going through right now that is not due to other people:
Lights, heat, food, our clothes, being able to talk together. All of this is due to our parents, teachers, friends, dozens, and hundreds of strangers. It’s staggering, overwhelming, and joyful.
The exercise of gratitude is comforting. It does us good and makes us stronger.’’
2.5 – The authors’ advice facing the ego
- Alexandre Jollien’s three pieces of advice:
- Practice gratitude and take very concrete solidarity actions to help as many people as possible.
- Take care of yourself and identify what makes you happy: to rid yourself of the ego and to learn to rejoice.
- When you feel anxious, ask yourself: Who is afraid?
- Matthieu Ricard’s three reflections:
- Stop sticking the “me” and “mine” labels on yourself and on things.
- Free yourself from the whims of the ego.
- Be kind.
- Christophe André’s three pieces of advice for those who have problems with their ego:
- Have a bond of friendship with yourself: to want the best for a friend is to be benevolent and gently demanding with them.
- Have your own mantras of self-benevolence.
- Say to yourself: “Let the ego be like a small bike, and not like a big 4 × 4 truck!”
- Take “gratitude showers” every night.
Chapter 3 – Learning to live with our emotions
3.1 – Emotions that disturb us
- Emotions through the lens of Christophe André’s profession as a psychiatrist:
“Emotions are fundamental in understanding humans, their psychology and their suffering. In the West, emotions have long been viewed with fear and distrust.”
Christophe André explains that people often come in for painful emotions that are beyond their control:
- Fear (related to anxiety illnesses).
- Sadness and excessive shame (related to depression).
Christophe André uses mindfulness meditation in his therapies because attention is an extremely powerful means of regulating emotion.
- Meditation to get out of the roller coaster of emotions, according to Alexandre Jollien:
“What can exhaust us is this eternal back and forth, this inner Yo-Yo which makes us pass from joy to sadness in a quarter of a second.”
According to Alexandre Jollien, once we have accepted the roller coaster of our inner life, we can escape it. For that, we have to practice meditation. It is not a question of getting out of this world, but:
Learning to live together, to be at peace amid all the grinding.
3.2 – When modern psychology agrees with Buddhism, according to Matthieu Ricard:
In Buddhism, we examine the consequences of our emotions. If an emotion:
- Increases our inner peace and our well-being while encouraging us to help others, we say that it is positive.
- Disrupts our mind and causes us to harm others, it is said to be negative.
The only criterion that is therefore worth considering is the well-being or the suffering that results from this or that emotion.In this, Buddhism differs from psychologies which differentiate emotions according to whether they encourage reconciliation or withdrawal.
3.3 – The role of emotions, according to Christophe André:
Emotions are part of our human genetic heritage and our brain wiring. They are then reinforced by our education and our cultural environment. All emotions are useful to us: anger, sadness, fear, anxiety, shame have very specific functions.
From an evolutionary point of view:
- Negative or unpleasant emotions are associated with often dangerous situations, which can threaten our survival.
- Positive emotions are associated with resource-seeking situations (food, rest, pleasant interactions, such as games or sexual intercourse).
We therefore need both.
“Now that we know all of them [emotions], let’s not be afraid of them anymore because they are all good by nature. The important thing is simply to avoid their misuse or their excess.”
– Descartes, in his “The Passions of the Soul “
3.4 – The importance of states of mind
- Considering emotions along two axes, explained by Christophe André:
- The valence axis: rather pleasant or unpleasant.
- The axis of intensity: explosive, almost uncontrollable emotions (like anger or fear) and emotional states of lower intensity, which can be called “moods” or “states of mind”.
- Learning to manage your emotions, explained by Matthieu Ricard:
An emotion is appropriate when it is adapted to the situation and expressed with an intensity commensurate with the circumstances.
Matthieu Ricard invites us to examine the effects produced by our emotions. In fact, we realize that during the heat of the moment, our perception of others and of the situation does not correspond to reality. According to the Buddhist monk, it is by renewing this experience (by refining our understanding and mastery of the mind), that we are able, little by little, to manage emotions as soon as they arise.
3.5 – Can we free ourselves from negative emotions?
- The methods proposed by Buddhism, explained by Matthieu Ricard:
At first, it is essential to be able to recognize negative emotions and to neutralize them.
To achieve this, Buddhism teaches many methods. None is better than the other. Everyone chooses their method according to the circumstances, their needs, and their abilities.
- Direct and obvious, like training in benevolence to combat malevolence.
- More subtle, like remaining fully aware of emotions without identifying with them.
- Behavioral and cognitive approaches, explained by Christophe André:
Emotions always have a cause: external and linked to biological states or mental representations.
With this in mind, Christophe André puts forth three types of strategy:
- Self-observation: write in a journal the link between life events, their emotional impacts, then the thoughts and behaviors they generate.
- “Experiential” work: each time the emotion occurs, take the time to stop to explore it in full awareness, accept it, observe what it is made of, what types of thought it generates, etc.
- Feeling more positive emotions: the more you feel during the day, in life, positive emotions (affection, admiration, compassion, happiness, well-being, joy, upliftment), the less space there will be for the onset, expansion and flare up of painful, destructive and negative emotions.
3.6 – The myth of emotional apathy, according to Matthieu Ricard:
Some believe that breaking free from emotions leads to an inner void. In reality, they confuse “mental void” with “freedom of the mind”, because the goal is not to eliminate thoughts but to prevent them from enslaving us. Furthermore, by evacuating hatred, resentment, greed, and other disturbing emotions from our mental space, we give way to altruistic love, joy, and inner peace.
“To cultivate benevolence, we must begin by being aware that, fundamentally, we fear suffering and aspire to happiness. This step is particularly important for those who have a negative image of themselves, or who have suffered a lot and feel that they are not made for happiness. They must first learn to be tolerant and kind to themselves.” –Matthieu Ricard, In Search of Wisdom
3.7 – Happiness, joy
- In Christophe André’s opinion: joy, by its contagious, spontaneous, almost animal nature, has considerable virtues for others.
- For Alexandre Jollien: joy seems much simpler, more accessible than happiness.
- And for Matthieu Ricard: joy, “ananda” in Sanskrit, is in a way the radiance of “sukha” (which is, in Buddhism, a state of deep happiness); it fills the present moment with bliss. When it becomes more and more frequent, it forms a continuum which one could call “joie de vivre”.
3.8 – The authors’ advice for the proper use of emotions
- Matthieu Ricard’s advice for deep fulfillment:
- Be aware of negative emotions as they arise.
It’s easier to put out a spark than a forest fire.
- Practice distinguishing the emotions that contribute to our well-being and that of others from those that destroy them.
- Once the harmful consequences of negative emotions are clear, cultivate positive emotions.
- Christophe André’s advice regarding emotions:
- Love all your emotions: they are signals of our needs:
- Positive emotions tell us that our needs are being met or on the way of being met.
- Negative emotions tell us that we are not satisfied.
- Cultivate pleasant emotions.
- Do not be discouraged and accept “relapses”, anger, anxiety, exaggerated sadness, etc.
- Love all your emotions: they are signals of our needs:
- Alexandre Jollien’s advice for letting it pass, practicing, and clearing your mind out:
- Let it pass: do not consider emotion as an adversary.
- Practice daily and sustainably.
- Clear out your mind, rather than amassing skills or knowledge, let’s get rid of what is useless: habits, reflexes, fears, greed, etc.
Chapter 4 – The art of listening
4.1 – The characteristics of true listening
- For Christophe André, listening is a process of humility, where one puts others before oneself.
According to the psychiatrist, there are three fundamental mechanisms in listening:
- Respect for the words of others: do not judge what the other tells us.
- Letting go: not preparing your answer, but only listening sincerely and genuinely.
- The ability to be touched: to be willing to be moved, without control, without desire to control, without any intention.
In fact, when the other person talks to us, they don’t merely want answers. They want to feel presence, fraternity, affection.
- For Matthieu Ricard, to listen well, you have to be genuinely concerned.
The first step in listening should be to show that you are genuinely interested in the other person, that you are giving them full attention.
4.2 – What exactly does “listening” without judgment mean? Matthieu Ricard’s response:
You can judge others in two ways:
It is decreeing, for example, that someone is fundamentally bad, that he does not have the slightest empathy, that he will never stop complaining because it is his way of being and that there is no reason for that to change.
The relative judgment applies only to the current, provisional situation of the person being judged. Even if someone exhibits unpleasant traits and behaviors, we consider the role that their personal development and their environment can play. We are not judging the person per se, but his state of mind at the time and the factors that weighed on his conduct.
4.3 – Listening parasites, according to Alexandre Jollien:
Too often, without listening to the other in-depth, we bring everything back to ourselves, to our story, to our mental categories.
Listening is above all to be silent and to dare to step back a little from this internal radio.
For Alexandre Jollien, lending an attentive, benevolent ear therefore means identifying parasites: fatigue, stress, projections, fear, anger, etc. Basically, it’s about making ourselves internally available.
4.4 – Daring to be silent
- For Alexandre Jollien:
It seems that silence is frightening, that it conjures up emptiness, death, that it awakens ghosts, a lack of something. Yet to get lost in it is to enter a healing fullness.
- For Matthieu Ricard:
In Tibetan Buddhism, it is said that a retreat made in silence is ten times more fruitful than a retreat during which one speaks.
- For Christophe André:
Christophe André explains that when we do a silent retreat:
We understand much better what speech means: the relation to speech, to useless words, to automatic words, to erroneous words, to hasty words. When we come out of silent retreats, we have taken a liking to the real word.
“What you describe, we all do, when we are jostled, pressed, sometimes tired too. People come to see us; they start talking. We imagine in advance how their sentences will end, what they want to tell us, and we will give them answers that may be relevant, but without really listening to them. However, we only did half the job, because when the other person talks to us, he doesn’t just want answers, he wants to feel presence, brotherhood, affection.” – Christophe André, In Search of Wisdom
4.5 – The authors’ advice on listening
- Three immediate practices recommended by Alexandre Jollien:
- The cures of silence.
- Small retreats (to leave the bustle and go deeper).
- The identification of listening parasites (haste, fatigue, prejudice, misunderstandings, the danger of ambiguity, etc.).
- Full availability to others: in concrete terms, phoning a person in difficulty or in solitude, listening to them, supporting them without necessarily wanting to give them advice, just giving them the chance to be exactly what they are.
- Three pieces of advice for good listening from Christophe André:
- We progress much more by listening than by speaking. The proverb says:
You have two ears and a mouth, which means that you should listen twice as much as you speak.
- Always remember that listening is giving. Not just answers, but presence.
- You have to partially empty yourself to listen well. Empty yourself of your fear of not knowing what to say, of not having answers to give, of your certainties, of your weariness.
- Listening with kindness and humility according to Matthieu Ricard:
- Consider listening as a gift to the being in front of you.
- Do not anticipate their words thinking that you already know where they’re coming from.
- Avoid any condescending attitude.
Chapter 5 – The body: burden or idol?
5.1 – The body through medicine, according to Christophe André:
Today, all those who work in the field of psychology have finally understood that the body is not just a tool or a sum of organs. It is indeed a gateway to our mind — a complex, intelligent entity, which must be taken care of by various approaches such as meditation, diet, physical exercise, etc.
5.2 – The body in Buddhism, according to Matthieu Ricard:
The body in Buddhism is described in different ways depending on the level of spiritual teachings and practices.
- Small Vehicle: it is especially perceived as an object of attachment.
- Great Vehicle: it is considered very precious because it allows one to reach enlightenment.
- Adamantine or Vajrayana Vehicle: it is identified with a deity of wisdom, which symbolizes the qualities of enlightenment.
From the point of view of Buddhism, the body of course has an influence on the mind, but as a repository of energies, patterns and trends whose primary origin is in the mind. Ultimately, it is the mind which is the master of the body and of speech.
5.3 – The body-mind link, according to Alexandre Jollien:
In this part, Alexandre Jollien recounts his vision of the body, through his experience of disability. He mentions the body-mind link, the placebo effect which represents the powers of the mind. He says:
‘’If I feel at peace, well surrounded, it seems to me that physical suffering is a little less bitter. It involves working on two levels: taking care of the body and calming the mind.’’
5.4 – The authors’ advice to journey with your body
- The two messages from Christophe André:
- Treat your body as you treat nature. It does not belong exclusively to you, any more than nature does.
- Accept and enjoy aging. See it as a means of preparing you to leave your body, without regret, very slowly, as something that has been temporarily loaned to you.
“Motivation is a bit like the direction you decide to take when you get up in the morning; when you travel: are you going north, south, west? When starting these discussions, which will provide the material for a book, it is useful to spend some time wondering about the meaning we want to give to our interviews. Let us ask ourselves above all if what we want is to help others or serve our personal interests.” – Matthieu Ricard, In Search of Wisdom
- Taking care of your body without idolatry, according to Alexandre Jollien:
The philosopher encourages us to consider our body as:
- A child in our care.
- A house that is loaned to us (we are the happy tenants; we must make sure to maintain it every day).
- For a good use of the body, according to Matthieu Ricard:
- When the body is well: respect it without being excessively attached to it, use it as a support or instrument to progress towards knowledge and inner freedom, to flourish and contribute to the good of others.
- When the body is unwell: instead of sinking into despair, make it an opportunity to transform and grow beyond the obstacle of disease.
Chapter 6 – The origins of suffering
6.1 – Definitions of pain and suffering
- According to Christophe André:
- Pain: the biological, organic, or existential part of suffering.
- Suffering: it designates the impact of pain on our mind, on our vision of the world; its opposite is therefore peace, tranquility, serenity, the possibility of forgetting oneself and enjoying life.
- According to Matthieu Ricard:
- Suffering encompasses all mental states perceived as undesirable. Its starting point is either physical pain or a state of mind (distress, fear, or any other feeling that one would like to see disappear).
- Physical pain is a warning that something is threatening our physical integrity.
6.2 – Dissecting unhappiness: the causes of suffering
Through their experiences and their practice, the authors approach the theme of rejection as a source of suffering.
- Alexandre Jollien talks about the mocking that he has endured daily from a very young age because of his disability.
- Christophe André talks about the suffering of his patients linked to the violence of heartbreak, of rejection.
- Matthieu Ricard describes how to deal with it: those who want to harm us are in the grip of ignorance and stupidity. Therefore, we must have compassion for them. In addition, when they harm others, they mostly harm themselves. He elaborates further:
“To react in this way is not to show weakness but strength and inner freedom. This does not mean that we are constantly letting people walk all over us, but that we react with determination, dignity and compassion, without being destabilized.”
6.3 – Can we get out of ill-being? Matthieu Ricard’s response:
To get out of ill-being, it is essential to look for the causes, to understand what are the acts, words, and thoughts that cause it.
- A distinction must be made between:
- Suffering: it is caused by a cause over which we often have no power (being born with a disability, falling ill, losing a loved one, being caught in a war or being the victim of a natural disaster).
- Ill-being: ill-being is not fundamentally linked to external conditions. It depends on how our mind works.
- Remedies for suffering:
Love and compassion (that for oneself and that for others) are the supreme remedies for the sufferings caused by the ego.
6.4 – For Christophe André: accepting is not resigning oneself
Christophe André explains to us that it is terribly difficult to tell people who have suffered all their life that, in suffering, there is light.
According to him, facing the painful circumstances with courage and serenity does not mean resigning yourself at all. We simply avoid increasing twofold the distress and suffering.
6.5 – Our daily acceptance practices, according to Alexandre Jollien:
Here, Alexandre Jollien encourages to:
- Concentrate your efforts, little by little, rather than wanting to settle once and for all the troubles of your soul.
- Not always associate acceptance with effort or resignation.
- Stop trying to transform others, dictate their behavior, shape their opinions:
“Acceptance proceeds from unconditional love […]. One of the experiences that heals the most is to love the other and to be loved by them without having to account for who we are very deep down.”
6.6 – Persevering after the storm
- Accomplishment and resilience, according to Matthieu Ricard:
- Suffering: a source of accomplishment:
For Matthieu Ricard, when we are faced with great suffering, we sometimes lose courage and fall into despair. But if we can overcome this obstacle, we can make it a source of accomplishment. Thus, suffering is never desirable in itself, but once it is present, we might as well mobilize all our resources to make this suffering a way to transform us.
One can include in resilience the ability to find, in oneself, a place of peace and freedom to which one can return at any time, and in which one can let one’s mind rest, even in the midst of difficult circumstances. Furthermore, resilience is not only an ability that one acquires (or not) when one is confronted with painful situations, it can also be cultivated.
- Staying at war or preparing for peace, according to Christophe André:
When we have escaped suffering or gone through trials, we can:
- Stay at war: that is, prepare to face the next sufferings or hardships that will arise in our lives.
- Prepare for actual post-war peace: that is, savoring appeasement and building a different relationship with our existence.
6.7 – Advice from the authors during times of hardship
- Alexandre Jollien’s three pieces of advice:
- Practice daily: do not wait to be at sea to learn to swim.
- Take action: at the heart of suffering, there is nothing worse than immobility. Never close yourself off. Without others, without family, without friends, we do not advance on the path of acceptance.
- Do not over-react: in the midst of a storm, it’s dangerous to want to change everything. Better to keep calm during the waves and to let the hurricane pass.
- Matthieu Ricard’s advice:
If we perceive the whole world as an enemy, wanting to transform it so that it no longer harms us is an endless task. It is infinitely easier to change our perception of things!
- Christophe André’s messages:
- Rather than afflicting yourself with suffering, ask yourself what can possibly be done locally and around you so that it disappears.
- Stay in touch with the world, in both happiness and unhappiness: suffering cuts us off from the world and deprives us of what we need most.
- Accept what you feel is happening in your body, in your mind: this will help you not to react impulsively but to respond in an appropriate and intelligent manner.
Chapter 7 – Consistency: a question of loyalty
7.1 – Two points raised by Christophe André:
- By gradually making concessions, some people find themselves caught in an irreversible chain that leads them to the opposite of their fundamental moral principles:
As an example, Christophe André tells us here the story of the ordinary policeman Franz Stangl who, little by little, became the head of the Treblinka concentration camp and was considered responsible for the death of 900,000 Jews.
- Lies and pretenses, especially from public figures, pose a very serious problem:
Indeed, humans need reliable and trustworthy models. One of the most powerful tools for personal transformation, in addition to the messages and values that we receive through education, is the value of setting a good example. In psychology, this is called “observational learning”.
7.2 – Two points developed by Matthieu Ricard:
- Being truthful is not necessarily always telling the whole truth, especially if it creates suffering:
Certainly, we must remain consistent with our own ethics. However, it is essential to consider the fortunate or unfortunate consequences that loyalty to one’s principles can have on others.
- The lack of consistency is often linked to the heightened sense of self-importance:
Anyone who absolutely wants to display a flattering or misleading image of himself has trouble admitting his faults and revealing his true self. He tends to deceive when his words and deeds do not rise to the appearance he wants to give.
7.3 – Authors’ advice on consistency
- Living consistency and avoiding harm, according to Christophe André:
- It is more effective to embody your values yourself than to talk about and recommend them.
- The ideals and the concern for consistency must not transform into self-tyranny: our approach must also be accompanied by benevolence towards ourselves, tolerance towards our errors and our imperfections.
- Avoiding tyranny towards yourself and intolerance towards others, according to Matthieu Ricard:
- Do not cling to invariable dogmas. Human situations are always complex, being too rigid can lead to reactions that are at odds with reality and create more suffering than happiness.
- Give priority to benevolence. This considerably simplifies the problem of consistency, since benevolence becomes the only criterion to which our thoughts, words, and actions must respond.
- Trying to live beyond roles, according to Alexandre Jollien:
- Live through your personal life and no longer be in the desire to please and to succeed at all costs.
- Surround yourself with spiritual friends.
- Integrate your contradictions and stop considering them as enemies.
Chapter 8 – Altruism: everyone wins
8.1 – The joy of altruism
- Altruism: a daily act, according to Alexandre Jollien:
“It is much easier to love mankind in the abstract than it is to love one’s next-door neighbor”
For Alexandre Jollien, generosity, charity, the true love of neighbor are exercised in everyday life: knowing how to welcome the next-door neighbor, consoling a child, generously meeting a beggar, and at all times refraining from doing harm.
- Definitions of altruism and compassion, according to Christophe André:
- Altruism: the attention we pay to the needs of others and the actions we take to help them. No need to wait for the person to suffer to do him/her good, it is enough that he/she needs it. This attitude is exercised as much as possible, without any expectation of reciprocity, recognition, or profit.
- Compassion: it consists in being attentive to the suffering of others, in wishing that it decreases and in wanting to remedy it.
8.2 – Altruism, empathy, compassion: three distinct emotional states explained by Matthieu Ricard:
Sometimes we tend to put altruism, compassion, and empathy in the same bag. But behind these words, there are different mental states, which have different repercussions on our behavior and, consequently, on others.
- Altruism, or selfless love, is essentially the intention of doing good for others.
- Compassion is the form that altruism takes when faced with the suffering of others.
- Empathy has two aspects:
- Affective: it is the capacity to enter in emotional resonance with the feelings of someone else, to thus become aware of their situation.
- Cognitive: this consists of putting yourself in the place of the other or imagining what they feel, without feeling the same thing.
8.3 – Extending our capacity for compassion, according to Alexandre Jollien:
- Compassion over time
Alexandre Jollien explains here that a car accident or an acute illness will often awaken our empathy while supporting a loved one over time with extreme kindness seems difficult. Therefore, he urges us to pay attention to the other person every day and especially to those who go unnoticed.
- Endless compassion
Our altruism does not end with the number of those who receive it.
If ten people bask in the sun, and if a thousand others come to bask in the same place, the sun does not need to shine a hundred times more.
This does not mean that we can nourish and care for every being on this planet, but that our intention can extend to all.
He also stresses that compassion requires energy, time (sleep, leisure, family), and physical capacity. Consequently, if you do not take care of yourself, you put yourself in danger and, in the long term, you compromise your capacity for future altruism.
8.4 – How to be benevolent to difficult people
The question that our three authors ask themselves is: “How can I be benevolent when all that I’m faced with is ingratitude, dishonesty, animosity or malice?”
- Two recommendations from Matthieu Ricard:
- Maintain a benevolent attitude: staying calm, courteous, and open to others helps defuse their animosity. If they do not change their attitude, we at least maintain our dignity and inner peace.
- Realize that people are not born with a desire for unspeakable actions: it is not a question of tolerating but of understanding that it is a set of causes and conditions that leads people to terrible behaviors (Ex.: Daesh, Boko Haram):
Compassion, in this case, is the desire to remedy the causes, as a doctor wishes to end an epidemic.
- For Christophe André, you have to be well in order to reach people in difficulty.
- Confrontation: so as not to slip into aggression.
- Compassion: so as not to be manipulated or exploited.
- Evil for evil, does it exist?
This subject opens as a debate between the three authors only for them to eventually agree on the substance:
- Alexandre Jollien refers to the philosophical tradition (in particular, Socrates) to say that:
The evil person is above all a person who suffers, who clearly lacks peace and joy.
- Matthieu Ricard explains that, according to Buddhism, absolute evil does not exist because it is considered that all being, as far as it has gone in horror, always has deep down, a quality called “Buddha-nature”.
- Christophe André nuances by saying that nobody is bad in essence but that one can be malicious deliberately, fundamentally. Therefore, our approach should not be naive: in addition to the compassion that all human beings deserve, sometimes education, enforcement, etc. must also be deployed.
According to Matthieu Ricard, in all cases, benevolence should never be considered as a weakness, a burden, or a sacrifice, but as the best option, even in situations that seem the most inextricable. It is also the best way to preserve our integrity and to cope in the face of adversity.
8.5 – The courage of altruism and non-violence, according to Christophe André:
Christophe André insists that we can very well be at a high level of kindness, patience, and non-violence while being at a high level of strength. Above all, you should not take anything away from your kindness (sometimes seen as a weakness) but rather work on your assertiveness more.
8.6 – The authors’ advice for a more altruistic life
For Alexandre Jollien, letting go of yourself a bit:
- Maintain the ability to let yourself be touched and moved by others: the risk, when you have been through a lot in life, is to become hardened, or even to cut yourself completely off from others.
- Be generous without being overwhelmed by the desire to please.
- Go from the desire to please to pure love, free and without reason, by doing selfless acts.
- Extend the love we have for our loved ones to all of humanity.
For Matthieu Ricard, it is possible to be benevolent with others without conditions:
- Do not be afraid of the practice of unconditional altruism by thinking that it is beyond our reach. Never think that the suffering of others is not your business.
- Cultivate kindness and compassion like any other physical or mental skill.
- Do not blame yourself for not doing what is beyond your strength but blame yourself for looking away when you can act.
- Use your natural ability to be kind to your loved ones as a starting point to extend your benevolence beyond your family and those you love.
For Christophe André, the proper use of benevolence:
- Never forget to be kind to yourself. This facilitates benevolence towards others.
- Observe how calm you are and how happy you are when you are benevolent, gentle, kind, and how, conversely, you suffer when in conflict.
- Give yourself the right to give up when you feel that benevolence is impossible or proves to be ineffective in a given situation.
- In certain appalling situations (family or professional), one will not get out of it through benevolence or love, but through flight, “by pitching the camp and by saving one’s skin”, to be benevolent with other people or in other places.
“But I have learned what I am trying to export from the outside, I must discover it in the heart of the silence. Pouring one’s heart out does not liberate, it is elsewhere that one must find real consolation.” –Alexandre Jollien, In Search of Wisdom
Chapter 9 – The school of simplicity
9.1 – Starkness explained by Christophe André:
The wise man does not seek that of which he has more than you but rather that of which he has less.
So, to be wise, it is very often to go towards that of “less”, towards starkness and detachment…
Our society incites us to buy, to own, to accumulate (goods, knowledge, relationships). Then, it prompts us to throw away, to make room to buy something else. Therefore, it runs counter to starkness. Similarly, in the world of psychotherapy, we are focused on a deficit compensation approach.
Meditative practices, on the other hand, encourage people in the direction of less: less rumination, less thought, less attachment, less desire for control, etc.
9.2 – Detaching oneself and opening to others, according to Alexandre Jollien:
It is essential to root out our attachments and to realize that they deprive us of levity.
On the other hand, detachment begins with very concrete acts, such as clearing out all the superfluous material. For Alexandre Jollien, for a long time, throwing away or abandoning has pertained to death and to fear, hence his temptation to keep everything… Today, he knows that, ultimately, he always has what he needs.
9.3 – Being content with simplicity, for Matthieu Ricard:
Attachment makes life difficult. It is not the objects, the people, or the phenomena themselves that are problematic, but the attachment that we have for them.
Starkness is therefore not a question of wealth or poverty, but of the degree to which we cling to things. Thus, even the richest man, if he does not attach himself to his riches, is not a slave to them and can share them with others.
9.4 – The freedom of non-attachment, explained by Matthieu Ricard:
- Does not mean to love others less: on the contrary, we fully appreciate beings and situations, but without wanting to monopolize them.
- Is not to place all our hopes and fears in external conditions.
- Has a joyous taste for freedom: starkness does not mean putting oneself in a miserable situation; it’s about getting rid of the unnecessary hassles associated with the superfluous (because the more you have, the more problems and suffering you get from those things).
9.5 – Soothing relief, told by Matthieu Ricard:
“Renunciation is, in fact, not a deprivation, but a freedom. At first glance, it does not convey something very pleasant, but imagine that you are walking in the mountains and that your backpack seems too heavy to you. During a rest, you open it and you see that under your road supplies, a prankster has put some stones. The moment you throw out the stones, you do not deprive yourself of anything, you just make your life easier. That is true renunciation. It suffices to distinguish what, in existence, is a source of deep satisfaction and what is only a source of problems.”
Therefore, renouncing does not mean depriving yourself of what brings joy and happiness but ending with what constantly creates countless torments.
9.6 – The authors’ advice for an easier journey
- The three reliefs of Christophe André:
- Material relief: ask yourself, before buying something, for example, if you really need it, if it will make you happier today, tomorrow, in a month, a year.
- “Occupational” relief: the psychiatrist encourages us to do less to live better, to set time for doing nothing, to contemplate, to breathe.
- And finally, mental relief: alleviate your fears (of the future, of your social image, as for your security).
- Alexandre Jollien’s three pieces of advice:
- Free yourself from labels, from all these identifications to which we reduce ourselves.
- Clear out your mind: ask yourself what is essential in your daily life (cleaning, shopping).
- Put order in your lives and adopt a stripped-down lifestyle that promotes and welcomes joy and peace.
- The conclusion on the subject of simplicity by Matthieu Ricard:
For Matthieu Ricard, it is essential to simplify our:
- Thoughts: do not clutter our minds with cogitations, expectations, unnecessary fears and stop ruminating on the past and feverishly anticipating the future.
- Words: speak less, without animosity, with gentleness and, if firmness is necessary, that it is marked with benevolence.
- Actions: do not get caught up in time-consuming activities that bring only a piddling amount of satisfaction.
Chapter 10 – Guilt and forgiveness
10.1 – The intimate and painful feelings, through the psychological lens of Christophe André:
In psychology, we include the phenomena of regret, guilt, and shame in the family of “intimate and painful feelings” in relation to events and acts of the past:
- Guilt is that painful feeling relative to a past act, which has caused someone pain or suffering.
- As for regret, it does not always imply pain or suffering. Among regrets, we can make two types of distinction:
- The “hot regrets”, which occur immediately after having acted, and the “cold regrets”, which we experience afterward, when, suddenly, we become aware of something.
- Action regrets and non-action regrets
10.2 – What to forgive means
- For Christophe André:
Asking for forgiveness does not mean that we are the only culprit, nor that we are diminishing ourselves in relation to the other, it is just acknowledgment of the harm we have caused. Forgiveness:
- Only makes sense if it is not forced.
- Is an intimate and personal decision to free oneself from suffering dissociated from the legal process.
- For Matthieu Ricard:
Forgiveness is not:
- An absolution or an approval.
- To deny resentment, anger, or desire for revenge.
- To minimize the seriousness of the acts committed and to forget what happened.
- And to refrain from taking the necessary measures to prevent the wrongdoing from happening again.
“To forgive is to renounce hatred and resentment and replace them with kindness and compassion. It is also about breaking the cycle of revenge. […] Our enemy is not the one who acts under the influence of hatred, it is hatred itself.”
10.3 – The authors’ advice for risking forgiveness
- A question of training, by Christophe André:
- After each “I shouldn’t have”, ask yourself, “what am I going to do now?” or “what did it teach me?”.
- Consider that the “micro-pardons” to be granted or requested are a form of reparation for all your daily micro-injuries. In addition, the “simple sorrys” to our spouse, to our loved ones, are challenges that teach us to get rid of “who is right, who is wrong?”.
- A few steps to forgiveness, by Alexandre Jollien:
- Consider the one who harms us as a sick person, a wounded person, and wish him/her happiness from the bottom of your heart.
- Banish any resentment. Do not go to bed with a grudge. Each evening, wipe the slate clean.
- Dissociating forgiveness from moral judgment, by Matthieu Ricard:
- Do not make moral judgments on people but on what they have done.
- Have no indulgence for the wrongdoings committed, thwart them by all possible means, but without animosity and by avoiding creating, as much as possible, new sufferings.
- Forgive those who have harmed you. Consider that they are like the victims of an illness and that they suffer or will end up suffering for what they did.
- Remember that forgiveness benefits everyone. It allows victims to find inner peace, and the culprits to bring out the best in them.
Chapter 11 – True Freedom: What can you free yourself from?
11.1 – For Alexandre Jollien: disobeying a capricious ego
To free oneself is to disobey one’s cumbersome ego. For the philosopher, freedom does not consist in acting as one wishes, without constraint, and in doing all the time what one wishes.
11.2 – For Christophe André: freedom is inseparable from responsibility
Freedom must be thought through while reflecting on the freedom of others.
There are three areas of freedom: freedom of thought, speech (private and public) and action. Christophe André explains here why none is trivial, and why rules are needed to avoid the “law of the jungle”, which is the exact opposite of freedom.
11.3 – The proper exercise of freedom
- For Christophe André:
Concerning freedom, four points are, according to him, important:
- The concept of inner balance: that is to say, the understanding and regulation of one’s emotions.
- The awareness of others, of their needs, their weaknesses, their values.
- The sense of freedom can be considerable even when one is subjected to many constraints (during retreats in a monastery for, example).
- The concept of courage: freedom is sometimes to draw from oneself the courage to say certain things that will disturb others.
- For Alexandre Jollien:
Freedom proceeds from this exercise: rooting out the determinism and influences that weigh on our choices, our opinions and daring to revisit them, to question them.
11.4 – The ultimate freedom for Matthieu Ricard: freeing oneself from the causes of suffering
In Buddhism, we speak of two forms of freedom:
- The one that allows us to devote ourselves to the spiritual path:
It consists in getting rid of everything that hinders the progression to enlightenment, in particular, the futile preoccupations and pursuits that distract us.
- The one which frees oneself from the oppression of suffering and its causes:
It pertains to breaking free from mental confusion and our negative emotions. It is therefore to free oneself from the dictatorship of the ego and the usual tendencies forged by our conditioning.
11.5 – For Matthieu Ricard: benevolence as a compass
Exercising our freedom without harming others is tested by freedom of expression. In this case, for the Buddhist monk, the consequences take precedence over the principle of unconditional freedom of expression, disconnected from the effects it can produce.
Certain deviations, such as racist speech, incitement to violence, or Holocaust denial are punishable by law, but it is not possible to legislate on all the intricacies of the exercise of the freedom of expression. It is therefore only on the basis of benevolence that everyone can decide on the proper use of this freedom.
11.6 – The authors’ advice on exercising freedom daily
- The practice of freedom by Alexandre Jollien:
- Learn to root out your disruptive emotions and harmful thoughts so as not to enter their infernal spiral.
- Free yourself from the past: revisit it, examine your history not to find excuses, but to become better.
- For a just freedom, by Matthieu Ricard:
External freedom is the control of our existence, and internal freedom is the control of our mind.
We gain this inner freedom by freeing ourselves from confusion in our minds and mental poisons.
- The four keys to freedom, by Christophe André:
- Always think of freedom with responsibility, so as not to fall into selfishness.
- Freedom needs two regulations:
- Internal: individual responsibility.
- External: rules and laws.
However, even if the law allows me to do certain things, it is not always desirable that I do them. We, therefore, come back to the person, and beyond “what is legal”, we must ask ourselves about “what is moral”.
- Ask yourself if the freedom that is claimed:
- Is intended to achieve personal pleasure, or rather is of the common good.
- Poses problem to others.
- Think of freedom as a common good.
- Ask yourself if the freedom that is claimed:
12. Authors’ daily practices
12.1 – For Alexandre Jollien: use your days as an experimental terrain
- His four essential practices:
- Performing each gesture as if God had created it only for that.
- Letting go (anxieties, fears, emotions, etc.)
- Getting out of binary logic, dualism: The Diamond Sutra reminds him not to decide on anything, and to see that a thing can be both a disaster and an opportunity.
- Seeing that in this world everything is precarious and fragile, in particular thanks to “Ecclesiastes”, a text from the Old Testament, which builds a bridge with Buddhism.
- The formidable obstacles to his practice: worldliness.
- What helps him in his practice: his daily hour of meditation, his friends, his readings.
12.2 – A typical day for Christophe André
Among his daily practices, the author cites:
- A morning time of mindfulness.
- Moments of family life in the morning and in the evening, face to face conversations.
- Joy, good humor, smiles, especially to start the day.
- Small moments of meditation to remember that what he does is not just a livelihood or an obligation, but a choice.
- His activities: writing books, hospital work, conferences.
- The hygiene of digital interactions.
- Presence of others: really paying attention to the people whom he is with.
- Fighting off all anxious tendencies, discouragement, annoyance.
- Times of fluidity, of non-obligation.
- The link to nature, by walking an hour in the woods almost every day.
- A time of prayer;
- An exercise in positive psychology: rethinking three pleasant events of the day, absorbing them physically, connecting them to a feeling of gratitude, and realizing that none of these happy events is due to himself, that there is always someone who made it easier.
Regarding his more global practice, Christophe André tells us that he tries to remember as often as possible that he can die in a year, two years, five years, and that he then tries to live as if he was going to die soon.
Finally, in his efforts, he tells us to try not to seduce, not to over-promise, and not to betray the hopes of others.
“The Desert Fathers used to remember that the more we take care of ourselves, the more we suffer. And the challenge is precisely to take on this paradox: take great care of yourself, respect your own rhythm, while freeing yourself from this little self that makes you crazy.” – Alexandre Jollien, In Search of Wisdom
12.3 – The personal practice of Matthieu Ricard
Buddhism emphasizes repetition and regularity, using the image of water which drips down and eventually fills a large vase. This is why it is advisable to do short but frequent meditation sessions rather than long sessions spaced over time.
As for his own daily practice, Matthieu Ricard says he gets up at 4:30 a.m. every morning. He begins his day with a meditation session until daybreak. Then he takes a simple breakfast in front of his hermitage, contemplating the majestic nature.
He then does another meditation session until noon. After the lunch break, he usually reads Tibetan texts or works one or two hours on an ongoing project. Then, he resumes his practice until nightfall. Days, weeks, months, years succeed one another in this regular discipline.
Book critique of “In Search of Wisdom: A Monk, a Philosopher, a Psychiatrist on What Matters Most” by Christophe André, Alexandre Jollien and Matthieu Ricard
An original concept:
The idea to sit three “great minds” together, exercising different disciplines, and to open a friendly conversation on subjects that fascinate all three is original. It immerses the reader in a rare atmosphere of wisdom and benevolence.
The deep and widely developed subjects, approached from different angles, provide answers, or at least, interesting avenues for reflection on the conduct of our existence. However, the philosophical and theoretical content sometimes makes reading difficult and long. Specific passages require specific amounts of concentration…
By restoring the context, the atmosphere, the decor and the continuity editing of this conversation, the writing and the tone of the book transport the reader: we, too, have the impression of being huddled around the fireside, in the intimacy of the discussions.
Strong Points In Search of Wisdom:
- The wisdom of the tone and the words.
- The originality of In Search of Wisdom: the concept of bringing together three personalities exercising different disciplines but all sharing the same passion on questions of existence.
- The way in which the book is designed brings us into the intimacy of this friendly meeting.
- The personal enrichment that the content of the words provides.
Weak Points In Search of Wisdom:
- Lengthy due to the very theoretical content (despite the life experiences told) and to the very philosophical and spiritual themes.
- In Search of Wisdom contains some very deep reflections that are not always easily accessible.
- Advice full of wisdom but which often seems difficult to apply in everyday reality.
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