Article From Tricycle
Since 1987 the Dalai Lama has met biennially with small groups of Western scientists to talk about the nature of mind and reality, and to plan collaborative research between science and Buddhism. These sessions, organized by the Mind and Life Institute, are designed to explore not only what Buddhism and modern science can learn from each other but also what they can learn by working together. Studies sponsored by Mind and Life are beginning to unravel the brain mechanisms underlying contemplative practice, providing scientific validation of the beneficial effects of meditation practice.
Tricycle checked in with the Mind and Life Insitute for an update on these studies. Seven board members (see box below) took a break from a planning session at Princeton University to sit down with Tricycle’s James Shaheen and Joan Duncan Oliver. The conversation ranged from the institute’s recent findings on the demonstrable effect of meditation on brain function to the potential of Buddhism to advance the efforts of modern psychology. As Mind and Life board member Daniel Goleman explains: “His Holiness said, ‘Take the methods of Buddhism and test them rigorously and scientifically. If you validate them, share them widely. If they can help alleviate suffering, they shouldn’t just be for Buddhists—they should be everyone.’”
R. Adam Engle, J.D., M.B.A., chairman and cofounder of the Mind and Life Institute
Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D., director of the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience and the W.M. Keck Laboratory for Functional Brain Imaging and Behavior at the University of Wisconsin, Madison
Daniel Goleman, Ph.D., psychologist and author of such books as the best seller Emotional Intelligence, and two works based on Mind and Life proceedings, Destructive Emotions and Healing Emotions
Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and founder of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health, Care and Society
Matthieu Ricard, Ph.D., cellular biologist and a Tibetan Buddhist monk at Shechen Monastery in Kathmandu
Bennett M. Shapiro, M.D., former executive vice president of Merck Research Laboratories and former chair of the biochemistry department at the University of Washington
B. Alan Wallace, Ph.D., president of the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies and a former Tibetan Buddhist monk
What are the results of the Mind and Life studies so far, and where do you plan to take them from here?
Richard Davidson: Our initial work certainly indicates that meditation changes brain function. One of our hopes now is that a broader range of scientists will be inspired to examine the potential impact of contemplative practice on different behavioral domains. One of our goals is to launch studies that look at the impact of meditation on attention and the brain systems that support it.
Which aspects of attention will you be looking at, and how would you measure them?
Richard Davidson: We’ve been talking with experts who do experiments in which, for example, a person is required to focus on a specific object and ignore distractions. One question is whether training in meditation facilitates one’s capacity to do this, and, if it does, which parts of the brain are being affected.
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