The Science of Meditation
Mind & Life Institute, reports ANDREA MILLER, explores the
intersection between ancient meditative disciplines and modern science.
is no contradiction between science and spirituality because “each
gives us valuable insights into the other,” says His Holiness the Dalai
Lama. “With the ever-growing impact of science on our lives, religion
and spirituality have a greater role to play by reminding us of our
Mind & Life Institute, founded by the Dalai Lama, entrepreneur Adam
Engle, and the late neuroscientist and philosopher Francisco Varela, is
a pioneering nonprofit organization that brings together scientists and
contemplatives for the purpose of understanding the nature of reality,
and ultimately creating a healthier, more balanced society.
first Mind and Life conference was held in 1987 in Dharamsala, India.
It was structured as a five-day dialogue between Buddhists and
specialists in cognitive sciences, and was attended by the Dalai Lama,
six scientists, two interpreters, and a few observers. Since then, Mind
and Life has convened twenty-two conferences, some by invitation only,
others large public events. About three thousand people participated in
the 2005 conference in Washington, D.C., which focused on the scientific
and clinical applications of meditation.
addition to its landmark conferences, Mind and Life has research
initiatives. Notable among them is the Mind and Life Summer Research
Institute (MLSRI), an annual weeklong program held at the Garrison
Institute in Garrison, New York. At once a retreat and a scientific
conference, MLSRI encourages collaboration among behavioral scientists,
neuroscientists, biomedical researchers, and practitioners and scholars
of the contemplative traditions, and features presentations by some of
the most progressive thinkers in those fields. Since 2004, more than
1,000 faculty and participants have attended through competitive
long-term objective of MLSRI is to advance the training of a new
generation of scientists and contemplative scholar–practitioners.
Research fellows participating in the summer conference have the
opportunity to present studies they’ve conducted, and, afterward, may
apply for the Mind and Life Francisco J. Varela Research Awards. So far,
Mind and Life has distributed $1.175 dollars in funding to support
emerging scientists. The research areas of recipients have included
mindful awareness practices for preschool children to improve attention
and emotion regulation; the effects of mind–body interventions in
supportive care for people with cancer; and mindfulness training as both
a way of treating drug addicts and investigating the mechanisms
involved in addiction.
theme of Mind and Life’s 2011 Summer Research Institute, being held at
Garrison from June 12 to 18, is “New Frontiers in the Contemplative
Sciences.” The focus is on unresolved challenges for the advancement of
contemplative neuroscience, contemplative clinical science, and
contemplative studies in light of the progress made since MLSRI’s