The Dalai Lama has provided $150,000 in seed money to help launch the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) at the Stanford University School of Medicine.
His Holiness’s donation represents the largest amount he has given to any single cause. He was soon joined by Chade-Meng Tan, who heads the School of Personal Growth at Google, and high-tech investor Wayne Wu. Each donated one million dollars.
CCARE’s mission is to study the neurology of altruism and compassion, and disseminate the results of that research in ways that will help others.
Jim Doty, a clinical professor of neurosurgery, conceived of the center, along with neurologist William Mobley. Following a dialogue the Dalai Lama held with scientists and Buddhist scholars at Stanford in 2005, Doty began to hold informal meetings—under the name Project Compassion—with Stanford scientists in an effort to inspire rigorous scientific research into neurological activity related to compassion and altruism. Doty hopes the center will spearhead the development of a new field and that “centers of research will eventually emerge at other institutions as well, which may change the way we think about compassion and altruism’s role in human life.”
CCARE held its inaugural conference in March, during which contemplative scholars, philosophers, primatologists, psychologists, and neuroscientists discussed definitions of compassion, empathy, and altruism. CCARE is planning a major conference for next year that will bring linguists and psychologists together with Buddhist scholars conversant in Pali, Sanskrit, and Tibetan. The focus will be on finding better language to connect Western psychology and contemplative experience.
The idea for next year’s conference emerged from discussions between psychologist Paul Ekman and the Dalai Lama. Ekman encountered many terms from the Buddhist tradition describing elements of mind that didn’t correlate with Western psychological terminology; he also had difficulty finding terms in the Buddhist tradition for psychological features commonly described in the West. Ekman has pointed out, for example, that the Buddhist tradition does not seem to have a word for “mood.”
CCARE expects that the lexicon developed at the conference will accelerate interdisciplinary research into contemplative experience by providing a common frame of reference between science and the contemplative tradition. The finished lexicon will be available to the public on the CCARE website.