Google’s Chade-Meng Tan on Aligning Meditation with Real Life

“For the benefits of meditation to become widely accessible, it needs to become ‘real.’ It needs to align with the lives of real people.”

Chade-Meng Tan
13 August 2009
We are all buddhas
Photo by Kevin Bluer

If we can accept exercise and its benefits as parts of our everyday experience, why can’t we do the same with meditation? That’s part of Meng’s mission, or, as he calls it, his “peace plan.”

In 1927, a group of scientists started the Harvard Fatigue Laboratory to study exercise. It must have been hard for them to embark on what many at the time considered a frivolous pursuit, but they did it anyway. Today, with the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to see that their pioneering work in creating the field of exercise physiology has changed the world.

Today, thanks to the contribution of those pioneers and others, exercise has acquired at least four important features:

  1. Everybody knows that exercise is good for them. There is no more debate. Even those who don’t work out know the benefits of exercise.
  2. Everybody who wants to exercise can learn. The information is widely available, trainers are readily accessible, and most people probably have friends who could show them what to do.
  3. Many people can exercise at or near their work, often encouraged by their employers. Companies understand that healthy and physically fit workers are good for business.
  4. Exercise is so taken for granted today that when you tell your friends you’re going to the gym, nobody looks at you funny. In fact, it is now the reverse. If you were to argue against the benefits of exercise, people would look at you funny.

In other words, exercise is now perfectly aligned with the modern lives of real people. It has become fully accessible, and humanity benefits from it. I want to do the same for meditation. I want to create a world where meditation is treated like exercise for the mind:

  1. Everybody knows meditation is good for them.
  2. Everybody who wants to meditate can learn how.
  3. Most people can meditate at work, often encouraged by their employers, because it’s good for business.
  4. Meditation is taken for granted. Everybody thinks, “Of course you should meditate. Duh.”

Once again, we return to the how question. How do I create a world where meditation is taken for granted like exercise? After months of thinking and false starts, I found my answer when I read Emotional Intelligence, by Daniel Goleman.

Many people have a rough idea of what emotional intelligence means. And even without fully understanding it, they know or suspect that it would help them fulfill goals such as becoming more effective at work, getting promotions, earning more money, working more effectively with other people, being admired, having fulfilling relationships, and so on. In other words, EI aligns perfectly with the needs and desires of modern people.

Emotional intelligence has two more important features. First, it fosters greater inner happiness and increased empathy and compassion, precisely what I want to achieve with my plan for world peace. Second, a good way (and I suspect the only way) to truly develop EI is with contemplative practices, starting with mindfulness meditation.


The way to create world peace, then, is to create a mindfulness-based emotional intelligence curriculum, which is what led eventually to the Search Inside Yourself curriculum, with the collaboration and support of many people inside and outside of Google. What started in 2003 as an impossible dream to create world peace had become an actionable plan by the end of 2007. My life is very strange.