Google’s Chade-Meng Tan hopes the benefits of meditation will someday be as widely accepted as the benefits of exercise. He thinks that’s the key to world peace, and he has a way to get there.
The secret active ingredient in my formula for world peace turns out to be something simple: meditation. It’s such a simple solution to such an intractable problem, it’s almost absurd. Except it may work. World peace may actually be achievable in this way.
This insight led me to one of my eureka moments: my life’s goal is to make the benefits of meditation accessible to humanity. I’m not trying to bring meditation to the world. I’m not even trying to bring its benefit to the world. All I intend to do is to make its benefit accessible to the world.
I’m confident the transformative power of contemplative practices is so compel-ling that anybody who understands it will find it irresistible. It will be like offering the secrets of health (hygiene, nutrition, exercise, and sleep) to unhealthy people who pre-viously didn’t know them. Once people understand and begin to experience the benefits of health, there’s no going back.
Then, of course, the question becomes how to make the benefits of meditation accessible to humanity. My answer is something I half-jokingly call “Meng’s three easy steps to world peace.”
Step 1: Start with me
I need to become the change I want to see in the world. Toward this end, I came up with an almost measurable goal for myself: by the end of my lifetime I want to create in myself the capacity to be kind to everyone all the time. I want to become like the Kindness Channel, all kindness, all day. It’s an audacious goal, but if I’m audacious enough to try to save the world, I’m audacious enough to try this too.
Step 2: Make meditation a field of science
To become widely accessible, meditation needs to become a field of science, the same way medicine became a field of science. Like meditation, medicine had been practiced for countless generations, but ever since medicine became a field of science in the nineteenth century, everything about medicine has changed. The most important change was access. Medicine became greatly demystified. New tools, equipment, and methodologies became available, and training and certification of service providers greatly improved. A lot more people gained access to good medicine. I want to see the same thing happen with meditation.
Since I am scientifically minded, familiar with meditation, intelligent, and have money, I thought perhaps this is where I can make a contribution. I started by writing an email (more of a mini-manifesto) to Buddhist friends explaining that meditation needs to become scientific, and inviting all to initiate an effort to make meditation training data-driven. The response was underwhelming. Some people didn’t think making meditation scientific was very Zen. Others liked the idea, but were not particularly excited by it.
One of my friends, Tenzin Tethong, forwarded my email to Alan Wallace. Alan replied immediately and told me how excited he was about it, and that he had been work-ing on a very similar effort for six years at the behest of the Dalai Lama. None of my me-ditating friends (many of them men and women of science) were excited by the marriage of meditation and science, but the Dalai Lama was. I knew I was on the right track. I also concluded that given the Dalai Lama’s support, this effort would move forward with or without me. I decided to do nothing more here beyond providing financial support, and focus my personal energy on Step Three.
Step 3: Align 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 and interests of real people. This, I suspect, is the most important of the three steps, and the one where I can make the most impact.
There’s a historical precedent for this. 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 ac-quired at least four important features:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- Everybody knows meditation is good for them.
- Everybody who wants to meditate can learn how.
- Most people can meditate at work, often encouraged by their employers, because it’s good for business.
- 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 relation-ships, 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.
Adapted from Chade-Meng Tan’s blog (www.mengstupiditis.com).