Lojong, or “mind training,” one of the key methods of cultivating compassion in Tibetan Buddhism was the methodology used in a recent study that suggested that compassion meditation can have a positive effect on human response to stress and disease.
The study—carried out by researchers at Emory University in Atlanta and funded partially by the National Institutes of Health—examined the effect of compassion meditation on immune, neuroendocrine, and behavioral responses to stress.
Sixty-one college students took part in the study, and they were randomly divided into two groups. Half of them received six weeks of lojong training and half attended classes on stress management, drug abuse, eating disorders, and other topics related to student health, and also carried on mock debates and role-playing. Each group had twelve hours of classes with homework. The meditators listened to a meditation CD at home, while the controls wrote a self-improvement paper each week.
Though no statistically significant differences were seen between the lojong group and the control group, further study of differences within the lojong group itself showed significant findings. Members of the lojong group spent varying amounts of time practicing, and analysis of the data showed that there was a strong relationship between the amount of time spent doing lojong and reductions in emotional distress and inflammation. It would appear that within the lojong group, those who practiced more benefited when compared with those who practiced less.
Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi, Ph.D., who designed and taught the meditation program used during the study, says that while many studies have focused on meditation practices for calming the mind, “less is known about meditation practices designed specifically to foster compassion.” Charles Raison, MD, clinical director of the Mind-Body Program at Emory, suggests that the study’s findings indicate that physiological pathways may be altered by compassion meditation.