The Mind & Life Institute, reports Andrea Miller, explores the intersection between ancient meditative disciplines and modern science.
There 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 humanity.”
The 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.
The 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.
In 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 application.
The 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.
The 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 inception.