For the past 30 years, the Mind & Life Institute has pioneered the field of contemplative science. In pairing the oldest wisdom traditions with cutting-edge scientific research, contemplative science uncovers groundbreaking and holistic insights into the human mind and condition. These insights represent some of the most important breakthroughs of our time. Mind and Life’s work operates in an array of rigorous fields—neuroscience, psychology, education, medicine, ethics, religion, the humanities—and is always guided by the Institute’s larger mandate to alleviate suffering, cultivate kindness and compassion, and advance human flourishing.


Mind and Life emerged in 1987 from a meeting of three visionaries: Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people and a global advocate for compassion; Adam Engle, a lawyer and entrepreneur; and Francisco Varela, a neuroscientist. While the trio understood that science had become the dominant framework for investigating the nature of reality—and the modern source for knowledge that could help improve the lives of humans and the planet—the three regarded this approach as incomplete. Whereas science relies on empiricism, technology, "objective" observation, and analysis, the Dalai Lama, Engle, and Varela were convinced that well-refined contemplative practices and introspective methods could, and should, be used as equal instruments of investigation—instruments that would not only make science itself more humane but also ensure its conclusions were far-reaching. Mind and Life was formed to bridge this divide and advance progress in human well-being.


Since that first Dialogue with the Dalai Lama, Mind and Life has held 26 others that bring together scientists and contemplatives on a wide range of critical subjects: addiction, ecology, ethics, attention, neuroplasticity, destructive emotions, altruism, economics, and more. Additionally, over the past 30 years, Mind and Life’s work has extended beyond the Dialogues. The Institute has become a direct funder of individual research via its grant and scholarship programs. It convenes an annual Summer Research Institute, as well as the field’s marquee biannual conference: the International Symposium for Contemplative Studies. In the process, Mind and Life has become more than just a leader in the field of contemplative science; it has become an incubator for discovery in all the fields this new science touches. The Institute’s impact has been chronicled in numerous best-selling books, including Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain by Sharon Begley; Destructive Emotions by Daniel Goleman; and The Dalai Lama at M.I.T. by Anne Harrington and Arthur Zajonc. Through the support of Mind and Life, researchers have produced dozens of pivotal studies and more than 200 journal articles, chapters, and books; participated in more than 300 public talks; obtained prestigious faculty appointments, fellowships, and directorships; and been awarded more than $15 million in follow-on funding.


Over the next several years, the Institute will undertake its most ambitious phase yet: three global initiatives in the areas of ethics, education, and human development; craving, desire, and addiction; and mapping the mind. "Attempting to cultivate universal, human values rooted in the most rigorous science means thinking globally and multiculturally," says President Arthur Zajonc. "It also means creating a coalition of institutional partners around the world in order to discover from each just how expansive and inclusive those human values are—and how they can be fostered appropriately in, by, and for those cultures."

Toward this end, Mind and Life has established Mind and Life Europe (now operating in Switzerland), and is planning an expansion in Asia and beyond. "Mind and Life has always been a place where people come together," says Zajonc. "This is not about multinationalism in the way one normally might think about it. It’s about supplying the most profound insights of diverse contemplative traditions—along with the science that affirms them—to as many as we can. It’s about creating an inexhaustible well of service."

We invite you to explore this website to learn about Mind and Life’s future at its most pivotal point—and how you can share in its next evolution.


The Mind & Life Institute Timeline - click here

1983 – R. Adam Engle learns of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama‘s interest in modern science and co-founds the Mind and Life dialogues. Meanwhile, Francisco J. Varela meets HHDL in Alpbach, Austria, where they begin a conversation on neuroscience and consciousness.

1984 – Adam approaches Tendzin Choegyal, His Holiness’ youngest brother, and receives authorization from His Holiness’ secretary, Tempa Tsering, to proceed with the organization of a scientific meeting with HHDL.

1985 – Adam is convinced by Francisco to shift the focus of the upcoming meeting from physics to biology and cognitive science. Adam and Francisco meet with Joan Halifax at the Ojai Foundation, where they formally agree to work together to fashion a meeting for the Dalai Lama.

1987first Mind & Life Institute Dialogue with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India. The meeting is structured as a weeklong conversation between Buddhism and the Cognitive Sciences, and includes HHDL, six scientists, two interpreters, and a few observers. After the meeting, Adams asks His Holiness if he would like to do it again. The answer is, “yes”, and the Mind and Life Dialogue series is born.

1989first Mind & Life Institute Dialogue in the United States – Newport Beach, California.

1991 – the Mind & Life Institute is incorporated in the state of California, with R. Adam Engle as President and Chair.

1992 – publication of Gentle Bridges: Conversations with the Dalai Lama on the Sciences of Mind, edited by Jeremy W. Hayward and Francisco J. Varela.

1997 – publication of Sleeping, Dreaming, and Dying: An Exploration of Consciousness with The Dalai Lama, edited by Francisco J. Varela.

1998first Mind & Life Institute Dialogue in Europe – Innsbruck, Austria.

1999 – The Mind & Life Institute moves from California to Colorado. Publication of Consciousness at the Crossroads: Conversations with The Dalai Lama on Brain Science and Buddhism, edited by Zara Houshman, Robert B. Livingston, and B. Alan Wallace.

2001 – death of Francisco J. Varela.

2002 – publication of Visions of Compassion: Western Scientists and Tibetan Buddhists Examine Human Nature, edited by Richard J. Davidson and Anne Harrington.

2003the 11th Mind & Life Institute Dialogue with the Dalai Lama at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – 1,200 audience members attend, including academics, scientists, journalists, Buddhist practitioners, members of the general public, and a smattering of Hollywood celebrities, with a waiting list of 1,600 others. Publication of Healing Emotions: Conversations with the Dalai Lama on Mindfulness, Emotions, and Health, and Destructive Emotions: A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama, both by Daniel Goleman.

2004first Mind & Life Summer Research Institute (MLSRI) in Garrison, New York. The purpose of the annual, six-day residential MLSRI is to advance collaborative research among cognitive and affective neuroscientists, psychologists, and contemplative practitioners and scholars. The first Francisco J. Varela Research Awards of up to $15,000 each are administered to investigators who emphasize empirical examinations of contemplative techniques. Publication of The New Physics and Cosmology: Dialogues with the Dalai Lama, edited by Arthur Zajonc.

2006 – publication of The Dalai Lama at MIT, edited by Anne Harrington and Arthur Zajonc.

2007 – publication of Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain: How a New Science Reveals Our Extraordinary Potential to Transform Ourselves, by Sharon Begley.

2008 – publication of Mind and Life: Discussions with the Dalai Lama on the Nature of Reality, by Pier Luigi Luisi with Zara Houshmand.

2011 – R. Adam Engle steps down as President and Chair, and the Mind & Life Board of Directors confirms the selection of Arthur Zajonc as the new President of the Mind & Life Institute. With funding from the John Templeton Foundation, MLI announces the Contemplative Studies Fellowship, for grant applications that emphasize the role of the humanities or social sciences in deepening our understanding of contemplative practices in all their aspects.

2012 – The Mind & Life Institute moves from Boulder, Colorado to its new headquarters in Hadley, Massachusetts. The first biennial International Symposium for Contemplative Studies is held in Denver, Colorado, with 700 presenters and participants from around the world. Through a partnership with the 1440 Foundation, MLI announces the Mind and Life 1440 Awards, specifically geared towards the investigation of real-world outcomes of contemplative practice. Mind and Life Europe opens its first international office in Zurich, Switzerland, headed by Director of International Operations, Diego Hangartner – its mission is to expand Mind & Life Institute initiatives outside of the United States. Publication of The Mind’s Own Physician: A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama on the Healing Power of Meditation, by Jon Kabat-Zinn and Richard Davidson with Zara Houshmand.

2013 – The 26th Mind & Life Institute Dialogue is held at Drepung Monastery in Mundgod, India, in celebration of the first change in over 600 years in the curriculum for the Tibetan Buddhist Geshe degree – the change in part incorporates scientific literacy into the curriculum. Launch of The Mind & Life Institute’s Visiting Scholars Program and Research Workshops – these programs offer members of the Mind and Life global community an opportunity to pursue contemplative scholarship and research or organize collaborative workshops while interfacing closely with the Mind and Life in-house academic staff. The programs are held in a newly refurbished house donated by Amherst College. First European Symposium for Contemplative Studies to be held in Berlin, Germany, October 10-13.

2014 – The 2nd biennial International Symposium for Contemplative Studies to be held in Boston, Massachusetts, October 30 – November 2.

The Mind & Life Institute is a non-profit tax-exempt organization
incorporated under section 501(c)(3) in the United States.