True Dialogue

Why the Mind & Life Institute is cosponsoring an event on happiness, free enterprise, and human flourishing with the American Enterprise Institute.

How often have all of us sat around our dinner tables and wondered why people who may not see eye-to-eye cannot talk to each other—whether it’s about politics or religion or culture? We all lament the increasing polarization of our civilization, an era in which it has become more important to have an opinion impervious to change than a habit of openness that invites transformation.

Last year, the Dalai Lama asked Mind and Life if we would join him at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) for a conversation on happiness, free enterprise, and human flourishing. AEI, a conservative think tank, is perhaps not the first, second, or even hundredth place many people in our community might expect to find Mind and Life. But, in fact, that is precisely why we accepted.

Speaking only to a choir, after all, ensures our ideas are never forged in the fires of skepticism or disagreement. A seeker or scholar or scientist, on the other hand, welcomes that fire, not merely as illuminating, but as a means to burn away from his beliefs any meaningless aspects. If Mind and Life is to practice what it preaches, as scientists, seekers, or citizens we should be willing to venture outside our comfort zones; we should be willing to speak to those who might disagree, even mightily.

Mind and Life has always had the confidence of the seeker. For 30 years, the Institute has pioneered the field of contemplative science. In pairing the oldest wisdom traditions with cutting-edge scientific research, contemplative science has uncovered the most groundbreaking—and most holistic—insights into the human mind and condition. These insights have come to be regarded as some of the most important breakthroughs of our time. But it’s important to remember something about our own history: It was not always this way.

We who have labored in the array of rigorous fields contemplative science touches—neuroscience, psychology, medicine, ethics, religion, anthropology—were often on the opposite end of credulity. We were often criticized, dismissed, and devalued. And yet our mission, which itself began with a dialogue, has slowly taken hold. Our work—guided by the Institute’s larger mandate to alleviate suffering, cultivate kindness and compassion, and advance human flourishing—has found ears, minds, and hearts. It has found these not by work done in isolation but by a core value to engage with the world. Indeed, part of the reason Mind and Life accepted AEI’s invitation was because we ourselves are proof that ideas which may at one time represent improbable aspiration can be realized.

Often enough, the power of persuasion is felt not in the argument but in the mind present. Mind and Life believes in showing up, time and again, and articulating with compassion the urgency and the necessity of its field.

On February 20th, we will ask those who attend this event, and those watching the live-stream of it, to also be present. In doing so, we will have fulfilled the noblest aspect of any scholar, scientist, or seeker: to find a crucible and through it inspire AEI and our own community to forge our beliefs into greater insight.

This event may or may not see the ranks in contemplative science grow, but one thing is certain: we will have explained why they have, and why they should continue to.

We thank you for your ongoing support and dedication to the field we are all committed to.



Update 2/19/2014: Watch the livestream on the AEI website, or embedded below: