1990 – III

Emotions & Health

Dharamsala, India

November 5-9, 1990

Healing Emotions: Conversations with the Dalai Lama on Mindfulness, Emotions, and Health An edited selection of dialogues from this conference has been published as Healing Emotions: Conversations with the Dalai Lama on Mindfulness, Emotions, and Health.

The topic of this meeting is the role of emotional states in physical health. Over the past 2500 years Buddhists have explored this topic through contemplative practices and logical analysis. Their research has been conducted within the context of spiritual disciplines aimed at the release from physical and mental suffering. The principal means for pursuing this end are the identification and dispelling of mental afflictions — such as delusion, hatred and greed — which are regarded as instrumental in producing suffering. Contemplative practices are the traditional vehicle for countering afflictive mind states.

Over the past decade Western scientific attention to the relationship between emotions and health has increased dramatically. A burgeoning body of scientific data has established strong links between the central nervous system and the immune system, long thought to be independent systems in medical science. Psychological states, the evidence shows, affect physical states. Certain emotions and attitudes — such as pessimism, aggression and anxiety — are being identified as detrimental to sustaining good health and to recovery from illness. Others, such as optimism and emotional closeness to others, have been found to be conducive to physical well-being.

Scientific Coordinator

Daniel Goleman, Ph.D., Contributing Writer on Behavioral Science and Health, New York Times


Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness, the XIVth Dalai Lama of Tibet
Daniel Brown, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Psychology, Harvard Medical School
Clifford D. Saron, presenting studies directed by Richard Davidson, Ph.D.
Daniel Goleman, Ph.D., Contributing Writer on Behavioral Science and Health, New York Times
Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., Founder and Director of the Stress Reduction Clinic, University of Massachusetts Medical Center
Francisco J. Varela, Ph.D., Professor of Cognitive Science and Epistemology, Ecole Polytechnique and Institute of Neuroscience, Paris
Lee Yearley, Ph.D., Chairman of the Department of Religious Studies, Stanford University
Sharon Salzberg, Resident Teacher, Insight Meditation Society, Barre, Massachusetts


Geshe Thupten Jinpa
B. Alan Wallace


November 5, 1990

Overview: Emotions and Health
Daniel Goleman, Ph.D.

Presentation: Psychoneuroimmunology

Francisco Varela, Ph.D.
The immune system is the body’s first line of defense against viruses, bacteria, and cancer, keeping us healthy by recognizing these threats and destroying them. Within the past decade, new discoveries of cross-connections between the immune system and the brain have led to a new field, “psychoneuroimmunology,” (“psycho,” mind; “neuro,” brain; ”immunology,” immune system) which studies how the mind, the brain and immune system affect each other. A new view of the immune system sees it as a “mind” in itself, a second great cognitive mechanism that acts as a “body brain.” Capable of learning, the immune system shows enormous adaptability. The immune network acts as a boundary, offering a coherence and common identity to the diverse cells of the body. In marking this boundary, it also defends the body from infection and disease.

Discussion theme:
What is “mind?” Can the body have a “mind of its own,” apart from the brain’s mind? What is the link between emotion and this “body mind”?

November 6, 1990

Philosophical Orientation: Virtues and Vices
Lee Yearley, Ph. D.
The traditional virtues and vices, such as benevolence or envy, are described in most religious traditions, and have been translated into the ideals of modern times. A case in point is William James’ examination of the modern value of saintliness and the need to use both humanistic and scientific methods to understand states of virtue and vice.

Presentation: The Brain and Emotions
Clifford Saron
From the viewpoint of brain activity, emotions can be categorized in several ways. One of the more useful is in terms of broad categories of positive, or “approach” states like happiness and surprise; and negative, or “avoidance” states like sadness, anger, and fear. People tend to favor positive or negative emotions from birth on, as a trait of personality. Each of these basic emotional stances is tied to a distinct underlying pattern of brain activity. These same patterns of brain activity are linked to immune function. The brain patterns typical of positive emotions enhance immune activity, while those for negative emotions change it for the worse.

Discussion theme:
Are the brain patterns associated with positive emotional states cultivated in Buddhist practice? Are there parallels to the notion of emotional styles in Buddhist psychology? What is the function of emotion in Buddhist psychology?

November 7, 1990

Presentation: Emotional States and Health
Daniel Goleman, Ph.D.
A growing body of data ties negative and positive emotional states to wellness or ill health. The negative emotions have a toxic effect on the immune system and on health in general; this has been found true for depression, hostility and anger, and for anxiety, as well as for negative outlooks including pessimism and cynicism, guilt, hopelessness and helplessness. Repression, the denial of negative feeling, is also unhealthy. The adverse effects on health range from raising blood pressure and increasing the risk of heart disease, cancer, and viruses. On the other hand, positive emotions strengthen immune function and bring good health. This has been shown for states of happiness, calm and relaxation, compassion, as well as attitudes such as hope, optimism, trust, and being in control.

Discussion theme:
Is the virtuous life also a healthy one? How do the positive and negative emotions studied in Western psychology compare with the beneficial and ”afflictive” emotions in Buddhist psychology? Is one goal of Dharma practice the minimizing of negative states and maximizing positive ones?

November 8, 1990

Presentation: Stress Disorders and Behavioral Medicine
Daniel Brown, Ph.D.
Over many months or years, negative emotional reactions to continuing stress contribute to psychophysiological disorders–illnesses due to the body’s reactions to that stress. Common examples of such stress-based problems include headache, hypertension, asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, and chronic pain. Each of these problems is worsened by a specific stress reaction: e.g., heightened muscle tension leads to headaches or chronic back pain. Behavioral medicine uses a variety of methods to counter the emotional reactions to stress, including helping people learn to self-regulate the physiological systems that cause their problems. The main techniques used resemble the practice of mindfulness, calming-meditation and insight meditation. The applications of these techniques will be shown in a detailed case example.

Discussion theme:
Commonalities between Buddhism and behavioral medicine in treating stress-based disorders. Have similar health effects due to various emotional states been noted in Buddhist practice or Tibetan medicine? How are they dealt with?

November 9, 1990

Presentation: Emotional Status and Physical Disease
Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D.
There is a role for cultivating beneficial emotions in treating diseases such as cancer, which are less related to stress in origin. The main technique used in this way is based on mindfulness meditation. It is used with medical patients suffering a wide range of illness, from kidney disease and AIDS to diabetes and lung disease. In patients with chronic and serious disease, mindfulness offers a way for patients to develop an awareness that is less prone to being swayed by emotionality. As a medical intervention, it has proven effective in helping alleviate symptoms and facilitate healing. Cultivating calmness and mindfulness helps relieve the suffering of people with chronic disease.

Discussion theme:
Adapting Buddhist practice for medical healing. Are there methods in Tibetan Buddhism for transforming emotion which, like mindfulness, might be adapted for use with medical disorders? How are these relationships between emotions and health understood in Tibetan medicine?