2001 – IX

Transformations of Mind, Brain & Emotion

Madison, Wisconsin
May 21 – 22, 2001

This meeting is an outgrowth of earlier dialogues with His Holiness the Dalai Lama that have been coordinated by the Mind & Life Institute over the past 14 years, and is being organized by the Mind & Life Institute in conjunction with the HealthEmotions Research Institute and the Center for Research on Mind-Body Interactions at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

The Dalai Lama listens to chief physicist Andy Roberts, right, explain how a tandem accelerator generates radioactive tracers used for PET scans at the Keck lab. Photo: Jeff Miller

The purpose of the meeting is to present an overview of modern methods for investigating human brain function and to discuss the application of these methods to understand the changes produced by meditation practice. The counsel and collaboration of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in designing new research on the impact of meditation on brain function will be sought and an agenda for future studies of this kind will be outlined.

There is now an unprecedented opportunity to deepen our understanding  of the ways in which contemplative practice produces enduring changes in the brain that are beneficial for our emotional, cognitive and physical well-being. The new methods we will feature in this meeting are non-invasive and thus lend themselves for use in the study of the effects of meditation over time. These methods reveal the inner workings of the human brain with a level of precision previously considered unattainable. Accompanying these technical and  methodological developments is the recognition that:

  • There are many more forms of positive emotion than have historically been part of the subject matter of the bio-behavioral sciences;
  • Optimal health is not simply the absence of disease;
  • The human brain is capable of considerably more plasticity and change than we previously believed possible;
  • Compassion should play a more important role in Western scientific scholarship than it has in the past.

This meeting is part of a series of efforts by the Mind & Life Institute to cultivate these areas of science and to promote an ongoing research collaboration between Buddhism and modern science. The opportunity for well-respected scientists to interact with His Holiness is helping to change the complexion of research in these areas of science. In a remarkable way, His Holiness is helping to catalyze the study of human transformation and attract the next generation of scientists to seriously engage with this topic. Meeting on a university campus with the participation of students and young scientists is part of the ongoing efforts of the Mind & Life Institute to foster this collaboration at many levels.


Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness, the XIVth Dalai Lama of Tibet
Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D., William James Professor and Vilas Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and Director of the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
Paul Ekman, Ph.D., Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the Human Interaction Laboratory at the University of California at San Francisco Medical School
Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., Founder and Director of the Stress Reduction Clinic, University of Massachusetts Medical Center
Michael M. Merzenich, Ph.D., Director of the Coleman Laboratory and Francis Sooy Professor in the Keck Center for Integrative Neurosciences at UCSF
Matthieu Ricard, Ph.D., Author and Buddhist monk at Shechen Monastery in Kathmandu and French interpreter since 1989 for His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Francisco J. Varela, Ph.D., Foundation de France Professor of Cognitive Science and Epistemology at Ecole Polytechnique, Director of Research at the Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in Paris, and Head of the Neurodynamics Unit at LENA (Laboratory of Cognitive Neurosciences and Brain Imaging) at the Salpetrière Hospital, Paris
Antoine Lutz, PhD candidate in cognitive neuroscience at Paris Science University

Antoine Lutz presented on behalf of Francisco Varela, who was unable to attend in person although he was instrumental in the conception and planning of the meeting.


Geshe Thupten Jinpa, Ph.D., President and chief editor for The Classics of Tibet Series produced by the Institute of Tibetan Classics in Montreal, Canada
B. Alan Wallace, Ph.D., Visiting Lecturer, Department of Religious Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara


May 21, 2001: Afternoon Session

The meeting will begin with a tour given by Richard Davidson of the W.M. Keck Laboratory for Functional Brain Imaging and Behavior, a new modern state-of- the- art facility for imaging human brain function. This laboratory includes the major methods for interrogating brain function including magnetic resonance imaging, positron emission tomography and brain electrical activity. The tour will include demonstrations of the use of this instrumentation and will enable His Holiness to see up close the instruments and methods used for investigating human brain function non-invasively.

The session will then move to the Fluno Center and continue with a focused presentation and discussion of the findings obtained with adept subjects. This session will focus on EEG and MEG methods and the studies and results obtained with these methods on the attention strategies of an advanced meditator. Emphasis will be placed on the link between his experience and the concomitant correlates of large-scale functional integration in the brain. Francisco Varela will present this session.

May 22, 2001: Morning Session

The first half hour of this session will continue with a presentation by Francisco Varela of the studies and findings using EEG and MEG methods. We will then move to a presentation by Richard Davidson that will focus on both EEG and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and the studies and results found using these methods. Emphasis will be placed upon the neurobiological substrates of emotion and compassion and distinctions between state and trait  features of affect. We will then have a general discussion of the research that was presented and will seek comments and counsel from His Holiness, and solicit His suggestions for future research designs.

May 22, 2001: Afternoon Session

This session will consist of a presentation and discussion by Paul Ekman on behavioral testing with an adept subject to probe different aspects of the perception and production of emotion. It will then move to a presentation of new research opportunities by Michael Merzenich on the relation between human neural plasticity and meditation practices. The session will conclude with a discussion led by Richard Davidson and Francisco Varela that will focus on the  opportunities afforded by the application of the modern tools and concepts of human integrative neuroscience to the study of meditation and related practices. The notion of fixed emotional and cognitive competencies is challenged by the Buddhist conception of change and human realization.  Practical and theoretical consequences of this challenge for research in the bio-behavioral sciences will be explored with His Holiness. Advice from His Holiness will be sought on both technical and scientific issues related to how best to study these phenomena and which domains are most important to pursue. His Holiness will also be asked to speak to the students and young  scientists about the unique opportunities afforded by this dialogue between science and Buddhism.

Related links:
News at UW-Madison: The Dalai Lama, scientists unite to study meditation