As Mind and Life has expanded its strategic vision, a primary objective has emerged to demonstrate a fully integrated approach to understanding and improving the human condition. To this end, we have recently committed to the following research initiatives:
Secular Ethics and Compassion
His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said that “in today’s secular world, religion alone is no longer adequate as a basis for ethics…any religion-based answer to the problem of our neglect of inner values can never be universal, and so will be inadequate.” It is in this spirit that Mind and Life has embarked on a new initiative of developing a pedagogy and curriculum in ‘secular ethics’ as part of its mission to promote human flourishing around the globe. As we continue to fund investigations into the therapeutic effects of contemplative practices, we also look to build upon this and investigate how the field of education can apply research at the intersection of evolutionary psychology, moral philosophy, developmental science, and contemplative scholarship.
In particular, we are interested in the nature of compassion as the basis for ethical conduct, and in how we can better nurture compassion in education and other social institutions. This initiative will take a multi-pronged approach, including the development of a survey of existing contemplative practice programs relevant to compassion-training, a critical review of the existing literature on compassion and compassion-training, and funding for the development of more sophisticated methods and measures for investigating qualities such as compassion, kindness, and empathy. These research objectives will be accompanied by an extensive public outreach campaign that will include grassroots organizing for contemplative practice program developers, with the goal that the training of compassion at all levels of society be developmentally-appropriate, systematic, rigorous, and evidence-based.
We have witnessed first-hand the growing demand for rigorously tested and empirically-verified contemplative practices at all levels of education. Because compassion-training can increase empathy and pro-social behavior, and serve as the kernel of a secular moral framework, Mind and Life is committed to investing time and resources into this initiative. However, the promotion of compassion in individuals and society is only as effective as our understanding of the human mind. For a brief description of what inspires our work in Secular Ethics and Compassion, please watch this 15-minute video filmed at MLXXVI, our most recent dialogue with His Holiness, in Mundgod, India.
Mapping the Mind
Just as the mapping of the human genome galvanized research both at the level of basic science and applications, the Mind and Life Mapping the Mind initiative holds great promise to galvanize basic scientific research in the mental domain and generate knowledge that can help alleviate personal and social suffering. In positive terms, it would be the sound foundation for new levels of compassion and human flourishing (for example in education and healthcare) on the basis of a comprehensive and deep understanding of our own nature.
This exciting multi-year undertaking will entail mobilizing the talents of Mind & Life Institute’s growing worldwide network of researchers and contemplative practitioners. More specifically, it will provide a robust platform for contemporary science to critically engage with the inherited wisdom of the contemplative traditions, especially the accumulated insights and knowledge of Buddhist understandings of the mind as it intersects with modern psychology, philosophy of mind, neuroscience, artificial intelligence, anthropology, contemplative studies and other relevant disciplines. Mapping the Mind offers us a major long-term opportunity that can contribute towards the common goal of human knowledge and happiness through a profoundly collaborative effort.
Craving, Desire, and Addiction
Any comprehensive map of the mind will include a detailed representation of those states, traits, and behaviors that lead away from happiness and human flourishing. Although much has been learned about the complex neuroscience of craving, desire and addiction using traditional empirical approaches, an especially productive way forward can be achieved by introducing a first-person introspective methodology. The integration of neurophenomenology and other introspective methods results in an investigatory approach that leverages both modern scientific knowledge and the ancient wisdom of contemplative traditions, weaving them together to yield a better understanding of the human condition and ways of relieving suffering associated with craving and addiction.