The Mind & Life Institute is a non-profit organization committed to building a scientific understanding of the mind as a way to help reduce suffering and promote human flourishing. To accomplish this, we foster interdisciplinary dialogue between Western science, philosophy, humanities, and contemplative traditions, supporting the integration of first-person inquiry through meditation and other contemplative practices into traditional scientific methodology.
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 the 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 of 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; andThe Dalai Lama at MIT 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.”