Mind and Life XXX: Perception, Concepts, and Self

 
Over the last several decades, the Mind & Life Institute has organized regular dialogues between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and leading scientists and philosophers. The goal of these meetings has been to creatively but critically investigate themes of mutual interest—such as the nature of reality and consciousness, ecology and our global environment, the neural underpinnings of meditation and brain plasticity, and bringing compassion into economics—in the expectation that such cross-cultural dialogue can lead to enrichment of our collective knowledge and even to new insights and lines of research.

For our 30th dialogue, we shared this unique exchange with the larger Tibetan Buddhist monastic community, gathering at Sera Monastery in Bylakuppe, India from December 14-17, 2015. The location of this meeting was chosen to synergize with recent efforts to bring science education into the traditional monastic curriculum, and we were joined by and audience of over 5,000 monastic students.

Mind and Life XXX was co-organized by the Dalai Lama Trust India, and addressed the topics of Perception, Concepts, and Self from Western scientific and Buddhist perspectives. The conference brought together some of the world’s foremost scientists and philosophers with the Dalai Lama and other senior Tibetan scholars for a rich exchange about these topics, which have been central not only in modern cognitive science, but also in classical Indian and Tibetan thought (see insets below).

Perception is the principal mechanism through which we make contact with ourselves and the world around us. Our perceptual mechanisms, however, are neither transparent nor infallible. While perception leads us to believe that we are somehow experiencing the world directly “as it is,” it is actually a complicated set of psychophysiological processes that constructs our experience. Thus, if we are to understand the nature of our knowledge, and the world we experience, we must develop a sound understanding of the nature of perception itself.
We experience the world around us not as a bare sensory array, but as objects with properties, categorized through concepts, labeled through our language. That means that to understand how we engage with the people and objects around us, we must understand the origin, structures and impact of our concepts. To understand how concepts are acquired and formed, much can be learned through understanding the relations of concepts to language, and the mechanisms through which language is acquired, represented and deployed in thought. Inasmuch as our interactions with those around us are determined in part by the ways in which we categorize and label them, this study of cognitive activity has profound moral implications.
The idea that there is no self is central to Buddhist philosophy, but Buddhists also recognize the fact that most of us take the existence of the self—both our own and the selves of others—for granted. In the Buddhist view, this is the core confusion that generates human suffering; the goal of Buddhist practice is to eradicate this view and to transform our psychology to end the reflexive construction of this illusion. At the same time, Buddhists also recognize that while there may be no self, there has to be a conventionally real person, and there is a good deal of debate about the nature of that conventional person and its relationship to more fundamental phenomena. Both Western philosophy and cognitive science are also deeply concerned with the metaphysics of the self, how we construct and represent our identities, whether those constructed identities correspond to any physical entities or processes, and how the self emerges in relation to others. Because of the deep connections between our grasping at this sense of self and our everyday behavior, understanding the nature of self is a matter of great moral import.

Over the week, scientific presentations addressed visual perception (Pawan Sinha) and embodied neuroscience (Cathy Kerr), the psychology of language and thought (Lera Boroditsky), and development of the concept of self in early infancy (Vasu Reddy). Philosophical presentations discussed accounts of perception and its role in knowledge (Thupten Jinpa), the nature of conceptual thought and the role of concepts in our experience (John Dunne), and the varying conceptions of self as well as debates concerning the reality of the self (Professor Geshe Yeshe Thabkhe; Jay Garfield). In thinking about how to best extend this knowledge into the world, we considered possibilities for self-transcendent attributes such as altruism and compassion (Matthieu Ricard) and what modern science knows about cultivating these states (Richard Davidson)._OHH2242 resize

The event featured additional presentations discussing the challenges and opportunities of the exchange of ideas between Buddhism and Western culture (Geshes Lhakdor, Lobsang Tenzin Negi, and Dadul; Yangsi Rinpoche), and overviews from three leading monastic science education programs: Science Meets Dharma, Science for Monks, and the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative (Werner Nater; Bryce Johnson; Carol Worthman). To provide the monastic audience with basic information on neuroscience and Western approaches to studying the mind, we also offered an introductory lecture in this domain (Wendy Hasenkamp).

Finally, we were very pleased to be able to host our first dialogue among more junior members within Western scientific and Buddhist scholarly traditions. To this end, on the final evening of the event, neuroscientists Christy Wilson-Mendenhall and Dave Vago joined with monastic scholars Khenpo Sonam Tsweang, Thabkhe Lo, and Tenzin Lhadron to discuss self and self-concepts from these two perspectives. We are hopeful that this will be the first of many such conversations among younger members of our communities, and that the ongoing dialogue will thereby continue long into the future.
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The Dalai Lama contributed his viewpoints during many of these presentations, and closed the meeting with the following words:

MLXXX-MR312 resizedIn the beginning these dialogues took place at my wish. But when I saw what a benefit it could be for the monks, I thought we should try to hold meetings in the monastic institutions where thousands are studying. I saw an opportunity for the extension of knowledge. 

We face many problems, many of them man-made. It is our responsibility to solve them. We need to use our human intelligence to do this. … We are talking about coming to see things differently. No one seeks out suffering; everyone just wants to be happy. But out of short-sightedness we hatch plans that bring us trouble. We need to find human solutions. We need to consider the needs of coming generations. … Our real responsibility is to find a new approach, a more holistic view so the generation of the 21st century will have the opportunity to make this a happier, more peaceful world.

Videos of all presentations with the Dalai Lama can be found here, and the full program brochure is here.

We extend our deep gratitude to the Dalai Lama Trust India, the Hershey Family Foundation, and the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives for their support of this event, and to all the participants for their important contributions. It is our wish that these conversations will continue to advance both the project of scientific education in the monastic universities, as well as the developing dialogue between the Tibetan and Western academic communities in the years to come.

Mind & Life Institute Names New President

Susan Bauer-Wu, End-of-life Care Specialist, Healthcare Advocate, and Leader in Contemplative Studies in Higher Education Joins Organization Dedicated to Building New Academic Field

(Hadley, MA) November 3, 2015 – The Mind and Life Board of Directors confirmed the selection of Susan Bauer-Wu, PhD, RN, FAAN as the new president of the Mind & Life Institute (MLI). Bauer-Wu, will formally take up the appointment December 1, 2015, succeeding interim president and board member Carolyn Jacobs, PhD, and former president Arthur Zajonc, PhD, who served the Institute since 2011.

Co-founded by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, together with contemplative neuroscientist Francisco Varela and entrepreneur Adam Engle, MLI was founded nearly 30 years ago to bridge the fields of science with the insights of humanities and contemplative traditions.
Bauer-Wu will lead the organization known for convening top scientists and scholars, along with contemplative and humanities scholars, as a way to more fully study, research and understand the science of the mind. MLI has successfully helped to develop and build the field of contemplative studies through funding more than 130 young scholars researching this area.

“I am deeply honored to serve as the next president of this remarkable organization,” said Bauer-Wu. “Mind and Life is a catalyst for profound good in the world through its unique orientation of bridging the sciences, humanities and wisdom traditions with practical issues that matter. I look forward to partnering with the wider community on this important work together,” she added.

In welcoming the new president, the Mind and Life board chair Thupten Jinpa added, “My colleagues on the board and I are delighted to welcome Professor Susan Bauer-Wu as the new president of the Mind and Life Institute. With her outstanding credentials as a research scientist, her foundation in nursing and her leadership role in the Compassionate Care Initiative, Professor Bauer-Wu brings a rare combination of intellect, heart, and social awareness that is in tune with the vision of the Mind and Life Institute. With her appointment, Mind and Life has found its new leader from within its own fellowship community, which is a source of particular joy. We look forward with enthusiasm to working with Professor Bauer-Wu to further the vision and work of the Mind and Life Institute and its community of scientists, scholars, and contemplatives.”

Professor Bauer-Wu was chosen to lead the Hadley-based organization as she has dedicated her own career to the same mission of MLI, alleviating suffering and promoting well-being. With a foundation as a registered nurse caring for individuals with cancer and mental illness as well as those facing the end of life, she went on to a productive academic career studying and applying contemplative practices in health care and higher education. She comes to MLI most recently from the University of Virginia (UVa) where she was the director of the Compassionate Care Initiative and the Tussi and John Kluge Professor in Contemplative End-of-Life Care at the UVa School of Nursing and the UVa Department of Religious Studies. Bauer-Wu completed doctoral studies in psychoneuroimmunology, followed by post-doctoral training in psycho-oncology and behavioral medicine.

Her first full-time faculty appointment was at the University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMass) where she collaborated with the UMass Center for Mindfulness, integrating her personal meditation practice and professional work as a researcher and teacher of mindfulness-based interventions. She then went on to Harvard Medical School and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute where she led a robust research center that focused on enhancing cancer patients’ quality of life and quality of clinical care. Later, Bauer-Wu was at Emory University as an associate professor of nursing and a Georgia Cancer Coalition Distinguished Scholar. There she co-created the Emory Collaborative for Contemplative Studies and contributed to the teaching of Tibetan monastics in the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative.

Bauer-Wu has a long history connected to MLI as a Fellow, a Varela Grant reviewer, a contributor to the Summer Research Institute, a presenter at both International Symposia of Contemplative Studies, and a member of the Research Advisory Council. In addition to her many scholarly publications, Bauer-Wu is the author of a book for the lay public, Leaves Falling Gently: Living Fully with Serious & Life-Limiting Illness through Mindfulness, Compassion & Connectedness.

About the Mind & Life Institute
The Mind & Life Institute is committed to building a scientific understanding of the mind and its potential as a way to help reduce suffering and to promote human flourishing. The institute aims to foster an interdisciplinary dialogue between contemporary science, philosophy, humanities, and contemplative traditions and promotes an integration of first-person inquiry through meditation and other contemplative practices into traditional scientific methodology. This approach is designed to facilitate the investigation of an individual’s subjective experience in a rigorous, scientific way. For more information, visit mindandlife.org.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama Receives 2015 Liberty Medal

Cash Award Dedicated to The Mind & Life Institute to Bridge Scientific Research of the Mind with Contemplative Traditions

(Hadley, MA) October 26th – The 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet was honored at the National Constitution Center on Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia today, receiving the 2015 Liberty Medal in recognition of his advocacy for human rights worldwide. The Liberty Medal established in 1988, annually honors men and women of courage and conviction who strive to secure the blessings of liberty to people around the globe. The Dalai Lama donated the gift of $100,000 that comes with the award to the Mind & Life Institute for its ongoing work in exploring a scientific understanding of the human mind and its potential, and in building the field of contemplative studies.

“It is a tremendous honor and privilege to receive the Liberty Medal at the National Constitution Center in the historic city of Philadelphia,” said His Holiness. “I am delighted as a recipient to be in the company of so many other inspirational leaders. I have made it my life’s work to spread the message of kindness and compassion and I can think of no better place to be recognized than in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection.”

Following a video greeting from former President George W. Bush, actor, activist, and philanthropist Richard Gere spoke on behalf of the Dalai Lama’s achievements and presented a video tribute to His Holiness. Additional participants in the Liberty Medal Ceremony included neuroscientist Richard Davidson, board member of the Mind and Life Institute, Carolyn Jacobs, interim president of the Mind and Life Institute, Thupten Jinpa, the principal English translator to the Dalai Lama and board Chair of the Mind & Life Institute, Mayor Michael A. Nutter, Mayor of Philadelphia, Jeffrey Rosen, president and CEO of the National Constitution Center, and the Tibetan Children’s Choir.

“We are very honored to be able to receive this prestigious award on behalf of His Holiness,” said Thupten Jinpa, Mind and Life board Chair. National Constitution Center president and CEO Jeffrey Rosen added, “In his advocacy for Tibetans and for human rights worldwide, the Dalai Lama has always emphasized the ideals of freedom, dialogue, and tolerance. For this reason he embodies the spirit of the Liberty Medal, which aims to honor men and women who strive to secure such blessings of liberty to people around the globe.”

About the Dalai Lama
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is a Buddhist monk and the spiritual leader of Tibet. He was born in northeastern Tibet and at the age of two was recognized as the reincarnation of the previous 13th Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso. He began his monastic education at age six, and at age 23, passed his final examination with honors, receiving the highest-level degree, equivalent to a doctorate of Buddhist philosophy. He was called to assume full political power in 1950. He presented a draft democratic constitution for Tibet in 1963, which was followed by reforms resulting in a charter enshrining freedom of speech, belief, assembly and movement.

He is an advocate for greater global equality and the equal rights of all people to peace, happiness, freedom, equality and dignity. In his work, His Holiness has consistently promoted dialogue in seeking solutions to problems, and has criticized censorship for its role in preventing the progression of ideas. He has advocated for and participated in the idea of interfaith dialogue and tolerance, pointing out that all major religions convey the same message of love, compassion, forgiveness, and tolerance.

About the Mind & Life Institute
The Mind & Life Institute is committed to building a scientific understanding of the mind as a way to help reduce suffering and to promote human flourishing. They do this by fostering interdisciplinary dialogue between western science, philosophy, humanities, and contemplative traditions and by supporting the integration of first-person inquiry through meditation and other contemplative practices into traditional scientific methodology. This approach is designed to facilitate the investigation of an individual’s subjective experience in a rigorous, scientific way. For more information, visit mindandlife.org.

About the Liberty Medal
The Liberty Medal was established in 1988 to commemorate the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution. Given annually, the medal honors men and women of courage and conviction who strive to secure the blessings of liberty to people around the globe. Six recipients of the Medal subsequently have won the Nobel Peace Prize.

About the National Constitution Center
The National Constitution Center in Philadelphia inspires active citizenship as the place where people across America and around the world can come together to learn about, debate, and celebrate the greatest vision of human freedom in history, the U.S. Constitution. They serve as America’s leading platform for constitutional education and debate, fulfilling the Congressional charter “to disseminate information about the U.S. Constitution on a non-partisan basis.” For more information, constitutioncenter.org.

Academy for Contemplative and Ethical Leadership

Mind and Life is pleased to have launched the inaugural Academy for Contemplative and Ethical Leadership, held in Stowe, Vermont, from Aug. 23-29, 2015, which engaged leaders from academia, non-profit, and for-profit sectors of society. The 115 participants came together to learn, share, and explore the question: “What kind of leadership can meet the unprecedented challenges of our time?”

ACEL tapped into a hunger for conversation, mutual learning, and development around what leadership might be like if: 1) We were responsive to those who suffer most; 2) We moved the spotlight from the individual to the collective ‘we’; and 3) We sought to better understand contemplative practice as part of overall leadership?

Angel Acosta, Program Director at College for Every Student, shares some insight from his experience at ACEL and some of the ways he uses contemplative leadership in his own work.

 

 

Can mindfulness help patients stay in treatment?

MLI Fellow Willoughby Britton is one of the principal investigators who will research this question as part of a five-year study, funded by a new $4.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. A number of other researchers from the MLI community will be co-investigators, including: Cathy Kerr, Jared Lindahl, Sara Lazar, Gaelle Desbordes, Dave Vago, Zev Schuman-Olivier, Liz Hoge, Jud Brewer, and more.

The study will proceed in two phases, centered at Brown University where Britton is an assistant professor in Psychiatry and Human Behavior at the Alpert Medical School. The first phase involves a systematic review of data from dozens of previous studies to see if mindfulness interventions can influence patients’ self-regulation related to medical regimen adherence. Importantly, such an analysis will combine data from over 2,000 participants, and will thus have enough statistical power to show whether interventions worked consistently or not. The second phase will involve four randomized controlled trials (at Brown, Harvard University, and University of Massachusetts – Worcester) to assess the impact of mindfulness interventions on measures of medically recommended lifestyle changes, including treatments for reducing blood pressure and dietary changes. Click here for more information.

Dalai Lama Cancels U.S. Tour, Including Address at UMass Amherst

AMHERST, MASS. — Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, has canceled the remainder of his U.S. tour, including a public appearance at the Mullins Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst on Oct. 25 as well as private visits to Amherst and Smith colleges.

The Dalai Lama’s office issued this statement:

“His Holiness the Dalai Lama arrived in the United States earlier this week for a medical evaluation. Upon completion of the evaluation, the doctors have advised that His Holiness take complete rest. As a result, His Holiness will be returning to Dharamsala next week and will not be able to visit the United States next month. We deeply regret cancellation of the visit and apologize to everyone who have worked so hard in organizing the visit as well as to the public who have been looking forward to the visit. We thank everyone for their support and understanding and would like to consider rescheduling the visit in the future.”

For those who bought tickets to the Mullins Center appearance, refunds will be available at the original point of purchase. Customers who purchased tickets through Ticketmaster online or over the phone will be refunded automatically within a week of cancellation. If tickets were purchased at the Mullins Center box office, the original ticket and form of payment must be presented. Refunds for tickets purchased at the box office will be available starting Tuesday, Sept. 29at 10 a.m.

For information about ticket refunds contact the Mullins Center Box Office at 413-545-3038.

The Dalai Lama’s three-day visit to the Pioneer Valley was being hosted by the Hadley-based Mind & Life Institute. For more information about the institute, contact Mary Jo K. Viederman at mj@mindandlife.org.

UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain Summit

The summit, “Perspectives on Mindfulness: The Complex Role of Meditation Research” this past May was organized by MLI Fellows Cliff Saron, Cathy Kerr, David Meyer, and Evan Thompson. The following lectures and discussions can be watched below:

2015 UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain Research Summit – Opening
Evan Thompson, PhD – Context Matters: Steps to an Embodied Cognitive Science of Mindfulness
Robert Sharf, PhD – The “Work” of Religion and Its Role in the Assessment of Mindfulness Practices
John Dunne, PhD – Understanding Mindfulness: Heuristic Accounts
Alan Klima, PhD – How to Formulate a Spirituality Reuptake Inhibitor
Discussant Responses to Morning Talks: David Meyer, PhD, Even Ekman, PhD & Helen Weng, PhD
Drs. Jen Pokorny and Alex Norman – Network Analysis of Worldview Changes During a Meditation Retreat
Catherine Kerr, PhD – Using Qualitative Methods to Mindfulness Studies to Contextualize Brain Data
Melissa Rosenkranz, PhD – After Active Controls in Meditation Studies: Where’s the Beef?
Judson Brewer, MD, PhD – Past and Future Meet Present: The Center for Mindfulness’s Research Priorities
Discussant Responses to Afternoon talks: Helen Weng, PhD, Eve Ekman, PhD and David Meyer, PhD
Closing

Street Loving-Kindness

MLI Fellow Sharon Salzberg’s inspiring new video demonstrates how to bring loving-kindness to the streets by offering wishes of goodwill and happiness to all.

 

 

 

Call to Care Summer Intensive

 

In 2013, Mind and Life launched its educational initiative, entitled Call to Care, which offers educators and students comprehensive training to foster their social, emotional, and ethical development. The program focuses specifically on the cultivation of compassion through training in three integrated modes of care: receiving care, cultivating deep self-care, and extending care. Call to Care focuses first on educators’ professional development and places additional focus on fostering safe, trusting relationships and school communities.

MLI began piloting the Call to Care program in partnership with the Smith College Campus School. Over the last two years, MLI has since partnered with and trained educators from 25 public and private schools in the northeast and midwest, as well as in countries including Norway, Israel, Bhutan, and Vietnam.C2C Model

This past July, the Call to Care team welcomed a new cohort of nearly 20 schools from across the country for their Summer Intensive. Participants included teachers and administrators from a diverse range of school community contexts, spanning all grade levels, types of schools, and geographic settings.

Educators have had a strong voice in the co-creation of Call to Care all along, and this year’s Summer Intensive was no different. Together we explored foundational aspects of the Call to Care framework and its practical application in our lives. We celebrated our community through pop up choirs, group dialogues, embodied experiences, and participant led sessions. In addition, teams of educators who completed the year-long professional development program returned for a workshop on classroom implementation. This learning community re-connected with each other and the core principles of the framework through raucous conversation, storytelling, imaginative exploration, and mindful walking exercises. The Summer Intensive experience culminated in expressions of gratitude, and participants left feeling energized for the year ahead.

The next phase of the Call to Care professional development portion consists of an online Care Course in which participants will delve deeply into the core principles of the framework. Throughout the next school year, both cohorts will continue to deepen their understanding of the Call to Care framework through the Care Course, online coaching sessions, and dialogues on our edublogs page. Through participant surveys and interviews, we will continue to gather exploratory information to help us gauge the potential impact of Call to Care, so that, in the coming years, we can continue to reach teachers and students across the country.

Click here for more information about Call to Care.

Tickets for Public Address by Dalai Lama at UMass Amherst Go on Sale Wednesday, September 16

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

AMHERST, MA. (SEPTEMBER 11, 2015) — Tickets will go on sale Wednesday, Sept. 16 for a public address by Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, at the University of Massachusetts Amherst on Sunday, Oct. 25.

The address, hosted by UMass Amherst and the Mind & Life Institute of Hadley, will be held at the Mullins Center starting at 1 p.m., with welcoming remarks made by UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy. The address will be followed by a conversation that includes Daniel Goleman, best‐selling author and board member of Mind and Life, and representatives from UMass Amherst.

Tickets will be available beginning at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the Mullins Center Box Office and all Ticketmaster outlets. Student tickets ($10) will be available only at the Mullins Center Box Office to UMass Amherst students as well as students from Amherst, Smith, Mount Holyoke and Hampshire colleges by showing a student ID. Tickets for the general public ($32) can be purchased at the box office and through Ticketmaster; additional fees may apply.

The Dalai Lama’s public address, titled “A Force for Good,” is part of a range of events he will hold in the region focusing on education, secular ethics and, specifically, an approach to incorporating care and compassion into all levels of education worldwide. In collaboration with the Mind & Life Institute, Amherst and Smith colleges will host panel discussions and dialogues with the Dalai Lama for their student, staff and alumni communities Oct. 23 and 24. The only event open to the general public will be the UMass address Oct. 25. Group sales will be available.

The local events will focus on a global framework for education that the Dalai Lama has been working on with the Mind & Life Institute, the non­‐profit organization he co‐founded in 1987, to more fully understand the connection between science and contemplative traditions. This visit coincides with the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday year.

Mullins Center Box Office: (413) 545-3038

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