The Mind and Life Francisco J. Varela Research Awards — an important and integral component of Mind and Life’s support of contemplative scientists and scholars — are based on neuroscientist and philosopher Francisco J. Varela’s belief that contemplative training offers modern science novel methods for investigating human experience. In his vision, contemplative training not only provides a new domain for scientific study, but more importantly offers resources for advancing scientific theories and models of consciousness, emotion and cognitive processing.

The Varela Awards fund rigorous examinations of contemplative techniques with the ultimate goal that findings derived from such investigations will provide greater insight into contemplative practices and their application for reducing human suffering and promoting flourishing. Preference is given to interdisciplinary proposals that incorporate first-person contemplative methods (e.g., introspective investigation and reports on subjective experience) into traditional cognitive, behavioral, physiological, clinical, or socio-cultural research.



This grant program encourages the active collaboration of scientists with contemplative scholars/practitioners in all phases of research. Grants of up to $15,000 are awarded annually through a competitive application, review, and selection process. Mind and Life wishes to express our deep thanks to the Hershey Family Foundation, the John Templeton Foundation, and several MLI Sustaining Patrons for supporting this program.

View the full Request for Proposals (RFP)

Varela Award Recipients

**NOTE: There are separate application cycles for attendees of the US and European Summer Research Institutes. For those applying based on attendance of a US Summer Research Institute in Garrison, NY, please use the online application found on this page (link above). For those applying based on attendance of a European Summer Research Institute in Chiemsee, Germany, please visit the Mind and Life Europe website. Applicants may only apply for one Varela Award in a given year.

For any questions about this award, please see the FAQ below, or email

Varela5To be eligible for a Varela Award, the applicant must have attended the Mind and Life Summer Research Institute, in the US or Europe, as a Research Fellow within the last five years (i.e., for 2016 applications, one must have attended a Summer Research Institute in 2012 or later). Applicants must currently be graduate students enrolled in a PhD program, postdocs, or junior faculty up to their third year of appointment.
For those applying based on attendance of a US Summer Research Institute (in Garrison, NY), the application period for the 2016 Varela Awards will be open from September 2–September 30, 2016. Awards will be selected and announced in December 2016.

For those applying based on attendance of a European Summer Research Institute (in Chiemsee, Germany), the application period for the 2016 European Varela Awards will be open from October 28–November 28, 2016. Awards will be selected and announced in February 2017. Please visit the Mind and Life Europe website for more information.

What is included under “contemplative practices”?
The term “contemplative practice” is meant in a broad sense to include a wide range of diverse phenomena such as meditation, yoga, contemplative prayer, tai chi, etc.

Are these awards open to international applicants?
Yes. Mind & Life Awards are not limited to residents of the United States. We encourage worldwide applications.

I have attended both the US and European Summer Research Institutes. Can I apply for both Varela Awards?
No. Applicants may only apply for one Varela Award each year. If you have attended both the US and European Summer Research Institutes in the last 5 years, you must choose which award you would like to apply for.

Would I be eligible if my work is based in the public sector, rather than a university?
Applicants need to be affiliated with a research institution (such as a university), especially in order to obtain IRB/ethics approval. Clinicians, educators, or others not affiliated with such an institution should partner with an eligible applicant who can provide access to research resources.

Can I submit two applications for different projects, or different aspects of the same project?
We do not accept two separate grant proposals from the same applicant, or from different applicants for two aspects of the same project.

I’m currently a research assistant. Do I need to be enrolled in graduate school to be eligible?
In general, yes. Mind & Life’s award programs were established to support investigators who would be able to use the funds to generate research that would then fairly quickly motivate grant proposals by the investigator to larger funding agencies (which require postdoc or faculty positions). You may, however, consider applying once you have notice of admission to a graduate program, even though you have not yet matriculated at the time of application.

Can I submit a proposal if I’m a current awardee?
While it is possible to be funded more than once, applicants must not be currently funded through any Mind & Life research grant. If you have been awarded a Mind & Life research grant in the past, you must submit a final report and reconcile the budget for that grant before applying for a new grant. This policy applies both within and across our research grant programs.

What is included under “research costs”?
Research costs can include participant payment, experimental costs (e.g., MRI scans, lab equipment and supplies), project-related services, training for the PI, travel necessary for research/field work, etc. Grant funds may not be used for salaries or remuneration for the PI(s) or project collaborators. When funds are used to pay outside individuals, they can cover: consultants for statistical analysis; meditation teachers; dedicated lab support such as a research assistants; or services, including participant scheduling, data entry, transcription, etc. Please clearly explain all such costs in the budget section of the application form. Grant funds may not be used for conferences where findings will be presented after the project is complete.

What about indirect costs?
Grant funds may not be used to cover indirect costs. If a grant is awarded, the grantee’s institution must agree to waive all overhead and administrative fees, and further agree that the funds will be used solely for research purposes conducted by the grantee.

My proposal is part of a larger project that already has funding. How should I reflect this in the budget?
The budget you submit should cover the use of funds from this grant only. If you have additional funding sources for your project, please include this information in the relevant application section following the budget. Be specific about how the Varela Award will be used within the larger budget.

Can I apply with a co-investigator?
More than one person may apply for a single grant. All applicants must meet all eligibility criteria for the given award. If one applicant does not meet criteria, that person can be listed as a collaborator but would not receive funds.

If more than one person is applying for a grant (as co-investigators), one of the applicants must fill out a single application form for the whole project, and upload biosketches and letters of recommendation for all co-investigators. Please also supply a cover letter stating that there are co-investigators and why this is a preferred arrangement.

Can I upload Word or Excel files?
All application materials must be in PDF form. Please contact if this presents a problem.

Who receives the grant money?
Grant funds will be sent to the grantee’s institution. Grants cannot be given directly to an individual.

Do I need IRB approval?
Yes. Payment of the award will not be made until confirmation of IRB approval has been received. IRB approval must be in place within six months of the date of notification of the receipt of the grant. (Canadian or European Ethical Review Board approval is also acceptable.)

What if I need more than two years to complete the project?
The length of the grant is two years from the date of the notification of grant acceptance. If more time is required, an application for extension must be submitted to Mind and Life. It will then be sent to the Science Director for approval.

Varela Award Guidelines (PDF)

Varela Agreement Form (PDF)

Varela Profile Form (Word)

Varela Change in Status Form (Word) (PDF)

Varela Progress/Final Report Form (Word) (PDF)