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Lions Roar : May 2010
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2010 49 compassion has been regarded as too fuzzy. the Dalai lama’s universal appeal and his engagement in the mind and life dia- logues have helped bring many skeptical scientists and scholars around to thinking that compassion and altruism are not only worthy but vital areas of study. in offering his donation to CCA- Re, Jinpa says, “his holiness asked for only two things: make sure the science is impeccable, and make sure all the work is uni- versal and secular.” Jinpa developed the compassion-cultivation training proto- col—essentially an eight-week course—that is being used and tested in a pilot program at google and in other contexts. it is one of the core tools that will likely emerge from CCARe’s work and speaks to the “education” aspect of the center’s mandate. the course is taught only by instructors who combine academic un- derstanding and “intimate familiarity with the contem- plative practices associated with cultivating compassion.” As currently structured, the course consists of a two-hour session once a week that in- cludes lecture and discussion; guided group meditation; in- teractive exercises; and what Jinpa refers to as activities to “moisten” the heart, such as poetry or reflecting on inspir- ing stories. the course takes a stepwise approach to devel- oping compassion, beginning with settling and focusing the mind, and proceeding through cul- tivating feelings for loved ones, oneself, others, and, ultimately, all beings. Daily practice suggestions and encouragement are offered throughout, and the final week is dedicated to preparing partici- pants to undertake a daily compassion practice. it is striking how masterfully this curriculum presents traditional Buddhist practic- es in a completely secular way and integrates them with contem- porary western approaches. Birgit Koopman-holm, a doctoral candidate who came to Stanford from germany to study with prominent psychologist Jeanne tsai, has used Jinpa’s protocol in a CCARe study tsai is leading that compares the effects of mindfulness meditation with compassion meditation. Koopman-holm said that preliminary study results indicate that while mindfulness practice does not seem to perceptibly increase compassionate behavior, practices specifically intended to cultivate compassion do so. “we opera- tionalized compassion,” she says, “by first having subjects read a letter from a prisoner serving a life sentence and comment on it.” the letter presented a detailed mix of positive accounts (he was painting and learning to enjoy music) and negative accounts (he talked about his anger and regret). Once the participants had been queried, they were told the study was effectively over, but if they wished to write the prisoner, they could do so. “with their permission, we reviewed these letters, and coded them as to their length, expressions of encouragement, empathetic statements, and various other variables. more of the people who were ran- domly assigned to the compassion class wrote letters, and they were longer and displayed more acceptance, encouragement, and empathy.” like tsai, Koopman-holm specializes in how culture can shape our emotional life. She regards compassion medita- tion as a Buddhist cultural practice, but concludes that deep methods that evolved in one culture may well be ap- plied effectively in other cul- tures. “Our research gives me some hope that these prac- tices could work just as well with people of many differ- ent cultures.” CCARe hAS mORe thAn half a dozen research projects in various stages of completion. in addition to the work at google and the tsai and Zimbardo projects, the research agenda in- cludes a comparison of the neural activity of compassion medi- tation adepts with that of novices; an investigation in the new field of neuroeconomics to determine the effect of charitable giving on its recipients; a clinical trial examining the effects of compassion-cultivation training on the empathetic engagement (bedside manner) of medical students; and a study in mice to try to determine the neural networks in the mammalian brain that underlie social compassion and nurturing. James Doty’s enthusiasm for this work is infectious, and it has clearly infected Joel finkelstein, a soon-to-be neuroscience There has been little focus on the more constructive and positive qualities of the human mind, and very little research into how people can be trained to cultivate those. —thupten jinpa Birgit Koopman-Holm Joel Finkelstein ➢ page 96