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Lions Roar : May 2010
SHAMBHALA SUN MAy 2010 98 discipline off the ground. CCARE’s first conference, in March 2009, invited schol- ars from psychology, neuroscience, phi- losophy, religion, and economics to dis- cuss how each discipline presents its own perspective on the meaning of compas- sion, altruism, and empathy. The aim is to help scholars from diverse disciplines effectively discuss compassion-related topics among themselves and develop findings that more readily complement and integrate with each other—the es- sence of interdisciplinary work. CCARE’s second conference, the Con- ference for the Language of Mental Life, to be held this July in Telluride, Colorado, will consider the way Western psychology talks about the mind and mental events in the light of descriptions in the Pali, San- skrit, and Tibetan Buddhist canons. One of the participants will be Philippe Goldin, a clinical psychologist and neuroscientist who also trained in Buddhist monasteries in Nepal and leads the CCARE research on compassion in medical professionals. Goldin points out that, “There are many Buddhist texts but little research, in the way Western science would use the term. Also, the texts might offer gradations of experiences such as the four brahmaviha- ras [usually rendered as loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equa- nimity], but they are described in words we’re not clear about, even after we trans- late them into English.” As an example, Goldin, who knows both Sanskrit and Ti- betan, mentions the Tibetan word that is generally translated as equanimity, noting that the average person, when told to de- velop equanimity, would likely ask what “equanimity” specifically means. Further- more, a term used in science must be not only precise but demonstrable through observation or experimentation. It can’t be merely descriptive; it must be “opera- tional.” The Telluride conference will start a dialogue about key words that indicate mental states and qualities. The result will be a published lexicon that will help shape how researchers talk about key terms. The crowning event for CCARE this year, Finkelstein says, will be an October state-of-the-field conference at Stanford that will update the cutting edge research on compassion in all the various disci- plines CCARE is interested in. It will be followed by a public event with the Dalai Lama, who has expressed strong interest in keeping abreast of CCARE’s progress in creating usable definitions for compas- sion-related terminology and a method- ology for measuring results. MEASURABLE RESULTS are key because many sectors of our society—schools, cor- porations, and healthcare organizations, to name just a few—demand research-based proof of the efficacy of any training be- fore they will incorporate it in their insti- tutions. And large public institutions will generally only accept training methodolo- gies that have a secular rationale and can be carried out using secular language and methods. Religious devotion and ritual cannot form the basis of a public school program, for example. Philippe Goldin feels this is one of the great contributions CCARE can make. “People are very hun- gry for evidence. The Dalai Lama himself told us to ‘measure, measure, measure.’ If we can show other research institutions and other sectors of society that this work is legitimate and helpful, that will be a big contribution.” Goldin points out that traditionally there haven’t been many objective tests for compassion, but he firmly believes that altruism and compassion can be tested. “We can test resilience, attention, emotion regulation skills, whether people can stay clear under pressure. We can see heart rates, skin conductance, whether the quality of someone’s voice or language changes. We can see whether they’re able to recognize their own emotions in the moment, and modulate those. “It would be good to do a study like that, and it would be good to provide an interpersonal challenge, like someone rub- bing you the wrong way. The Indian sage Atisha, who brought lojong meditation to Tibet, also brought along an obnoxious Bengali cook to teach him patience. Well, let’s give everybody an obnoxious cook and see how cool or not cool they are. That would test compassion.” ♦ 2010 Program Schedule Nyingma Summer Seminar July10-18 Phuntsok Choling, Ward, CO Mahayana Seminar #5 August 20 - 22 Pema Osel Do Ngak Choling, Vershire, VT Dzogchen Seminar #4 August 27 - 29 Pema Osel Do Ngak Choling, Vershire, VT Shedra September Weekends Phuntsok Choling, Ward, CO with Dzigar Kongtrül Rinpoche www.mangalashribhuti.org Mangala Shri Bhuti