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Lions Roar : March 2012
55 SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2012 E VEN FORTY years ago no one would have put the words “contemplative” and “science” together, let alone orga- nize an international conference on the topic. Yet in April, scientists, academics, and meditators from around the world will gather for the inaugural International Symposia for Contemplative Studies. They’ll share the latest scientific research on the benefits of training the mind through contemplative practice, such as better health, cognitive and emotional regulation, higher performance levels, improved quality of life, social harmony, and other positive results. Since the Enlightenment, science has been militantly distinct from religion, because it studied (and believed in) only what could be perceived by the senses and quantitatively mea- sured. Religion or spirituality was a separate realm of subjective, nonmaterial experience that could not be observed, let alone measured. Diego Hangartner, chief operating officer of the Mind & Life Institute, which is organizing the conference, puts it this way: “Science assumes that reality is what can be observed from a third- person perspective. Contemplatives, on the other hand, look at a phenomenon—whether external or internal—and assume that the reality of the phenomenon is not independent of the conscious mind perceiving it.” In other words, what we know as reality comes into existence in the meeting between first person and third person—between sub- ject and object, mind and matter. It does not exist independently in either. For millennia, the contemplative traditions within the world’s major religions have studied the landscape of inner experience and practiced, in a precise and reproducible way, beneficial techniques to train the mind. Simultaneously, Western science has increased exponentially our understanding of the material world. Now, an increasing number of scientists and contemplatives are collabo- rating in a search for a more complete under- standing of human experience, finding as they do practical ways to benefit society and improve our lives. This groundbreaking dialogue began with an unusual East–West encounter in a tiny Himalayan hill station. Scientists study phenomena. Meditators study experience. And never the twain shall meet. Until a unique series of dialogues called Mind and Life. JILL SUTTIE reports on the emerging field of contemplative science. PASIEKA/SCIENCEPHOTOLIBRARY