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Lions Roar : March 2012
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2012 59 research lab at the University of Innsbruck, where he was running experiments that explored the foundations of quantum mechan- ics theory. Zeilinger was influenced by the Dalai Lama to re-think some of his ideas and consider new directions in his experiments. Alan Wallace, who has continued to work as a translator at nearly every Mind and Life dialogue, recalls the Dalai Lama’s exchanges with Arthur Zajonc and Daniel Goleman as particu- larly productive, in large part because the scientists were open to engaging His Holiness. While he feels that some scientists seemed more interested in lecturing the Dalai Lama than joining him in dialogue, he thinks that overall the discussions have been beneficial—and not just for the scientists. “The Dalai Lama was exposed to renowned researchers who informed him and also gave him a sense of humility,” says Wallace. “He learned that another form of inquiry deserved respect.” IT WAS A technological breakthrough that radically transformed the science of contemplation. A breakthrough that changed the way we understand the workings of the brain. That revealed the neurological basis for the ancient art of mind training. It was called functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, and it allowed scientists to observe and measure—in real time—changes in brain activity as subjects experienced different activities, emotions, and mental states. It was a scientific bridge between mind and brain. Using this new technology, neuroscientists discovered that the brain was not immutable after early childhood, as previously believed, but could change structurally and functionally over time in response to environmental stimulation and mental process- ing. The brain was not fixed but plastic. For thousands of years contemplatives had claimed the mind could be trained. Now the theory of neuroplasticity gave it a scientific basis. fMRI technology gave scientists the chance to watch it happening and measure it. When the Dalai Lama attended the eighth Mind and Life dia- logue, in 2000, he heard Richie Davidson of the University of Wisconsin–Madison and other presenters share the latest neuro- science research using fMRI technology, as well as data showing the benefits of decreasing negative emotional states. “I heard the Dalai Lama tell Richie Davidson that he should take these Buddhist meditation methods for handling destructive emo- tions and study them,” remembers Daniel Goleman. His Holiness wanted proof the techniques were useful, and if it was shown they were, to distribute the results widely so that others could benefit.” The Dalai Lama suggested that Davidson study experienced Buddhist monks, using fMRI technology to see what was hap- pening to their brains as they were meditating and producing different mind states. Davidson readily agreed, and the monks were willing to participate because of the clout of the Dalai Lama. Psychologist Paul Ekman, an expert on emotions and facial expressions, was another renowned scientist whose work took a new turn as a result of the 2000 dialogue. He had no previous interest in Buddhism, but soon after meeting the Dalai Lama, Ekman says he felt a strong connection and what he describes as a feeling of déjà vu. In his presentation to the conference, Ekman explained to the Dalai Lama how Western psychology differentiates between emo- tions and moods: emotions are transient and often follow a specific stimulus, whereas moods can last hours and have uncertain ori- gins. This interested the Dalai Lama, says Ekman, because Tibetan 1980s 1990s Adam Engle and Michael Sautman learn of Dalai Lama’s keen interest in meeting with Western scientists, and with Varela conceive of Mind and Life dialogues First Mind and Life dialogue held at Dalai Lama’s residence in Dharamsala, India fMRI offers real-time imagery of brain activity, and EEG scans become more accurate and detailed Mindfulness- Based Stress Reduction featured in Bill Moyers’ PBS special Healing and the Mind Jon Kabat-Zinn founds Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at University of Massachusetts Medical School Mirabai Bush, Charles Halpern, and Robert Lehman found Center for Contemplative Mind in Society 1980s Contemplatives said the mind could be trained. Now the theory of neuro- plasticity gave it a scientific basis.