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Lions Roar : September 2005
3 8 SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2005 developed a close relationship with Sir Karl Popper, the most prominent philosopher of science. He learned from Popper’s teachings how the logic of science relied on abstraction, usu- ally in mathematical form, and instrumentation (micro- scopes, telescopes, etc.). By contrast, the logic of Buddhism relied on natural language and examples drawn from unmediated personal experience. Not all of the Dalai Lama’s interactions with science were so positive. In 1979, while Varela was wrestling with the crowd at Naropa, the Dalai Lama faced a hostile clutch of scientists at a conference in Russia, where one of them felt he was pos- tulating the existence of a soul. If this dialogue was going to get off the ground, someone clearly had to draw up better terms of engagement. For his part, Varela was determined not to repeat what had occurred at the Naropa meeting, so he set down some guide- lines for any future meeting about Buddhism and science: par- ticipants must not only be knowledgeable, they must have something to contribute and be open to dialogue. It would be a few more years, but he would get the chance to organize the kind of meeting he envisioned, and the Dalai Lama would be the one to make the difference. In 1983, now back in Chile, Varela traveled to a conference on science and spirituality in Austria, where he ended up sitting next to the Dalai Lama, who peppered him with questions about the brain. They were kin- dred spirits—a meditator who had come to science and a sci- entist who had come to meditation. They vowed to talk again. In 1985, Varela heard from his friend Joan Halifax of a plan hatched by businessman and Buddhist Adam Engle to hold a dialogue between the Dalai Lama and scientists about the shared ground between Buddhism and modern physics. Varela persuaded Engle that brain science would be a better place to start and they formed a partnership that led to the first Mind and Life meeting, “Dialogues between Buddhism and Cognitive Science,” held in Dharamsala, India, in October 1987. Varela was the scientific coordinator for the meeting, and he developed a template that called for a small, committed group of participants, each of whom would make a presentation on a different aspect of a topic area. Discussion would be facili- tated by the coordinator and the Dalai Lama would be an active participant throughout. This has been the format, with minor variation, for all twelve of the Mind and Life dialogues that have been held to date. SEVERAL YEARS AFTER the first Mind and Life meeting, Varela found himself tromping around the mountains and caves above Dharamsala. He was there in an effort sanctioned by the Dalai Lama to use sophisticated instruments to measure what was going on when yogis meditated. His partner in that effort, Richard Davidson, was—and is—a leading authority on the relationship between brain and emotion and a pioneer in developing and applying techniques for measuring brain activity. He holds several academic chairs in psychology and psychiatry and is the director of the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience and the W.M. Keck Laboratory for Functional Brain Imaging and Behavior at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Richie Davidson, as he likes to be known, has long been inter- ested in trying to demonstrate scientifically what meditation “If studies can provide robust evidence for the effect of mind training,” Richard Davidson with geodesic sensor net for picking up impulses from the brain. Right: Davidson, far right, demonstrates a PET scanner during the Dalai Lama’s tour of the Keck Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. PHOTOSBYJEFFMILLER