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Lions Roar : September 2005
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2005 4 9 about its mission to develop a new science of healthy mind. With research and mainstream attention, of course, comes risk. “Will the popularization of meditation dilute the dharma?” Engle asks. “That’s a complicated and big question. Part of what is important in spiritual growth is to become a healthy human being. Becoming a healthy human being is a step along the path toward enlightenment, which is what the dhar- ma is all about. So what we’re promoting through this work is the knowledge base and understanding, and hopefully tools for people to become healthier human beings. “There will be a tendency, I’m sure, within the scientific community, to try to reduce the experience of meditation to a set of neuroscientific principles. They’ll say, ‘Well, if this sec- tion of the brain lights up, and that section of the brain lights up, then that means such and such.’ There will be some level of reductionist pressure. How that will resolve itself I don’t know, but it’s not a worry great enough to motivate us not to try to improve people’s lives by increasing the understanding of how to create and maintain a healthy mind.” When aiming to create a new field of science, two things are needed: scientists wanting to do the work, and money for their research. All new science initiatives in the United States have to be privately funded, because a body of pilot data is needed before the National Institutes of Health will con- tribute public funds. Mind and Life aims to raise about eight million dollars over the next five years to award to researchers. Although its focus is the mind, the Institute remains inter- ested in other subjects, too. These include quantum mechan- ics, the mind–body relationship, and cosmology. Pursuing any of its interests, the Institute sees its work as a process that will take many generations. “Scientific understanding of how the mind works will improve,” Engle says. “At some point we might even see sci- ence accept the Buddhist premise that the mind and the brain are not coextensive. Who knows?” Life is getting faster, busier, and more complex. But every once in a while Engle finds he steps back and regards the Institute’s work from a different perspective. “I’m like everybody else. I spend most of my life dealing with details,” he says. “It probably happens once a year: I say to myself, ‘Holy shit. This is pretty cool.’” © and falling of perceptual processes on a moment-by-moment basis. This is an empirical process that results in firsthand knowledge of a certain aspect of how the mind works. We may use that knowledge to reduce the effects of emotions such as anger or resentment (indeed, meditation practitioners in search of overcoming mental affliction would wish to do this), but my point here is that this process offers a first-person empirical method with relation to the mind. What occurs during meditative contemplation in a tradi- tion such as Buddhism and what occurs during introspection in the ordinary sense are two quite different things. In the con- text of Buddhism, introspection is employed with careful attention to the dangers of extreme subjectivism—such as fan- tasies and delusions—and with the cultivation of a disciplined state of mind. Refinement of attention, in terms of stability and vividness, is a crucial preparation for the utilization of rigorous introspection, much as a telescope is crucial for the detailed examination of celestial phenomena. Just as in science, there is a series of protocols and procedures that contemplative intro- spection must employ. Upon entering a laboratory, someone untrained in science would not know what to look at and would have no capacity to recognize when something is found; in the same way, an untrained mind will have no ability to apply the introspective focus on a chosen object and will fail to recognize when processes of the mind show themselves. Just like a trained scientist, a disciplined mind will have the knowledge of what to look for and the ability to recognize when discoveries are made. It may well be that the question of whether consciousness can ultimately be reduced to physical processes, or whether our subjective experiences are nonmaterial features of the world, will remain a matter of philosophical choice. The key issue here is to bracket out the metaphysical questions about mind and matter, and to explore together how to understand scientifically the various modalities of the mind. I believe that it is possible for Buddhism and modern science to engage in collaborative research in the understanding of consciousness while leaving aside the philosophical question of whether con- sciousness is ultimately physical. By bringing together these two modes of inquiry, both disciplines may be enriched. Such collaborative study will contribute not only greater human understanding of consciousness but a better understanding of the dynamics of the human mind and its relation to suffering. This is a precious gateway into the alleviation of suffering, which I believe to be our principal task on this earth. © From The Universe in a Single Atom by His Holiness The Dalai Lama, pub- lished by Morgan Road Books, a division of Random House, Inc. Reprinted with permission. © 2005 by His Holiness The Dalai Lama.