His Holiness the Dalai Lama giving a talk at UCSB
In 1992, the Dalai Lama invited an up-and-coming neuroscientist, Richie Davidson, out to Dharamsala, India to discuss the future of neuroscience research. Why, wondered the Dalai Lama, don’t scientists devote more effort to the study of positives like happiness or compassion?
Since that pivotal conversation the field has accepted the Dalai Lama’s challenge, in particular linking positive human states with Eastern philosophical ideas and practices and exploring what those practices look like in the brain. The Dalai Lama himself is fascinated with this research and has spent years fostering relationships with Western scientists, and has written a book on his thoughts regarding the melding of science and philosophy. Meditation has become a hot topic, as meditation practices can be separated relatively easily from religious beliefs, and thus can be more readily studied in a scientific setting. Researchers have looked at the brains of Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns to see how they differ from non-meditators, and then have looked at non-meditators before and after meditation interventions in order to see how meditation could benefit everyday people. Two types of meditation have received the most attention: mindfulness meditation, which teaches focused yet relaxed awareness of the moment; and compassion meditation, which teaches loving-kindness through purposeful empathizing with others.