Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama and spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists, participated in a two-day meeting in May, which was the ninth in a series sponsored by the Mind and Life Institute, a Boulder, Colo.-based organization that fosters dialogue between science and Buddhism.
"When we speak of modern science as we understand it today, it has its own paradigm, so from the Buddhist point of view when we speak of mind, it lies outside that paradigm," the Dalai Lama said. "But it is clear that the mind is a very important factor in the change of the brain and in the change of behavior."
|"There is no contradiction between the scientific way of thinking and Buddha's way of thinking."|
The Dalai Lama said it was fascinating that meditation and emotions, such as sadness and happiness, affect the brain, and he emphasized that science and religion should not be opponents.
"Buddha himself made very clear--carry out experiments and investigations by yourself: 'You should not accept my word out of respect,'" the Dalai Lama said. "There is no contradiction between the scientific way of thinking and Buddha's way of thinking."
Richard Davidson, professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and conference organizer, said scientists are interested in understanding how practices that have been well-developed in the Buddhist tradition might affect the brain.
He said research into Buddhist practices is in the preliminary stages, based on only one or two subjects, but one area where scientists would like to know more is how meditation affects attention.
"Attention is an area where we know something of the brain systems involved," Davidson said. "We know some of the networks of brain structures that participate in the different types of attention, including the prefrontal cortex and other areas. So we've begun to develop hypotheses about how these areas of the brain might change in response to these kinds of practices."
Paul Ekman, professor of psychology at the University of California, San Francisco, said talking with the Dalai Lama and other Buddhists has expanded his views on emotion, both good and bad.
"Most emotion researchers distinguish between positive and negative emotions," Ekman said. "The Buddhists think how primitive that distinction is. There are positive emotions, such as amusement, that are very harmful to others, that are harmful when used in ridicule and scorn. There are negative emotions, such as sadness, that can have a positive, wholesome aspect."
Ekman said one of the most striking conceptual changes he has discovered in his research is that people do not have to be "taken over or seized" by emotions.
"Certain types of meditative practice do give you choice about whether or not you will let emotion take you over," he said. "A year-and-a-half ago, I would have said that's crazy."
Ekman said the collaboration between science and the Buddhists may soon lead the Western culture to question its accepted beliefs about emotion.