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April 25, 2003 9:33 PM   Subscribe

Dalai Llama muses: meditating monk sets "positive emotion" record : The 14th Dalai Llama, Tenzin Gyatso, muses on new research on the benefits of mindfulness meditation: "A University of Wisconsin-Madison research team has found that a small amount of "mindfulness meditation" results in positive, lasting changes in the brain and immune system." The mainstream medical community in the U.S. has now acknowledge the significant benefits of mindfulness meditatiion - "...a significant decrease in symptoms, both during and after the course."

[ Tenzin Gyatso ] "The calamity of 9/11 demonstrated that modern technology and human intelligence guided by hatred can lead to immense destruction. Such terrible acts are a violent symptom of an afflicted mental state. To respond wisely and effectively, we need to be guided by more healthy states of mind, not just to avoid feeding the flames of hatred, but to respond skillfully. We would do well to remember that the war against hatred and terror can be waged on this, the internal front, too.".....I once was host to Tenzin Gyatso's brother and several other Tibetan monks for a few weeks - and was never again quite the same. So, when Tenzin Gyatso speaks, I listen.
posted by troutfishing (22 comments total)
He always does such a wonderful job of demystifying what he does. Tibetan Buddhism being such a baroque symbolic and mystical tradition, this is no small task. Much of the practice seems to boil down to recognizing your task as deeply influential and part of all existence and its beings, but even saying that makes it much more fanciful than how he puts it.

Related to the research, in y2karl's post the other day about body and emotion, I couldn't help thinking of the Tibetan view that body is more or less a servant of the mind. In reading some of the excellent dialogues that the Dalai Lama has had with top researchers in the medical community, this question of chicken and egg body/mind primacy comes up a lot. I couldn't relate it to the discussion then due to lack of lymbic what'sits knowledge, but I noticed a few times that Damasio still had to recognize thought causing results in the machine, although it seemed he didn't like it. Perhaps I misread the entire thrust of his work, but it seems relevant.
posted by mblandi at 10:05 PM on April 25, 2003

One of the best books I've ever read on mindfulness meditation, was "Mindfulness in Plain English," by the Venerable Henelopa Gunaratana.

Very simple, very clear, no knowledge of Buddhism required.
posted by Blue Stone at 10:21 PM on April 25, 2003

The second link doesn't work for me. But the other two links are good, thanks trout. Here are some more:

Meditation mapped in monks
What Buddhists Know About Science

Here's a previous post about the Dalai Lama's Science for Monks project, and one on Vipassana meditation, which links to the book Blue Stone mentioned reprinted online.
posted by homunculus at 10:23 PM on April 25, 2003

Ah, the wired article links to this article about the Dalai Lama and Davidson's research.
posted by homunculus at 11:01 PM on April 25, 2003

I got to see the Dalai Lama speak in college. He spoke at the little Methodist church at the edge of campus. It was packed...his spoken English was very heavily accented, and he spoke slowly and with deliberation, sometimes consulting an aide. I most remember two things he said:

"Maybe Buddhism not for everybody...that's OK..maybe Buddhism not for you..."

And, in the Q&A (questions submitted on 3x5 cards and screened by Religion professors) someone asked: 'What's the most important thing for human beings to do at this time for the Planet?'

DL: How....should I know...that?
posted by crunchburger at 11:27 PM on April 25, 2003

A direct link to Mindfulness In Plain English
posted by SpaceCadet at 2:59 AM on April 26, 2003

Homunculus - Thanks for the extra links. I loved this bit from your last one: "...One important issue discussed at this meeting involved plasticity of the brain, its ability to change, even during adulthood," says Davidson. "Buddhist monks have known for centuries that meditation can change the mind. Now we are inspired by His Holiness to examine with our technology the precise brain changes that occur with practice."

Before the meeting began, Davidson took the Dalai Lama and others on a guided tour of the new $10 million brain imaging facility. The visit included up-close looks at a latest-model functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine, a positron emission tomography (PET) scanner, and the accelerator used to make radioactive isotopes needed for PET scans.

Known to have a life-long curiosity about science and technology, the Dalai Lama has expressed keen interest in this sophisticated new technology that can be used non-invasively to examine the effects of meditation. "Wonderful," he said repeatedly at seeing it. With characteristic humor, he added that he would like to get his hands on tools he saw in the laboratory machine room, where parts for the scanners are made.

The Dalai Lama says he has shunned the warnings of others who fear that science is the killer of religion. Going his own way, as the Buddha advised, His Holiness says he sees many benefits in science.

"I have great respect for science, " he says. "But scientists, on their own, cannot prove nirvana. Science shows us that there are practices that can make a difference between a happy life and a miserable life. A real understanding of the true nature of the mind can only be gained through meditation." "
posted by troutfishing at 5:12 AM on April 26, 2003

SpaceCadet - That's an excellent link too. I will read it.
posted by troutfishing at 5:24 AM on April 26, 2003

I thank all for the links, but I can't help but wonder why the anti-religion hysterical dogpile is limited to threads with Christian themes?

From personal experience, some South Korean Buddhist sects are seen as overly superstitious and heavily reliant on psuedo occult fortune telling and numerology-based "luck" or lack thereof, which has led many to embrace Christianity for its lack of aforementioned superstition.

Not that Buddhist tenets and beliefs aren't as fascinating as Christian ones, but it depends on one's point of view.

The Judeo-Christian values of morality and emphasis on ethics are among Western cultures' most valuable contributions.
posted by hama7 at 5:48 AM on April 26, 2003

Why don't the Buddhist threads get people riled up like the Judeo-Christian threads? I think it's a matter of approach, hama7. The Buddhist tendency is to say "here are some techinques to try for making life better, take it or leave it as you see fit." As you rightly point out, Buddhists are not more moral or correct than members of other philosophies and religions. However, saying "Here's how we do it, take-it-or-leave-it as you see fit" will almost always spark less conflict with others than "I have the truth, howcome you don't see it my way?"
posted by sheauga at 6:34 AM on April 26, 2003

take it or leave it as you see fit.

Um, before the Chinese invaded, Tibet was a theocracy. You couldn't take or leave Buddhism, since The Tibet Buddhist clergy ran the government! They only became "take it or leave it" after they didn't control a country. I'm not criticizing the religion, but the fact is that the permissiveness is a relatively new story.
posted by unreason at 6:45 AM on April 26, 2003 [1 favorite]

I'm taking a class in Taoist Meditation right now, and the teacher, Dr. Yang, unites science and philosophical theory in every lesson. In the first class alone, he related Ohm's Law, the metabolizing of glucose, cyborg theory and lots of anatomy and physiology with ancient Taoist and Buddhist philosophy and practices. It was like a revelation of reality itself to me. I'd studied Taoism and Buddhism in college and on my own, and obviously taken all the basic chemistry, biology, physics and psychology in high school and college, but meditation (personal experience through practice is critical here) serves as the ultimate test bed of these disparate fields within the human body.

I'm glad the concrete health benefits are actually being studied, too. I've found amazing relief from migraine headaches and bipolar mood disorder from Taoism, Buddhism and meditation. The Dalai Lama pointed out that, hey, you don't have to convert to some particular religion, just sit still, practice mindfullness for a little while every day, and you'll feel much better and be more productive. "Proving" it with the Scientific Method just helps skeptics get over the hump and actually try it.
posted by billpena at 8:47 AM on April 26, 2003

Unreason, I find myself living in a secular pseudo-democracy.

By your logic, it would seem I'm forced to submit to being a secular pseudo-democrat!

Where's my choice? Oh, the injustice!

/sarcasm :)
posted by Blue Stone at 10:02 AM on April 26, 2003

You miss the point. The Tibetan Buddhist church ruled a country as essentially a theocratic dictatorship for centuries. A government is no less cruel if it is replaced by a crueler one. A poster above was attempting to say that Tibetan Buddhism doesn't force anything on people. However, this policy was only adopted when they no longer were capable of forcing anything on people. Before the Chinese took over, the Dalai Lamas were essentially in the same position as the pharaohs as religious dictators, and they squashed all attempt at democratic reform. It was only after they were forced out that they adopted peaceful strategies.
posted by unreason at 10:25 AM on April 26, 2003

The Tibetan Buddhist church ruled a country as essentially a theocratic dictatorship for centuries.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely. I attribute the Tibetan dictatorship prior to the Communist invasion to the failings of men in power, not to the path they claimed to follow. Much in the same way that the various Christian dictatorships have shown, professed belief in any religion, however peaceful, is not enough to ensure a good government. In fact, any religion married to government is a recipe for disaster.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 10:32 AM on April 26, 2003

I attribute the Tibetan dictatorship prior to the Communist invasion to the failings of men in power, not to the path they claimed to follow

I definitely agree. I think I didn't express myself clearly. I have a lot of respect for the Tibet religion, and I've studied a bit of it myself. The point I was trying to make was not that they are worse than other religions, but that they are not superior to them, and to illustrate that as a religious body it is no more immune to corruption than any other.
posted by unreason at 10:38 AM on April 26, 2003

"Rely not on the teacher, but on the teaching. Rely not on the words of the teaching, but on the spirit of the words. Rely not on theory, but on experience. Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. Do not believe anything because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything because it is written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and the benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it."

- the Buddha, Kalama Sutra
posted by homunculus at 11:00 AM on April 26, 2003

Well said.
posted by unreason at 11:18 AM on April 26, 2003

The Tibetan Buddhist church ruled a country as essentially a theocratic dictatorship for centuries.

Tibet is not entirely unique, as many Asian countries have at one time or another been ruled in much the same way. The power of the Buddhist chruch became such a threat to one of the kingdoms of Korea, that all temples were banished from towns and cities, and to this day remain in the hills. Even today there are conglomerates which are "Buddhist" and others which are "Christian".

The Dalai Lama can't (read: isn't allowed to) associate or do business with the non-Buddhist corporations in South Korea, either as a matter of principle, or because of corporate pressure from China. Who knows.
posted by hama7 at 7:20 PM on April 26, 2003

Buddhism is not unblemished. Torture in the Potala's dungeons. Buddhist hell. Sri Lanka.

But Buddhist theology (sic) is a hell of a lot less liable to create mass hysteria than other religions we could name.

And the Dalai Lama is wonderful at demystifying mysticism. He may be a bit disingenuous about the simplicity of his religion (it is also baroque and intense and weird and profound), but he is spot on in his observations about humans and their situation.

God bless (sic) Tibet.
posted by kozad at 8:14 PM on April 26, 2003

Question for Unreason: do you have a source that cites the forced imposition of Buddhism on the Tibetan population by their government prior to the Chinese takeover?

Before the Chinese occupied Tibet, it was an extremely isolated country with a relatively small population. Religion, government and culture were all intertwined. Insulation from outside influences simply results in a reduced spectrum of choices - including choice of religion.

Could it be you have mistaken isolation for imposition?

Now that we've got that out of the way - thanks for the post!
posted by quadog at 11:03 PM on April 27, 2003

This is exciting. Thanks, troutfishing.

I think it's worth noting that a large part of Tibetan Buddhist practice is "Dream Yoga," a version of what we in the West call lucid dreaming (discussed here). But the Eastern practice focuses more on falling asleep while conscious (yes, you read that right) rather than achieving consciousness while already asleep. In other words, they remain aware even as the body falls asleep, and enter the dream state already lucid. This is, of course, similar to meditation, and in my opinion all of these findings strengthen the notion that our myriad ways of affecting our neurological circuitry - whether by force of will or chemical "adulterants" - are not nearly as different as all the terms and explanations we've come up with to describe them. And I believe the scientific exploration of consciousness is going to have a huge, hopefully positive impact on human society within a few decades.
posted by soyjoy at 8:02 AM on April 28, 2003

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