Quantum Theory Meets the Karmic Cycle

Tibetan Monks Master Science at Emory University

His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama recently completed his third visit to Atlanta as an Emory University Presidential Distinguished Professor. The Dali Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, participated in events in October on the Emory campus and at the Gwinnett County Center that explored collaborations that draw from the best of Tibetan and Western traditions through science, religion, and mind/body medicine. At the turn of the century, the Dalai Lama challenged Western researchers to scientifically study contemplative traditions and since then Emory has been a leader in developing programs that draw on the strengths of Tibetan and Western traditions.


One of the most ambitious programs is the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative (ETSI) which integrates a comprehensive science curriculum into the Tibetan monastic education.  It is common to see Tibetan monks clad in maroon robes strolling on Emory’s campus among other students wearing more traditional Western garb. Emory has graduated two classes of monks and nuns from the ETSI pilot program. Their curriculum covers math, biology, neuroscience, and physics. Quantum theory meets the karmic cycle. ETSI also has developed 15 bilingual science textbooks tailored to monastic students.


Another of the Dalai Lama’s challenges was for Western scientists to examine the impact of compassion meditation on health. I am part of an Emory multidisciplinary research team that has been studying the mechanisms of compassion meditation and its effects on health. As a research psychologist, my role on the team since 2008 has been to provide research design and statistical analysis expertise. Although secular in presentation, the compassion meditation program, Cognitively Based Compassion Training (CBCT), was derived from Tibetan Buddhist mind-training practices and from writings ascribed to Indian Buddhist masters dating back to the 8th Century. Most studies examining the effects of meditation on health have focused on practices that emphasize calming of the mind and mindfulness-based stress reduction. We wondered if adding compassion meditation to these practices would enhance the modulation of physiological stress responses. While mindfulness-based practices emphasize non-judgmental approaches to thoughts and emotions, our CBCT program was designed to challenge one's thoughts and emotions toward other people with the long-term goal of developing altruistic emotions and behavior towards all people. We have studied the effects of CBCT on health in college students, elementary school children, and adolescents in foster care. We now are investigating the effect of CBCT and mindfulness-based practices on behavioral responses to psychological stress in adults. I’ll present some of our findings in my next blog.


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