The technology of happiness

September 11, 2009

This geodesic sensor net containing 256 electrodes picks up electrical impulses from numerous parts of the brain when placed on a subject's head. For years westerners have assumed that Buddhists must be a miserable lot: their teachings dwell so much on suffering. But recent scientific research suggests what Buddhists have believed all along. Buddhism — or at least Buddhist meditation — leads to happiness.

Media headlines in the last few years have trumpeted new research into the effects of meditation on brain activity, behavior and even resistance to disease. The findings are still provisional, but as the philosopher Owen Flanagan commented in New Scientist magazine: “The most reasonable hypothesis is that there’s something about conscientious Buddhist practice that results in the kind of happiness we all seek.”

The background is a growing dialog between Buddhist teachers and leading … Read more »

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Buddhists May Help Biotechies Solve Big Mental Health Woes

Xconomy Seattle: One of the big opportunities in biotech over the coming decades may come from neuroscientists who team up with Buddhists. That might sound odd at first, but it’s no joke. This is one of the big ideas on the radar of Bennett Shapiro, the former executive vice president of worldwide basic research at Merck, who lives in Seattle, and serves as a senior partner with Boston’s PureTech Ventures.

Researchers are beginning to get a stronger sense of physiological differences in the brains of Buddhists who have been practicing mind training techniques like meditation for years, as compared to, say, the average brain of a distracted American, Shapiro says. These insights, based partly … Read more »

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The happiest man in the world

July 17, 2009

The New York Times today has an article by Daniel Goleman, most famous for his work, Emotional Intelligence, but who has also been involved with His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Mind and Life conferences and with Dr. Richard Davidson’s research into the effects of meditation on the brain. He writes about Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, who has apparently been described as the happiest man in the world. Usually I’ve seen that title reserved for another meditator, Matthieu Ricard, but maybe there’s been some kind of world championship laugh-off that I missed. Anyway, it’s an interesting article, even if most of the information is about studies published some years ago.

I recently spent an evening

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The Dalai Lama: “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

While it’s quite clear that others may benefit from our compassionate activity, the second part of His Holiness’s observation flies in the face of an assumption that is, for most of us, extremely deep-rooted: that is, the assumption that my individual welfare is best served if I primarily focus on my interests.

But recent scientific research on happiness and brain function suggests that we do help ourselves — by becoming happier — when we help others.

Time magazine recently named Professor Davidson of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, as one of the world’s 100 most influential thinkers. For years Davidson has been researching happiness, sometimes studying Buddhist monks in his lab, the Brain Imaging Laboratory, … Read more »

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Destructive Emotions: A Scientific Dialogue With the Dalai Lama, by Daniel Goleman

February 23, 2007

destructive emotionsAvailable from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

Don’t be put off by the title: this book should really be called “Positive emotions and how to develop them.”

A new book from Buddhist author Daniel Goleman (“Emotional Intelligence”) is always going to be an exciting event. More so in this case because of the extraordinary background out of which the book emerged.

The Dalai Lama, a fan of science since boyhood (he famously enjoys tinkering with watches and has been known to rubberneck when passing electronics stores) annually gathers the world’s eminent minds in order to educate himself about the latest scientific findings and in order to promote cross-cultural dialog. The resulting discussions are like a cross … Read more »

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The tortuous path to ‘pretzel karma’ (Boston Globe)

October 21, 2003

A while ago, I had what writer James Thurber would have called “a permanent case of the jumps.”

“Meditation versus medication,” a friend advised me.

So, I pulled a chair up to a blank patch of wall, and relaxed from my forehead down to my toes, letting everything but my spine go soft. I endeavored to quiet the mind and, like a Buddhist monk, be open to whatever sensations and emotions arose, without reacting. I visualized thoughts as autumn leaves or taxi cabs blowing past and didn’t try to catch them. I aspired to lighten up.

And I signed up for a correspondence course with the Central Chinmaya Mission Trust in India. “Blessed Self” began … Read more »

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Putting Meditation Under the Microscope (Hartford Courant)

October 4, 2003

Marietta Sabetta decided that the way to make a stand against her moderately high blood pressure was to sit still.

The 52-year-old Seymour woman asked her doctor if she could try lowering her blood pressure by taking a meditation class at Griffin Hospital.

On most Wednesday evenings since last March, she has followed instructor Lauren Liberti through a series of mindfulness exercises, beginning with simple yoga positions and leading to a meditation session that might, on a given night, involve simply focusing on the breath.

“My doctor thought it was a great idea,” Sabetta said. “It feels comfortable and peaceful, and it’s very, very strengthening emotionally.”

And her blood pressure? It’s down to normal, she … Read more »

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Buddhists able to train their brains to feel genuine happiness and control aggressive instincts

Buddhists who meditate may be able to train their brains to feel genuine happiness and control aggressive instincts, research has shown.

According to Owen Flanagan, professor of philosophy at Duke University in North Carolina, Buddhists appear to be able to stimulate the left prefrontal lobe – an area just behind the forehead – which may be why they can generate positive emotions and a feeling of well being.

Writing in today’s New Scientist, Professor Flanagan cites early findings of a study by Richard Davidson, of the University of Wisconsin, who used scanners to analyse the active regions of a Buddhist’s brain.

Professor Flanagan said the findings are “tantalising” because the left prefrontal lobes of Buddhist … Read more »

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A monk in the lab

The Dalai Lama : "I believe that there are practical ways for us as individuals to curb our dangerous impulses – impulses that collectively can lead to war and mass violence. As evidence I have not only my spiritual practice and the understanding of human existence based on Buddhist teachings, but now also the work of scientists."

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Meditation “Good for Brain”

February 5, 2003

Scientists say they have found evidence that meditation has a biological effect on the body. A small-scale study suggests it could boost parts of the brain and the immune system. Read more

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