B. Alan Wallace

An open letter to President Obama from the Buddhist Teachers Network

"Official portrait of Barack Obama" by Pete Souza, The Obama-Biden Transition Project - https://change.gov/newsroom/entry/new_official_portrait_released/. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Official_portrait_of_Barack_Obama.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Official_portrait_of_Barack_Obama.jpgTO PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA
from the BUDDHIST TEACHERS NETWORK

URGING YOU TO ADDRESS ANTI-MUSLIM VIOLENCE AT THE UPCOMING ASEAN MEETING IN BURMA/MYANMAR

Dear President Obama,

We as 381 Buddhist Teachers in America represent a large community that is deeply concerned about the growing anti Muslim violence in Myanmar and across Asia, and the plight of the 1.3 million Rohingyas, many forced to live against their will in inhumane internment camps and permanent ghettoized communities. We know you have been supportive of all Burmese people and have encouraged peace and reconciliation across the nation. Your upcoming visit to Burma is an important opportunity to strengthen your capacity as a peacemaker. We urge you to once again express concern for Burma’s Muslims and Rohingyas in your public speeches and as well as in your diplomatic engagements there. We believe you can do so in a positive way, honoring the Burmese legacy of tolerance and Metta, values shared across all the great spiritual traditions, as nations including our own face challenges of injustice and prejudice. Thank you for your care in this matter that affects so many lives in Burma.

Yours Respectfully,

Dr. Jack Kornfield, Spirit Rock Center. Woodacre, CA
Hozan Alan Senauke, International Network of Engaged Buddhists Berkeley, CA
Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, Chair, Buddhist Global Relief (BGR), President, Buddhist Association of the United States (BAUS), Chuang Yen Monastery, Carmel NY
Dr. Robert Tenzin Thurman, Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, Dharma teacher, Menla Mountain Retreat Center, Phoenicia NY
Dr. Reggie Ray, Dharma Ocean Foundation, Boulder and Crestone, CO
B. Alan Wallace, Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies, CA
Lama Surya Das, Spiritual Director, Dzogchen Center, Cambridge, MA
Gina Sharpe, New York Insight Meditation Center, NY, MY
Carol Wilson, Insight Meditation Society, Barre, MA
Joseph Goldstein, Insight Meditation Society, Barre, MA
Dr. Rick Hansen, San Rafael, CA
Will Kabat-Zinn, Spirit Rock Mediation Center, Woodacre, CA
Dr. Donald Rothberg, Spirit Rock Center, Woodacre, CA
Gil Fronsdal, Insight Meditation Center, Redwood City, CA
Lama Palden. Sukkhasiddhi Fdtn. Fairfax
Trudy Goodman, InsightLA, Los Angeles, CA
Tara Brach, Insight Meditation Center, Washington, DC
Sylvia Boorstein, Spirit Rock Center, Woodacre, CA
Roshi Joan Halifax, Abbot, Upaya Zen Center
Pamela Weiss, SF Insight, San Francisco, Ca
Sebene Selassie, director New York Insight Meditation Center, New York, NY
Venerable Dr. Pannavati, Co-Abbot, Embracing Simplicity Hermitage
Venerable Pannadipa, co-abbot, Embracing Simplicity Hermitage
Acharya C Dhammaratana, Embracing Simplicity Hermitage
Susie Harrington, Desert Dharma, Moab, UT
Steve Armstrong, Vipassana Metta Foundation, Maui, HI
Kamala Masters, Vipassana Metta Foundation, Maui, HI
Matthew Brensilver, PhD, Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society , San Francisco, CA
Jane Baraz, Berkeley, CA
Art Jolly, Oakland, CA
Dr. Nikki Mirghafori, Spirit Rock Center, Woodacre, CA
Narayan Helen Liebenson, Cambridge Insight Meditation Center
Cambridge, MA
Konda Mason, East Bay Meditation Center, Oakland, CA
Maureen Shannon-Chapple, InsightLA, CA
Kokyo Henkel, Santa Cruz Zen Center, CA
Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara, Village Zendo, NY, NY
Santacitta Bhikkhuni, Aloka Vihara, Placerville, CA
Kate Lila Wheeler, Compassion Sangha
Somerville, MA
Tempel Smith Spirit Rock Center. Woodacre, CA
JoAnna Harper, Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society, Los Angeles, CA
Erin Treat, Durango Dharma Center, Durango, CO
Richard Shankman, Spirit Rock Center, Woodacre, CA
Gregory Scharf, Insight Meditation Society, Barre MA
Ralph Steele. Buddhists of New Mexico
Stan Lombardo, Kansas Zen Center, KS
Daishin McCabe, Soto Zen Buddhism
George Pitagorsky, NY Insight Meditation Center, NY
Zipporah Portugal, Insight Meditation Society NYC, NY
Kirsten Rudestam, Insight Santa Cruz, CA
Kathryn Turnipseed, Albuquerque, NM
Bill Spangle, Kagyu Changchub Chuling, Portland, OR
Dora DeCoursey, Kagyu Changchub Chuling, Portland, OR
Lori Wong, Insight Meditation Central Valley, Modesto, CA
Kirtan Coan, Winston Salem Dharma Community, NC
Rev. Gaelyn Godwin, Houston Zen Center, Houston, TX
Claire Stanley, Ph.D., Vermont Insight Meditation Center, Brattleboro, VT
Rev Christine Palmer, Soto Zen, Mill Valley, CA
Jeanne and Steve Lowry, Gathering Waters Sangha, Milwaukee WI
Rev. Eido Frances Carney, Olympia Zen Center, Olympia, WA
La Sarmiento, Insight Meditation Community of Washington, MD
Gordon Peerman, Insight Nashville, TN
Ruby Grad, Portland Insight, Portland, OR
Dr Pawan Bareja, East Bay Meditation Center, Oakland, CA
Ann Buck, InsightLA, Los Angeles, CA
Janice Clarfield, WestCoast Dharma
John Mifsud, East Bay Meditation Center, Oakland, CA
Ayya Dhammadhira, Mahpapajapati Monastery, Pioneertown, CA
Rev. Judith Randall, San Francisco Zen Center, CA
Wildecy de Fatima Jury, EBMC, Oakland, CA
Daniel Bowling, Spirit Rock Center, Woodacre, CA
Shell Fischer, Insight Meditation Center, Washington DC
William (bill) Brooks, Insight Meditation Community of Fredericksburg, VA
Gary Buck, PhD., Spirit Rock Center, Woodacre, CA
Francesca Morfesis, Insight Meditation Society, Barre, MA
Elizabeth Rapaport, Albuquerque Vipassana Sangha , NM
Jundo Cohen, Treeleaf Sangha
John Blackburn, Tennessee Community of Mindfulness, TN
Deborah Ratner Helzer, Insight Meditation Community of Washington, MD
Vanee Songsiridej, MD, Peace Sangha, WI
Ron Vereen. Durham, NC (Triangle Insight Meditation Community)
Gary Singer, New York Insight, NY
Susan Orr, Sacramento Buddhist Meditation Group, CA
Dosho Port, Great Tides Zen, Portland, ME
Cornelia Santschi, Newark Community Meditation Center, Newark NJ
Katy Wiss, Westchester Insight Meditation Community, Danbury, CT
Maureen Fallon-Cyr, Durango Dharma Center, CO
Lesley Grant, Marin Mindfulness Institute , CA
Oren J. Sofer, Oakland, CA
Susan Bachman, Insight Meditation Center, Redwood City, CA
Don Morreale. Colorado Insight Meditation Community, CO
Carol Cook, Prescott Vipassana Sangha – Prescott, AZ
Patricia Dai-En Bennage, Mt. Equity Zendo, Jiho-an, Muncy, PA
Zenkei Blanche Hartman, San Francisco Zen Center, CA
Katherine Barr, Durango Dharma Center. CO
Judith Roitman (Zen Master Bon Hae), Kansas Zen Center, KS
Rev. Nonin Chowaney, Nebraska Zen Center / Heartland Temple, NE
Ocean Gate Zen Center Shinshu Roberts/Jaku Kinst
Sharon Beckman-Brindley, Insight Meditation Community of Charlottesville, VA
Denis Martynowych, Seattle WA, Seattle Insight Meditation Society
Richard A. Heckler, PhD, Pundarika Foundation, CA
Mary Helen Fein, Mountain Stream Meditation, Nevada City, CA
Linda Ruth Cutts , San Francisco Zen Center / Green Gulch Farm Zen Center / Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, CA
Amy Selzer, New York Insight Meditation Center, NY
Ani Gilda Paldrön Taylor, Portland Sakya Center, Portland, OR
Janet Lipner, Buddhist Peace Fellowship
Kate Wylie, Vermont Insight Meditation Center, VT
Shinchi Linda Galijan, Tassajara Zen Mountain Center
Howard Cohn, Mission Dharma, San Francisco, CA
Susan Ezequelle, Insight Meditation Center
Rikki Asher, Chan Meditation Center, Rego Park, NY
Charmaine Henderson. New York Insight Meditation Center and North Fork of Long Island Insight Meditation Sangha
Rev. Edward Keido Sanshin Oberholtzer, Lewisburg, PA
Joseph Priestley Zen Sangha
Shinge Roko Sherry Chayat, Abbot, Zen Studies Society, Livingston Manor, NY
Caverly Morgan, One House of Peace, Portland, OR
Charles A. Lingo, Jr
True Seal of Virtue, Chan An Duc, Breathing Heart Sangha, Mindfulness Practice Center of Atlanta, Decatur GA
Stephen Brown, Berkeley CA
Lisa Ernst, One Dharma Nashville, TN
Susan Kaiser Greenland, Inner Kids, CA
Keri Pederson, Seattle Insight Meditation Society, WA
Tenney Nathanson (Sensei), Desert Rain Zen, Tucson, AZ
Rev Furyu Schroeder, Abiding Abbess, Green Gulch Farm, San Francisco Zen Center, CA
Debra Seido Martin, Zen West/ Empty Field Zendo, Eugene, OR
Santussika Bhikkhuni, Karuna Buddhist Vihara, Mt. View, CA
Arthur Silacci, Prescott Vipassana Sangha, Prescott, AZ
Rev. Therese Fitzgerald, Dharma Friends, Maui, Hawai’i
Alicia Dougherty, Prescott Vispassana Sangha, Prescott, AZ
Toni Greene
Camille Hykes, Natural Dharma Fellowship, Boston, MA
Anna Suil, Santa Cruz, CA
Shinzen Young, Vipassana Support International
Deborah Alberty, Vipassana Sangha
Richard Brady, Mountains and Rivers Mindfulness Community.
David Lawson, Still Mountain Buddhist Meditation Center, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Martha Wooding-Young
Barbara Casey
Chan Linh Thong, True Spiritual Communication, Peaceful Refuge Sangha, Ashland, OR Kristi Holmstrom
Dr. Karen Hilsberg, Order of Interbeing, Culver City, CA
Laura Goldstein
Rik Center, Mindfulness Care Center, San Francisco, CA
Myokei Caine-Barrett Shonin, Myoken-ji Temple/Nichiren Buddhist Sangha of Texas
Houston, TX
Ernestine Enomoto, Honolulu Mindfulness Community, Honolulu, Hawaii
Helen C. Morgan, Insight Meditation Community of Berkeley
Rev. Keiryu Lien Shutt, AccessToZen.org
Kristen Larson, NO Sangha – Diamond Sangha lineage, Port Angeles WA
Lhundup Jamyang (Marleen Schreuders), FPMT
Shastri David Stone, Chicago Shambhala
Andrew Palmer, Sensei, Open Source Zen (Vast Refuge Sangha, Wet Mountain Sangha, Springs Mountain Sangha), Colorado Springs, CO
Douglas Kaishin Phillips; Empty Sky Sangha; West Cornwall, CT and Lexington, MA
George Bowman Zen Priest, Furnace Mountain Zen Community, Clay City, KY
Joan Sutherland, Roshi, Awakened Life & The Open Source, Santa Fe, NM
Younes Mourchid, Spirit Rock, Woodacre, CA
Leslie Baron
Gretchen Neve, Shambhala Center of Chicago
Jeanne Anselmo, Plum Village Tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh
Leslie Rawls, Dharma teacher, Charlotte (NC) Community of Mindfulness
Kenn Duncan, Prescott Vipassana Sangha, AZ
Mahin Charles, San Francisco, CA
Ven. Bodhin Kjolhede, Abbot, Rochester Zen Center, Rochester, New York.
Shoyo Taniguchi, Ph.D.
Kaye Cleave, San Francisco, CA
Jill Allen
Cynthia Loucks, Prescott Sangha, Prescott, AZ
Tubten Pende, Santa Cruz, CA
Annik Brunet, Sukhasiddhi Foundation, Fairfax, California
Jack Lawlor, Lakeside Buddha Sangha, Evanston, Illinois
David I. Rome
Myoshin Kelley
Susan Antipa
Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, Zen Center of NYC
Venerable Chang Wen, Buddhist Monk, Dharma Drum Retreat Center, Pine Bush, NY
Noah Levine, Against The Stream Buddhist Meditation Society, Los Angeles, CA
Ann Barden, Insight Meditation Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI
Karen Drimay Gudmundsson, Gelongma FPMT, Land of Medicine Buddha
Rev. Konin Melissa Cardenas,
John Yates PhD Dharma Treasure Buddhist Sangha, Upasaka Culadasa
Susannah Freeman White
Glenda Hodges-Cook, Louisville Vipassana Community, KY
Dr. Gareth Sparham
Philip Davidson & Kay Davidson, Mindfulness Meditation For Richmond
Tsechen Ling, University of Michigan, University of California
Ruben L.F. Habito, Maria Kannon Zen Center, Dallas, TX
Gerry Shishin Wick, Roshi, Great Mountain Zen Center, Berthoud, CO
Nancy Baker,NY, NY, No Traces Zendo
Jacqueline Mandell, Samden Ling, Portland, OR
Ethan Nichtern
Bruce Wilding
Rev. Shinkyo Will Warner, Lexington Nichiren Buddhist Community, KY
Michael Schwammberger – Chan Phap Son
B. Alan Wallace, Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies
Tim Olmstead, The Pema Chodron Foundation, The Buddhist Center of Steamboat Springs. CO
Dr Daniel M. Ingram, MD
Sheridan Adams, IMCB
Tim Geil, Seattle Insight Meditation Society
Gyalten Palmo, Tse Chen Ling Center
Jonathan Landaw, Land of Medicine Buddha, Soquel, CA
Dr. Libby Howell, Desert Lotus Sangha, Phoenix, AZ
Rev. Ronald Kobata, Buddhist Church of San Francisco, SF, CA
Lorne Ladner, PhD. Guhyasamaja Buddhist Center.
John Dooley, Prescott Vippasana Sangha, AZ
David Chernikoff; Boulder, CO; Insight Meditation Community of Colorado
Maria Janca, Sangha in Prescott AZ
Josh Korda, Dharmapunx New York + Againsthestream
Chas Macquarie, President, DZIMC
Stephanie Tate, Glass City Dharma, Toledo, OH
Rev. Henry Toryo Adams, San Mateo Buddhist Temple, San Mateo, CA
Kenneth Folk
Rev. Maia Duerr, Upaya Zen Center, AZ
Matthew Daniell, IMS, Barre MA & IMC Newburyport, MA,
Dr. Nicholas Ribush, Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive, Lincoln MA
Dharmacharini Viveka Chen, Triratna Buddhist Order, SF, CA
Amy Miller, Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT)
Ani Samten Palmo, Sebastopol, California
Helen Farrar, IMCW, Buena Vista, VA
Jill Shepherd, IMS, Barre, MAr. Danny Fisher, Greensboro, NC
Chan Phap Tri, Rose Apple Society’s Center for Contemplative Practice, VT
Dr. Jan Willis, Agnes Scott College, Decatur, GA
Anne Klein /Lama Rigzin Drolma, Dawn Mountain Tibetan Buddhist Center, Houston, TX
Leslie(Lhasha) Tizer, Insight Meditation Tucson, AZ
John Orr and the New Hope Sangha
Jill Hyman, Insight Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, CA
Karma Lekshe Tsomo, Sakyadhita International Association of Buddhist Women
Grace Gilliam, East Bay Meditation Center, Oakland, CA
Erin Selover, Berkeley, CA
Wendy Garling, Garden of Dharma, Concord, MA
Rev. Nomon Tim Burnett, Red Cedar Zen Community, Bellingham, WA
Rachelle Quimby, Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, CA
Terry Ray, Insight Meditation Community of CO
Ed Mushin Russell, Prairie Zen Center, Champaign, IL
Caitriona Reed & Michele Benzamin-Miki, Manzanita Village
Barbara Brodsky, Deep Spring Center, Ann Arbor MI
Roberta Orlando, San Francisco, CA
Marinell Daniel, Woodacre, CA
Koshin Paley Ellison, New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care, NY
Joel Levey
Michael Dempsey, Insight Meditation Community of Berkeley, CA
Augusta Hopkins, San Francisco Insight, CA
Rodney Smith, Seattle Insight Meditation Society, WA
Jason Murphy-Pedulla, Insight Santa Cruz, CA
Amma Thanasanti Bhikkhuni, Awakening Truth, Colorado Springs CO
Esteban and Tressa Hollander
Rev. Myo-O Marilyn Habermas-Scher, Dharma Dance Sangha in Minneapolis, MN
Wendy Zerin, MD, Insight Community of Colorado Boulder, CO,
Rev. Wendy Egyoku Nakao
Cynthia McAfee, Kensington, CA, Insight Meditation Community of Berkeley
Deborah Kory, Berkeley, CA
Joseph Curran, Insight Meditation Center of the Mid-Peninsula, CA
Rev Joan Hogetsu Hoeberichts, Heart Circle Sangha, Ridgewood, NJ
Samu Sunim, Zen Buddhist Temple, New York, NY
David Rynick, Abbot, Boundless Way Zen Temple, Worcester, MA
Larry Mermelstein, Nalanda Translation Committee
Sarah Bender, Springs Mountain Sangha, Colorado Springs, CO
Deborah Todd
Elizabeth Hird, Spirit Rock Meditation Center
Hai Nguyen, Sinh Thuc Meditation Center, Wardensville, WV
Eric Rodriguez, Ventura, CA
Pamela Kirby, Redwood Valley, CA
John Makransky, Foundation for Active Compassion,
Bodhipaksa, Triratna Buddhist Order, NH
Diane Perea, Berkeley CA
Ven. Seikai Luebke, Pine Mountain Buddhist Temple, Maricopa, CA
Gail Ganino, Berkeley Buddhist Monastery, Berkeley, CA
Ajahn Prasert Avissaro, Wat Buddhanusorn, Thai Buddhist Temple, Fremont, CA
Liz Brown, Berkeley, CA
Mushim Patricia Ikeda, East Bay Meditation Center
Bruce Kristal
Tulku Sherab Dorje, Blazing Wisdom Institute
Bhiksuni Thubten Chodron, Sravasti Abbey, Newport WA
Rev. Sumi Loundon Kim, Buddhist Families of Durham, Durham, NC
James Baraz, Insight Meditation Community of Berkeley (IMCB) & Spirit Rock Meditation Center
Chris Crotty, Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society, Cloucester, MA
Rev. Heng Sure, Berkeley Buddhist Monastery, Berkeley, CA
Diana Winston, UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center
Heather Sundberg, Mountain Stream Meditation Center, Nevada City, CA
Kenneth Keiyu Ford, Clouds in Water Zen Center, St. Paul, MN
Diana Lion, Berkeley, CA
Guy Armstrong, Spirit Rock Center, Woodacre, CA
Erin O’Connor, New York Insight, Brooklyn NY
Hal Nathan, San Francisco, CA, Partners Asia
Anushka Fernandopulle, Spirit Rock Meditation Center, CA
Charmi Neely, Mindfulness Meditation Group of Staunton-Waynesboro, and Insight Meditation Community of Charlottesville, CA
Dr. Janice Sheppard, Madison Insight Meditation Group/Madison Vipassana, Inc., Madison Metropolitan Area, WI
Byakuren Judith Ragir, Clouds in Water Zen Center, St. Paul, MN
Charles Agle, Insight Meditation Community of Washington, Washington, DC
Amy Predmore, Insight Meditation Community of Charlottesville, Charlottesville, VA
Wes Nisker, Spirit Rock, Woodacre, CA & YogaKula in Berkeley, CA
Gendo Allyn Field, Upper Valley Zen Center, White River Junction, VT
Rev’d James Ishmael Ford, Boundless Way Zen Buddhist Network, Providence, RI
Sosan Theresa Flynn, Clouds in Water Zen Center, St. Paul, MN
Rev. Jill Kaplan, Zen Heart Sangha, Woodside, CA
Jennifer Stanley, Insight Meditation Community of Washington, Washington, D.C.
Rev. Genjo Marinello, Seattle Zen Temple
Josho Pat Phelan, Chapel Hill Zen Center, Chapel Hill, NC
Silvia Garcia Pereira, Insight Meditation Community of Washington,
Mitra Bishop, Mountain Gate, Ojo Sarco NM
Rev .Jisho Warner, Stone Creek Zen Center
Anna Roudebush, Insight Fort Wayne, IN
William F. Mies, Arnold, MD
Barbara A. Lahman, North Manchester, IN
Ann Herington
Iris Diaz, Oakland, CA
Peter Schneider
Tamara Dyer
Rev Robert Schaibly/Brother True Deliverance, The Order of Interbeing
Angie Boiss, Floating Zendo, San Jose, CA
Kay Davidson
Eiko Joshin Carolyn Atkinson, Everyday Dharma Zen Center, Santa Cruz CA
Marjorie Markus, NYC, Community of Mindfulness
Kathy Schwerin, Community Dharma Leader, Dharma Zephyr Insight Meditation Community
Haju Sunim/ Linda Lundquist, Zen Buddhist Temple, Ann Arbor, MI
Catherine Brousseau, Insight Meditation Community of Washington
Rev. Zenki Mary Mocine, Abbess Vallejo Zen Center, Vallejo, CA
Les Kaye, Kannon Do Zen Center, Mt. View, CA
Rev. Domyo Burk, Bright Way Zen, Portland Oregon
Devi Weisenberg, Inverness, CA, Spirit Rock Meditation Center, CA
Taigen Dan Leighton, Ancient Dragon Zen Gate, Chicago, IL
Dr. Bill Knight, Muskoka Mindfulness Community
Manny Mansbach, Vermont Insight Meditation Center
Cornelia Shonkwiler, Middle Way Zen, San Jose, CA
Susan Lee Bady, Brooklyn Sangha of New York Insight Meditation Center, NY
David Silver, Insight Meditation Community of Charlottesville, VA
Tonen O’Connor, Milwaukee Zen Center, WI
Daniel Terragno, Rocks & Clouds Zendo, Sebastopol, CA
Trish Magyari, Insight Meditation Community of Washington (IMCW), Baltimore, MD
Joen Snyder O’Neal, Compassionate Ocean Dharma Center, Brooklyn Center, MN
Barbara Rhodes, Kwan Um School of Zen
Stephanie Golden, Brooklyn NY and of NY Insight Meditation Center
Jennifer Jordan, IMCW Family Program
Abby Cassell, NewYork Insight, Brooklyn Sangha
Elizabeth Fryer, St Louis Insight
Ann Pendley, Knoxville Insight Meditation, TN
David Flint, Dharmacarya, New York City, NY
Jon Aaron, New York Insight Meditation Center, NY
David Loy
Jim Dalton
Robert Beatty, Portland Insight Meditation Community
Debra Kerr, Oakland, CA, Alameda Sangha and East Bay Meditation Center, CA
Merra Young, Rivers’ Way Meditation Center, TCVC, Common Ground Meditation Center, Minneapolis, MN
Nina Wise, San Rafael, CA
Soren Gordhammer, Santa Cruz, CA
Jill and Bruce Hyman
Gil Fronsdal, IMC Redwood City, CA
Meg Agnew, Dharma Wisdom Seattle Sangha
Kitsy Schoen, East Bay Meditation Center
Ellen Furnari, PhD, Buddhist Pathways Prison Project, Solano prison, Vacaville, CA.
Hugh Byrne, PhD, Insight Meditation Community of Washington, Silver Spring, MD
Chaplain Eileen Phillips, BCCC, Mt Stream Meditation Center and Spirit Rock Meditation Center, CA
Tere Abdala-Romano
Bob Stahl, Guiding Teacher Insight Santa Cruz, CA
Frank Ostaseski, Founder, Metta Institute, CA
Jayla Klein, Insight Santa Cruz, CA
Anna Douglas, Spirit Rock, Woodacer, CA
Philip L. Jones, Silent Mind Open Heart Sangha, Columbia, MO
Jennifer Kim, New York, NY
Leslie Tremaine
Rebekah Laros, Spirit Rock Meditation Center, CA
Brian Lesage, Flagstaff Vipassana Meditation Group, AZ
Nina Nagy, New Canaan, CT
Gregory Gerber
Jeff Scannell, Montpelier Insight Meditation, VT
Elaine Retholtz, New York Insight Meditation Center, NY
Laura Crawford Hofer, Eugene, OR
Tina Rasmussen, Ph.D., Awakening Dharma, San Francisco Bay Area, CA
Anne Briggs, Insight Meditation Community of Chestertown, Chestertown, MD
Alice Alldredge, Open Door Sangha, Santa Barbara , CA
Devon Hase, Madison City Sangha
Nancy Hilyard, Oceano, CA
Berget Jelane, San Jose Insight Meditation, CA
Barbara Poe, Prescott Vipassana Sangha, Prescott, AZ
Kerry Walsh, San Anselmo, CA
Luke Lundemo, Jackson MS Meditation Group, MS
Jai Uttal, San Anselmo, CA
Tomi Kobara, Awakening in Deep Refuge sangha – East Bay, CA
Nancy Taylor, Teton Sangha, Jackson Hole, WY
Elissa Epel, Ph.D., UCSF, San Francisco, CA
Russell Long, Ph.D., San Francisco, CA
Sakula Mary Reinard, Portland Friends of the Dhamma, Portland, OR
Michele Ku, Yes, East Bay Meditation Center, Berkeley, CA
Betsy Rose, Berkeley CA & Spirit Rock Meditation Center
Gayle Markow, San Francisco, CA
Philippe Daniel
Arpita Brown
Jessica Graham, Eastside Mindfulness Meditation , Los Angeles, CA

Read More

Mind and Life: Discussions with the Dalai Lama on the Nature of Reality

Available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk

Available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk

The Mind and Life Conference (ML), a production of the Mind and Life Institute, is an almost yearly gathering of Western scientists and Tibetan Buddhists, led by the His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso). Mind and Life: Discussions with the Dalai Lama on the Nature of Reality is a product of the 2002 conference, the tenth (X) in the series.

The Mind and Life Institute emerged as “a bold experiment” in 1987 from the efforts of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Adam Engle, and Francisco Varela. Between ML IX and X, co-founder and visionary scholar Francisco Varela passed away, a tremendous loss for all of us who seek knowledge in the realm of consciousness studies. Varela has been ably replaced by Richard Davidson (author, most recently, of The Emotional Life of Your Brain).

Among the luminaries attending past conversations are neuroscientist Antonio R. Damasio, philosopher Owen Flanagan, psychologist Daniel Goleman, anthropologist and Zen priest Roshi Joan Halifax, psychologist and Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, Cistercian monk and founder of the Centering Prayer movement Father Thomas Keating, cellular geneticist and Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard, and philosopher Evan Thompson, among many, many others.

The Scientific Coordinator at ML X was:

  • Arthur Zajonc, Ph.D., Professor of Physics at Amherst College

Participants were:

  • Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness, the XIVth Dalai Lama of Tibet
  • Michel Bitbol, M.D., Ph.D., Directeur de recherché at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris, France
  • Steven Chu, Theodore and Frances Geballe Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Stanford University
  • Ursula Goodenough, Ph.D., Professor of Biology at Washington University
  • Eric Lander, Ph.D., geneticist, molecular biologist, mathematician, and the founder and director of the Whitehead Institute Center for Genome Research
  • Prof. Dr. Pier Luigi Luisi, Professor of Macromolecular Chemistry at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology
  • Matthieu Ricard, Ph.D., Author and Buddhist monk at Shechen Monastery in Kathmandu and French interpreter since 1989 for His Holiness the Dalai Lama
  • Arthur Zajonc, Ph.D., Professor of Physics at Amherst College

The interpreters were:

  • Geshe Thupten Jinpa, Ph.D., President and chief editor for The Classics of Tibet Series produced by the Institute of Tibetan Classics in Montreal, Canada.
  • B. Alan Wallace, Ph.D., Visiting Lecturer, Department of Religious Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara

When I began reading this book, my expectations, based on watching videos of the last several Mind and Life Conferences, no doubt skewed my experience of the book at first. Having seen those videos of recent conferences, I kept waiting for the book to get into the dharma, but that is not the book’s purpose, although there is certainly some Buddhist philosophy later in the book.

As one might guess from the list of Western scientists present at ML X, the topic was the “nature of reality,” and the book is essentially a condensed summary of how Western science makes sense of life, consciousness, and the universe. The first chapter looks at the elementary particles from which matter emerges, then moves through complexity theory (2), the complexity of life (3), how life unfolds (4), the human genome (5), and then consciousness to ethics (6). Along the way, there are interviews with Matthieu Ricard, Richard Gere, and His Holiness the Karmapa.

Readers interested in a crash course in the fields of physics, biology, and psychology will receive a solid grounding in the areas where theory is well-established and a sense for the open questions with which researchers still grapple. The conference structure allows that each day features a morning session of scientific explication and an afternoon discussion session. Pier Luigi Luisi does a good job of presenting this flow of the five days, although there are a couple of adjustments in the timeline in the interest of literary coherence.

Through the first half of the book, the Tibetan contingent offers little opposition to the Western model of physics and biology. However, when the topic eventually shifts to consciousness in the latter part of the book, the different perspectives on consciousness fully emerge. Western science, or at least the more forward-thinking version presented in these conferences, theorizes that consciousness is an adaptive, complex, and emergent property of the brain, making it clear that not all consciousness researchers believe it is fully reducible to the physical brain. The Tibetans, however, strongly disagree, holding that consciousness consists of gross and subtle consciousness, with the gross level based in the body and its sensations/perceptions and the subtle level shaped by the brain, but not subordinate to it. In fact, many authors who work in the interplay between Tibetan Buddhism and Western science believe consciousness exists independent with or possibly from – and ontologically prior to – matter and life (such B. Alan Wallace).

Here is the Dalai Lama’s explanation of the Buddhist view:

[W]e ask what consciousness actually arises from. What is it that turns into consciousness? According to Buddhist principles, consciousness can arise only from a continuum of phenomena similar to itself, in the same way that formations of mass-energy give rise to formations of mass-energy. It is a similar continuum. Subtle consciousness is a radically different type of phenomenon; therefore it can arise only from phenomena similar to itself. Matter, configurations of mass-energy, is radically dissimilar to consciousness. … Matter cannot transform into or become consciousness. (p. 181)

The Dalai Lama admits that this view is a form of dualism, and suggests that Western science has its own dualisms, such organic and inorganic matter. But he also argues that dualisms are inherent any time there are two things and not one, and “Dualism makes sense only in relation to a very specific context.”

Eric Lander tried to challenge the Dalai Lama on the rather esoteric nature of the gross/subtle distinction, asking if this doctrine is not simply an unproven but accepted assumption in the absence of any evidence, logic, or proof. His Holiness countered, however, with an argument based in the scientific method he learned from his Western teachers.

First of all, it’s not true that this is merely an assumption. There’s an empirical basis that is repeatable. There is a systematic training that can lead to the empirical conclusion that a continuity of consciousness transcends the limitations of one body, one life. This is not something unique to Buddhism; it preceded Buddhism, and it is not embedded in one ideology or one belief system. There are different modes of meditation within Tibetan Buddhism, different avenues to that experience. (p. 182)

What the Dalai Lama presents here is the essential nature of scientific inquiry. There are three steps: (1) Instrumental injunction, to know this, do this practice or experiment; (2) Direct apprehension, an immediate experience of the data generated by the injunction; and (3) Communal confirmation, comparing your results with others who have performed the same injunction (Wilber, 1998). His Holiness argues that other monks in other disciplines have replicated the reality of subtle consciousness in their own experiments, so there is a communal confirmation.

Where this leads, of course, is into the ongoing conflict between subjective, introspective knowledge (first-person) and objective, observational knowledge (third-person). Western science and, indeed, Western philosophy still struggle with admitting that first-person experience has any scientific validity. In fact, Massimo Pigliucci, in his rant against a review of this book by Michael Bond in Nature magazine (13 November 2008), argues that “‘a science of introspection’ is an oxymoron.” In fact, he states that introspection “is not and cannot be ‘science’ because science is based on the idea of independent verification of empirical findings” (para. 7).

Fortunately, the scientists and philosophers who engage in these dialogues with the Dalai Lama are more open-minded. While several of the Western scientists admit lacking the meditative experience necessary to make sense of the Tibetan worldview, they are nonetheless curious and seek some form of understanding that fits within their own worldviews. For now, however, both sides are somewhat entrenched in their own perspectives, but we benefit from their efforts to hold their own views more lightly.

Notes:
Pigliucci, M. (2008, Dec 6). “Consciousness, Meditation, and The Dalai Lama.” rationallyspeaking.org.
Wilber, K. (1998). The Marriage of Sense and Soul: Integrating Science and Religion. Boston: Shambhala Publications.

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A marriage between Buddhism and science

Ethan Corey, The Amherst Student: B. Alan Wallace ’87 is not the typical Amherst alumnus. Author of more than 20 books on Buddhism and science and a practicing Buddhist monk for the entirety of his time at the College, he now goes on meditative retreats for months on end, performing psychological experiments in a lucid dream state to attempt to discover the true nature of reality, happiness and suffering.

Finding His Own Path

Wallace was born to a devoutly Christian family and spent his youth travelling the world with his Protestant theologian father. However, he was strongly interested in science from a young age …

Read the original article »

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Meditation improves emotional behaviors in teachers, study finds

Schoolteachers who underwent a short but intensive program of meditation were less depressed, anxious or stressed – and more compassionate and aware of others’ feelings, according to a UCSF-led study that blended ancient meditation practices with the most current scientific methods for regulating emotions.

A core feature of many religions, meditation is practiced by tens of millions around the world as part of their spiritual beliefs as well as to alleviate psychological problems, improve self-awareness and to clear the mind. Previous research has linked meditation to positive changes in blood pressure, metabolism and pain, but less is known about the specific emotional changes that result from the practice.

The new study was designed to create new techniques to reduce destructive emotions while improving social and emotional behavior.

The study will be published in the April issue of the journal Emotion.

“The findings suggest that increased awareness of mental processes can influence emotional behavior,” said lead author Margaret Kemeny, PhD, director of the Health Psychology Program in UCSF’s Department of Psychiatry. “The study is particularly important because opportunities for reflection and contemplation seem to be fading in our fast-paced, technology-driven culture.”

Altogether, 82 female schoolteachers between the ages of 25 and 60 participated in the project. Teachers were chosen because their work is stressful and because the meditation skills they learned could be immediately useful to their daily lives, possibly trickling down to benefit their students.

Study Arose After Meeting Dalai Lama
The study arose from a meeting in 2000 between Buddhist scholars, behavioral scientists and emotion experts at the home of the Dalai Lama. There, the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman, PhD, a UCSF emeritus professor and world expert in emotions, pondered the topic of emotions, leading the Dalai Lama to pose a question: In the modern world, would a secular version of Buddhist contemplation reduce harmful emotions?

From that, Ekman and Buddhist scholar Alan Wallace developed a 42-hour, eight-week training program, integrating secular meditation practices with techniques learned from the scientific study of emotion. It incorporated three categories of meditative practice:

  1. Concentration practices involving sustained, focused attention on a specific mental or sensory experience;
  2. Mindfulness practices involving the close examination of one’s body and feelings;
  3. Directive practices designed to promote empathy and compassion toward others.

In the randomized, controlled trial, the schoolteachers learned to better understand the relationship between emotion and cognition, and to better recognize emotions in others and their own emotional patterns so they could better resolve difficult problems in their relationships. All the teachers were new to meditation and all were involved in an intimate relationship.

“We wanted to test whether the intervention affected both personal well-being as well as behavior that would affect the well-being of their intimate partners,” said Kemeny.

As a test, the teachers and their partners underwent a “marital interaction” task measuring minute changes in facial expression while they attempted to resolve a problem in their relationship. In this type of encounter, those who express certain negative facial expressions are more likely to divorce, research has shown.

Some of the teachers’ key facial movements during the marital interaction task changed, particularly hostile looks which diminished. In addition, depressed mood levels dropped by more than half. In a follow-up assessment five months later, many of the positive changes remained, the authors said.

“We know much less about longer-term changes that occur as a result of meditation, particularly once the ‘glow’ of the experience wears off,” Kemeny said. “It’s important to know what they are because these changes probably play an important role in the longer-term effects of meditation on mental and physical health symptoms and conditions.”

The study involved researchers from a number of institutions including UCSF, UC Davis, and Stanford University.

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The Best Buddhist Writing 2011

Another year passes and it’s time for another issue of The Best Buddhist Writing, 2011, from Shambhala Publications. This is the seventh edition of what has become an annual treat of good writing for those who do not — or cannot — subscribe to the many Buddhist magazines or buy the many Buddhist books published each year.

The editor of the series, Melvin Mcleod, who is also the editor of The Shambhala Sun, does his typically nice job, with the assistance of his fellow editors at the Sun, of selecting a representative sampling of writing from many well-known and lesser-known writers and teachers. The usual names are here, the names that sell each year’s edition, such as His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Jack Kornfield, Lin Jensen (an editor at Tricycle), Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, Matthieu Ricard, and Pico Iyer, to name only a few.

Title: The Best Buddhist Writing 2011
Author: Edited by Melvin McLeod
Publisher: Shambhala
ISBN: 978-1-59030-933-9
Available from: Shambhala, Amazon.co.uk, and Amazon.com.

Interestingly, there is nothing from Pema Chodron this year, nor is there anything from Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche (leader of the Shambhala lineage) — two figures closely associated with Shambhala Sun. There also is nothing from B. Alan Wallace or Robert Thurman, two prolific authors who bring a more academic flavor to these collections.

As a reader, the absence of some of the big names makes room for newer writers — such as Susan Piver, Joanna Macy, and others — who are a pleasure to read and who bring a distinctly Western flavor to this year’s edition.

Many of the pieces in this volume are about real life, about finding the lessons in the mundane and the unexpected. The first article, “Hand Wash Cold” by Karen Maezen Miller, recounts her meeting of her future husband in a restaurant in Florence, Italy. But the piece is really about dishes, a dishwasher, and how a couple learns that “marriage is a lot like a silent meditation retreat.” Both marriage and the retreat can bring us “face-to-face with the most unlovable aspects” of ourselves, all the ways we are unpleasant, selfish, and want to run when things get tough.

Near the end of the volume, a piece called, “This Is Getting Old,” by Susan Moon, deals with the mother-daughter relationship, when the daughter is already sixty-three years of age. Even while the elder woman introduces the author to her friends as “my Buddhist daughter from California,” the author still is learning from her mother about being in the present, “because that’s important in old age.”

I am drawn to these teachings more than the traditional dharma teachings—probably because much of my practice is in being mindful in the moment, whatever moment that is. But there are some good articles in the traditional teaching model as well.

Kathleen McDonald’s “Awakening the Kind Heart” is an excellent introduction to loving-kindness meditations, from a nun in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Likewise, “Taming the Mind,” by Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche and Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche, offers a clear, short teaching on how we might tame the mind, but for this reader it feels like a view from 30,000 feet, not as down in the muck of everyday life as the first two articles I mentioned.

Another example may be Thich Nhat Hanh’s “The Child Within,” which is an excellent article (especially for a new psychotherapist such as myself), because it presents a Buddhist slant on a topic that is central to a lot of trauma work: that we have wounded child parts who need love and attention. Still, as important as this article is, the feeling one gets is that it is more removed from everyday living, more abstract.

On the other hand, the article that precedes it, Susan Piver’s “The Wisdom of a Broken Heart,” starts with the immediacy of loss, triggered by a basket of jalapeño cheddar-cheese cornbread. The ex-boyfriend loved that food, and the author is immediately plunged back into the grief that follows a break-up, crying in a bathroom stall and trying not to be heard, which only “leads to a bulbous nose and Mount Rushmore-sized headache.” She learns not to fight the loss, but to befriend it (much as Pema Chodron might teach). More importantly, however, she speaks directly to the reader about the embodied experience of loss, how it feels in the right-now.

Reading the volume, there is a sense that Western Buddhism, whatever that may or may not be, is developing a different set of teachings than the traditional Eastern teachers, and even different from those first pioneers who brought Buddhist teachings to West in the 1950s and 1960s.

The current generation of authors who are writing about Buddhism do so from the lived experience of daily life, raising a family, navigating relationships, earning a living, and so on. Theirs is not a Buddhism acquired in monastic life, in pilgrimage to study with Tibetan lamas, or from some other context removed from what was once known as being a householder. This emerging Western Buddhism feels like an embodied Buddhism, a way to live the teachings in the context of a postmodern technological society.

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Meditation has the power to make dramatic changes in your physical and psychological health

Many people see meditation as an exotic form of daydreaming, or a quick fix for a stressed-out mind. My advice to them is, try it.

Meditation is difficult, at least to begin with. On my first attempt, instead of concentrating on my breathing and letting go of anything that came to mind, as instructed by my cheery Tibetan teacher, I got distracted by a string of troubled thoughts, then fell asleep. Apparently, this is normal for first-timers. Experienced meditators will assure you that it is worth persisting, however.

“Training allows us to transform the mind, to overcome destructive emotions and to dispel suffering,” says Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard. “The numerous and profound methods that Buddhism has developed over the centuries can be used and incorporated by anyone. What is needed is enthusiasm and perseverance.”

It all sounds very rewarding, but what does science have to say on the subject?

Stories abound in the media about the transformative potential of meditative practice, but it is only in recent years empirical evidence has emerged. In the past…

Read the rest of this article…

decade, researchers have used functional magnetic-resonance imaging (fMRI) to look at the brains of experienced meditators, such as Ricard, as well as beginners, and tested the effects of different meditative practices on cognition, behavior, physical and emotional health and brain plasticity.

A real scientific picture of meditation is now coming together. It suggests meditation can indeed change aspects of your psychology, temperament and physical health in dramatic ways. The studies are even starting to throw light on how meditation works.

“Time spent earnestly investigating the nature of your mind is bound to be helpful,” says Clifford Saron at the Center for Mind and Brain at the University of California, Davis. And you don’t need a Buddhist or spiritualist worldview to profit from meditation. “One can be an empiricist (in meditation), just by working with the nature of your experience.” Saron should know. He’s leading the Shamatha project, one of the most comprehensive scientific studies of meditation ever.
In 2007, Saron and a team of neuroscientists and psychologists followed 60 experienced meditators over an intensive three-month meditation retreat in the Colorado Rockies, watching for changes in their mental abilities, psychological health and physiology. Participants practiced for at least five hours a day using a method known as focused attention meditation, which involves directing attention on the tactile sensation of breathing. The first paper from the project was published in June 2010 (Psychological Science).
Headed by Katherine MacLean at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Md., the study measured the volunteers’ attention skills by showing them a succession of vertical lines flashed up on a computer screen. They then had to indicate, by clicking a mouse, whenever there was a line shorter than the rest. As the retreat progressed, MacLean and her colleagues found that as the volunteers became progressively more accurate and increasingly easy to stay focused on the task for long periods.
Other researchers have also linked meditation with improved attention. Last year, a team led by Antoine Lutz at the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior, which is part of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, reported that after three months of training in focused attention meditation, volunteers were quicker at picking out different tones among a succession of similar ones, implying their powers of sustained concentration had improved (Journal of Neuroscience).
In 2007, Lutz’s colleague Heleen Slagter, now at the University of Amsterdam, published results from a study involving a combination of focused attention and “open monitoring” or mindfulness meditation, which involves the constant monitoring of moment-by-moment experience. After three months of meditation for between 10 and 12 hours a day her subjects showed a decreased “attentional blink,” the cognitive processing delay, usually lasting about half a second, that causes people to miss a stimulus such as a number on a screen when it follows rapidly after another (PLoS Biology).
The suggestion that meditation can improve attention is worth considering, given that focus is crucial to so much in life, from the learning and application of skills to everyday judgment and decision-making, or simply concentrating on your computer screen at work without thinking about what you will be eating for dinner. But how does dwelling on your breath for a period each day lead to such a pronounced cognitive change?
One possibility is it involves working memory, the capacity to hold in the mind information needed for short-term reasoning and comprehension. The link with meditation was established recently by Amishi Jha at the University of Miami-Coral Gables. She trained a group of American marines to focus their attention using mindfulness meditation and found that this increased their working memory (Emotion).
Feeling better
Along with enhancing cognitive performance, meditation seems to have an effect on emotional well-being. A second study from researchers with the Shamatha project concluded that meditation improves general social and emotional functioning, making study participants less anxious, and more aware of and better able to manage their emotions.
The ability to manage one’s emotions could also be key to why meditation can improve physical health. Studies have shown it to be an effective treatment for eating disorders, substance abuse, psoriasis and in particular for recurrent depression and chronic pain.
Last year, psychologist Fadel Zeidan, at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, reported that his volunteers noticed a decreased sensitivity to pain after just a few sessions of mindfulness meditation (Journal of Pain). He believes meditation doesn’t remove the sensation of pain so much as teach sufferers to control their emotional reaction to it and reduce the stress response. He is now using fMRI in an attempt to understand why that helps.
“There’s something very empowering about knowing you can alleviate some of these things yourself,” he says.
A gym for your mind
The suggestion people can become more empathic and compassionate through meditation practice has prompted psychologist Paul Ekman and Alan Wallace, a Buddhist teacher and president of the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies, to float the idea of mental training “gymnasiums.” Like physical exercise gyms, but for the mind, these would allow people to drop in and learn to improve their emotional balance, develop their capacity for compassion and even measure their stress levels.
Others have suggested meditation could become an alternative to medication. Although this seems like a good idea, Saron is dubious. He worries thinking of meditation as a quick fix will smother some of the subtleties integral to successful practice. “When you are returning your mind to the object in hand, you have to do it with a sense of gentleness and authority, rather than develop a sense of failure when your mind wanders.”
Anyone can do it
The great thing about meditation is anyone can practice it anywhere. What’s more, you don’t have to be an expert or spend five hours a day at it to reap the benefits. The novices in Zeidan’s pain experiment reported improvements after meditating for just 20 minutes a day for three days. In a second experiment he found that similarly brief sessions can improve cognitive performance on tasks that demand continuous attention, such as remembering and reciting a series of digits (Consciousness and Cognition).
“It is possible to produce substantial changes in brain function through short-term practice of meditation,” says Richard Davidson, director of the Waisman Laboratory. He says data from a new unpublished study by his lab shows “demonstrable changes in brain function” in novice meditators after just two weeks of training for 30 minutes a day. “Even small amounts of practice can make a discernible difference.”
Tribune Media Services
How to meditate
You needn’t be an expert to reap the benefits of meditation.
There are numerous meditation styles, but the two most commonly studied by researchers are focused-attention meditation, in which the aim is to stay focused on a chosen thing such as an icon, a mantra or the breath, and mindfulness or open-monitoring meditation, where practitioners try to become aware of everything that comes into their moment-by-moment experience without reacting to it.
n For focused-attention meditation, start by sitting on a cushion or chair with your back straight and your hands in your lap and eyes closed. Then concentrate your mind on your chosen object – say your breathing, or more particularly the sensation of your breath leaving your mouth or nostrils. Try to keep it there. Probably your mind will quickly wander away, to an itch on your leg, perhaps, or to thoughts of what you will be doing later. Keep bringing it back to the breath. In time this will train the mind in three essential skills: to watch out for distractions, to “let go” of them once the mind has wandered, and to re-engage with the object of meditation. With practice, you should find it becomes increasingly easy to stay focused.
n In mindfulness meditation the aim is to monitor all the various experiences of your mind – thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations – and simply observe them, rather than trying to focus on any one of them. Instead of grasping at whatever comes to mind, which is what most of us do most of the time, the idea is to maintain a detached awareness. Those who develop this skill find it easier to manage emotions in day-to-day life.

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Meditation boosts attention span

The life of a Buddhist monk may seem far-removed from the busy, gadget-packed daily buzz most of us experience. But new research suggests daily meditation can give us a piece of the peaceful life, as the focused practice boosts attention spans.

“You wonder if the mental skills, the calmness, the peace that [Buddhist monks] express, if those things are a result of their very intensive training, or if they were just very special people to begin with,” said Katherine MacLean, who worked on the study as a graduate student at the University of California – Davis.

To find out, MacLean and colleagues had a group of 30 people with an average age of about 49 go on a three-month meditation retreat in Colorado, while a second group of 30 waited their turn (and were used as a reference with which to compare results from the first meditation group). The second group went on the retreat three months after the end of the first retreat.

All participants had been on at least three five-to-10 day meditation retreats before, and on this occasion they studied with B. Alan Wallace, one of the study’s co-authors and a meditation teacher and Buddhist scholar.

The participants completed various tests. For instance, at three points during the retreat, participants took a 30-minute computer test in which they watched the screen as lines flashed on it. Most lines were the same length, but every now and then a shorter one would appear, and the volunteer had to respond by clicking the computer mouse when this happened. The task was meant to measure visual attention span and the ability to make fine visual distinctions.

As meditation training progressed, participants got better at discriminating the short lines, which in turn made it easier to sustain attention. The result meant improved performance on the task over a long period of time. The performance improvement lasted five months after the retreat (the length of the follow-up period), particularly for those who continued to meditate every day.

“Because this task is so boring and yet is also very neutral, it’s kind of a perfect index of meditation training,” MacLean said. “People may think meditation is something that makes you feel good and going on a meditation retreat is like going on vacation, and you get to be at peace with yourself. That’s what people think until they try it. Then you realize how challenging it is to just sit and observe something without being distracted.”

The set of experiments done by MacLean and a team of nearly 30 researchers with the same group of participants is the most comprehensive study of intensive meditation to date, the scientists say. Some of the results are published in the June issue of the journal Psychological Science.

Future analyses of these same volunteers will look at other mental abilities, such as how well people who meditate can regulate their emotions and their general well-being.

[via LiveScience]
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UC Davis study finds that practicing meditation can improve perception

Om mani padme hum.

Repeat the ancient mantra—Om mani padme hum (“Hail the jewel in the lotus”), om mani padme hum—again and again until the chaos of your thoughts quiets, the thump of your heart becomes clearly evident and your attention turns to the easy movement of breath through your nostrils … in and out … in and out. You’re no longer lost in thought. You’re not spaced out. You’re paying attention to what’s going on in the present moment. You’re meditating.

Buddhists have been practicing meditations like this one and hundreds of variations for more than 2,500 years. It’s only in recent years, though, that the contemplative practice has moved into the mainstream. In 2007, more than 9 percent of Americans were meditating according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The fascination with meditation continues perhaps driven by a desire to gain health benefits, find spiritual comfort or to say “no” to high-velocity lives that leave us disconnected from ourselves and others.

Over the past 50 years, scientists have also been asking questions about the human mind and attempting to figure out the benefits of training it through meditation. Type “meditation” into the PubMed index, and it returns nearly 2,000 published research articles on the subject. Much of the early work is today considered too deeply flawed to be meaningful. But recent work provides evidence that meditation can offer relief for conditions such as anxiety, stress, depression, pain and insomnia. Functional MRIs reveal changes resulting from prolonged meditation in the brains of Buddhist monks.

Now, led by UC Davis researchers, the longest and most complex study of meditation ever undertaken is beginning to publish its first results after more than two years spent analyzing mountains of data.

The Shamatha Project sought to discover whether anyone can achieve the remarkable calm, focus and joyfulness that monks and yogis display often in the face of great hardship and suffering. It’s a question that hounded Clifford Saron, associate research scientist at the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain and leader of a team of 25 prominent neuroscientists and psychologists working on Shamatha, since meeting some of these extraordinary people through a study he organized in the 1990s.

Just how long or often someone would have to engage in meditative practice to gain these characteristics remains unanswered, although 60 people enrolled in two groups in the project appear to have made strides toward achieving enhanced states of calm, focus and joyfulness after three months of intensive meditation training at the Shambhala Mountain Center in Colorado. Progress was assessed using a variety of state-of-the-art measures, including electrophysiological testing using EEG/ERP and other standard psychological assessment tests.

The first official findings released from the Shamatha Project uphold a claim by meditators that the practice improves perception. An article published last month online in Psychological Science reports that study participants became better at making fine visual distinctions and sustaining attention during a 30-minute test.

Lead author Katherine MacLean, who also works at the UC Davis Center and whose work on the project formed the basis of her doctoral dissertation, derived her tests from those used to assess vigilance in radar operators. It’s a lot more complicated than this, but simply put: People watched lines appear on a screen and clicked a mouse each time they spotted one that was shorter than the others. By midway through the study, those who meditate had become better at identifying a smaller difference between long and short lines and at sustaining attention.

Adults are usually lousy at paying vigilant attention, especially when the task is monotonous or boring. Most begin making mistakes on this test within 10 minutes. But as it became easier for meditators to pick out the shorter lines, they were able to sustain their attention for longer periods.

“To show that in just a month and a half of intensive mental training, that is a pretty remarkable feat,” MacLean said. “It’s encouraging to see that there can be changes well into adulthood.”

What does all this have to do with whether or not ordinary meditators can achieve the kind of joyful compassion that Saron witnessed in yogis and monks who’d spent a lifetime in meditative training?

Most of us have trouble tapping into what we’re thinking and feeling in the moment, or a few minutes later, or even hours or days later. That’s understandable since more than 99 percent of our experience is not in our conscious awareness. But what if through meditation we were able to rest between our thoughts and feelings long enough to identify them as they occur? We then might be able to gain control of our thoughts, learn to regulate our emotions, and improve our ability to act with kindness and compassion.

This is the potential some believe mediation has for transforming our lives. It’s what the Shamatha Project set out to examine: How does meditation practice affect people’s lives in the world?

Although the Shamatha Project was first conceived by Buddhist scholar B. Alan Wallace of the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies years ago, it didn’t officially begin until early 2007. That’s when two groups of 30 people ages 21 to 70 with varied experience with meditation—one served as a control group and later also took the training—were recruited. During the three-month experiment, they spent on average five hours a day practicing an array of meditation techniques taught by Wallace, including a focus on breath.

Did intensive practice help participants regulate their emotions or increase compassion? The scientists assessed emotional responses by showing the meditators graphic scenes of human suffering and recording the minute changes in facial expressions that reveal emotions. They will compare these observations with how the retreatants said they felt when viewing the images to evaluate awareness of emotions.

To get at emotion regulation and compassion from another angle, researchers showed documentary footage of soldiers bragging about getting psyched up to shoot Iraqis. These were followed by images of suffering—including children—and soldiers describing the difficulty of the war. Preliminary findings indicate that those who had been practicing intensive meditation were less likely than controls to show emotions that may be interpreted as distancing themselves from others.

In addition to the improvements in what Buddhists call “attentional vividness,” those receiving the intensive training overall experienced greater well-being and less anxiety than those who did not undergo the training. Reports that tie results together will be forthcoming.

Saron, who doesn’t maintain a regular meditation practice today but has participated in many retreats over the past 35 years, described observing the openness, warmth and joy among participants toward the end of the study as one of the high points of his life. He concluded: “I didn’t need any scientific evidence for the utility of seriously investigating one’s mind. But that’s me.”

[Nancy Brands Ward, NewsReview.com]

For more information on the Shamatha Project, go to the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain website at https://mindbrain.ucdavis.edu, or to www.shambhalamountain.org/shamatha.

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Visual perception heightened by meditation training

Intensive mental training has a measurable effect on visual perception, according to a new study from the Center for Mind and Brain at the University of California, Davis. People undergoing intensive training in meditation became better at making fine visual distinctions and sustaining attention during a 30-minute test.

A paper describing the results will be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science and was posted on the journal website May 11. It is the first paper to be published from a major scientific study of meditation training, the Shamatha Project.

“These results show for the first time that improved perception, often claimed to be a benefit of meditation practice, underlies improvements in sustained attention,” said project leader Clifford Saron, associate research scientist at the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain.

Saron has been interested in meditation since the 1970s. In the 1990s, under the auspices of the Dalai Lama’s private office and of the Boulder, Colo. -based Mind and Life Institute, he organized a field study of adept practitioners. During that project he was inspired by meeting exiled Tibetan monks and yogis in the Indian foothills of the Himalayas, who had achieved remarkable emotional calm, focus and joyfulness in their lives, sometimes despite great hardship and suffering.

Saron and his colleagues wanted to know: Can these states be achieved only by individuals with an unusually serene disposition? Or can they be achieved by most people through intensive training?

The Shamatha Project is an attempt to answer those questions. It is the first long-term, detailed, control-group study of the measurable effects of meditative training on physiology, mental functioning and emotional state, Saron said.

In the project, 30 participants attended a three-month meditation retreat at the Shambhala Mountain Center in Red Feather Lakes, Colo. They received ongoing instruction in meditation techniques from Buddhist scholar B. Alan Wallace of the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies, while attending group sessions twice a day and engaging in individual practice for about six hours a day. Wallace had worked with Saron on the field study in India and brought the idea for the Shamatha project to Saron and his UC Davis colleagues in 2003.

At the beginning, end, and in the middle of the course, participants were tested on attention and cognition, psychological and emotional measures, and physical and physiological changes.

A control group of 30 people matched for age, sex, education, ethnicity and meditation experience was assessed at the same time and in the same place, but did not otherwise attend meditation training at that time. The control group did undergo identical training later.

The visual attention experiments were led by UC Davis graduate student Katherine MacLean. Based on tests long used to assess vigilance in radar operators and other professions requiring long durations of uninterrupted attention, participants had to watch lines appearing on a screen and click a mouse when they saw lines that were shorter than others.

By midway through the retreat, meditators had become better at making fine visual distinctions. They were able to identify a smaller difference between “long” and “short” lines, and were better able to sustain attention during the half-hour test. Those findings are consistent with Buddhist claims that meditation cultivates “attentional vividness.”

People who continued practicing meditation after the retreat still showed improvements in perception when they were retested about five months later.

Meditation training may free up mental resources so that attentional focus can be sustained more easily for extended periods of time, Saron said. Meditators may also be more aware of normally subtle changes in experience that others miss, and have better emotional regulation.

The Shamatha Project shows that women and men of diverse age, ethnicity, education, and meditation experience can achieve measurable changes in their mental state and capabilities if they can commit to intensive training, Saron said.

While few individuals have three months to commit to such training, other studies have shown improvements in aspects of health and well-being with a less demanding regime. The minimum level of training required to produce the perceptual improvements seen in the Shamatha study remains to be determined, Saron said.

While the Shamatha Project is the largest and most comprehensive attempt yet to study changes brought about by mental training, its results cannot capture the full, first-person subjective experience of meditation, Saron said.

“We’re not trying to bottle someone’s experience,” he said. The project may, however, give insights into the nature of the mind and the relation between psychological and physiological traits using data from both first- and third-person perspectives.

Papers describing the other results of the study are in press or submitted for publication. The other authors on the Psychological Science paper are graduate student Stephen Aichele, Associate Professor Emilio Ferrer, postdoctoral scholar Baljinder Sahdra, Professor Phillip Shaver, and Professor George R. Mangun from the UC Davis Departments of Psychology and Neurology; research specialists Anthony Zanesco and Brandon King, both now admitted graduate students at UC Davis; postdoctoral scholar Tonya Jacobs and consulting scientist Erika Rosenberg from the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain; and graduate student David Bridwell, Department of Cognitive Science, UC Irvine. MacLean is now a postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Major support for The Shamatha Project comes from the Fetzer Institute and the Hershey Family Foundation. Additional support comes from numerous private foundations, individual donors, and a National Science Foundation predoctoral fellowship to MacLean, and a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada postdoctoral fellowship to Sahdra.

[via UC Davis]
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“The Novice,” by Stephen Schettini

"The Novice," by Stephen SchettiniVishvapani reviews Schettini’s heartfelt and vivid account of becoming a Tibetan Buddhist monk and his valuable reflections on what it means for westerners to practice Buddhism

When I first encountered Buddhism in the UK around 1980 there was already a generation of established practitioners, most of whom shared a common background. They were hippies … or should that be ex-hippies? Their faces lit up as they recounted their adventures: how they set out from respectable homes to discover the excitements of London’s Kings Road, join the flower children in the Haight, or make exotic journeys to the East. There were stories of dope deals that went wrong, revelatory acid trips, close shaves with bandits in the Afghan mountains, and spiritual discoveries in India.

Title: The Novice: Why I Became a Buddhist Monk, Why I Quit and What I Learned
Author: Stephen Schettini
Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group Press
ISBN: 978-1-60832-005-9
Available from: Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.

All that is in The Novice. Stephen Schettini grew up in London and Gloucester in an English-Italian family with at least its share of emotional repression and Catholic guilt. At the time, he just wanted to get away and felt increasingly estranged from his family’s petty bourgeois ambitions. With his philosophical leanings and alienation from society, Schettini was a natural recruit to the counter-culture and he eventually hitchhiked along the hippy trail that led stretched from Europe to India. His story was so familiar that it seemed clichéd until it struck me that I couldn’t think of another book that tells it, and that Schettini tells it well. His writing is lucid and vivid, at least once the story gets going, and he doesn’t let the impulse to reminisce get in the way of his tale.

In India, Schettini‘s path diverged from that of the Buddhists I had met, who had enjoyed their adventures and come home. He heard that the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan refugees were living in Dharamsala in the Himalayan foothills, and set off to find what they had to offer. The turning point came when Schettini met and studied with Lama Yeshe, “the hippy Lama,” who exuded warmth, taught in English and knew enough about the Western culture to pepper his teachings with humorous asides about supermarkets and consumerism. Something clicked for Schettini when he encountered Tibetan Buddhism: the promise of an inner peace that would resolve his emotional turmoil; a new identity that would end his isolation; a philosophy that answered his questions; and benign, seemingly all-knowing lamas upon whom he could rely.

Schettini soon became a monk and found himself in Switzerland studying with the famous scholar, Geshe Rabten, and sharing an intense existence with several other young monks. Two members of this tight-knit group have become prominent figures in western Buddhism. Alan Wallace is a leading figure in the dialogue between science and Buddhism, and Stephen Batchelor is a writer and teacher whose approach is amply expressed in the title of his latest book, Confession of a Buddhist Atheist (which is also part-autobiography and covers some of the same ground as The Novice).

The intellectual trajectories of Schettini’s fellow-monks suggest the struggles that awaited Schettini himself as he moved from immersing himself in Tibetan culture and religion and hoped to integrate it with the rest of his life. Geshe Rabten’s regime emphasized study, but this turned out to mean memorizing ancient texts and mastering traditional arguments. Debate was on the curriculum, but it involved deploying those arguments skillfully, rather than subjecting an issue to the kind of fundamental inquiry that is found in western philosophy. The monks developed a camaraderie mixed with competitiveness that stopped some way short of intimacy. But the wider community around Rabten included proprietorial lay-women, wealthy donors who were treated as favourites and, later, a younger monks with a starry-eyed faith in the infallibility of their teacher.

Wishing to get to know the Tibetans better, Schettini left Rabten and traveled to Sera monastery in southern India, where he was the only westerner. Living among Tibetans and speaking their the language, the sheen that had made them seem semi-mythic beings faded and Schettini saw their limitations. The monks were immersed in a dogmatic system that closed off the possibility of even posing certain questions, and some thoughts were literally unthinkable within the limitations of the Tibetan language. Meanwhile, they lived in insanitary conditions, and refused to take basic precautions against infection and disease. Schettini returned to Switzerland, skeptical of many aspects of the tradition and was astonished by the naivety of Rabten’s students, who seemed so “dazzled by exotic thinking and ritual” that they accept the Teacher’s decisions without question. Before long he quit.

The remaining 25 years of Schettini’s story are recounted briskly. Unlike Batchelor, whose time as a Tibetan monk takes up just a couple of chapters of his book, Schettini was too snagged by the self-doubt and insecurity underpinning his decision to become a monk to explore other philosophies or Buddhist traditions. In order to live happily in a way that was authentic he needed to uncover the buried emotions that had been with him all along. Schettini realized that the very difficulties he had once fled were, in fact, the keys to his happiness. He needed to face them, and face himself rather than fleeing or blaming the monastic establishment.

Schettini wrote and rewrote the book that became The Novice over many years as he wrestled with his past. But the product is far more than a therapy journal. In reflecting on his life and the religion he encountered Schettini tried to “pick out the gold from the dross.” The personal philosophy he arrives at is a kind of wary spiritually-aware humanism. He mistrusts institutions and dogmatically-held beliefs, holding that “the more deeply we are motivated by emotion, the more insistently we pass it off as reason” and that “denial is a force to be reckoned with and our principal obstacle.”

This is wise, but I read Schettini’s reflections with sadness. I am sad that the reality of Tibetan Buddhism fell so far short of the image that beguiled him and many others. And I am sad that his eventual stance is so circumspect. I believe there is more gold in Buddhism than Schettini acknowledges, however much dross may accompany it. Indeed, I think there are more possibilities in the human condition than he mentions, and that Buddhism speaks to many of them: possibilities of mental development, compassion, and moral excellence. Religious institutions may often be rigid, but that isn’t a reason to give up on creating better ones.

It is over forty years since westerners started to investigate Asian spiritual traditions in large numbers, and many of the institutions they created in their efforts to establish Buddhism in the West are likewise several decades old. It is high time to let go of illusions about both the mystical East or the glorious prospects for western Buddhism and reflect seriously and honestly on what has been learned. The Novice is a heart-felt, frank, informative and eloquent contribution.

See more writing by Vishvapani at Wise Attention

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