Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, visited Boston earlier this month to attend the International Symposium for Contemplative Studies 2014. Over 1,700 delegates from 38 countries gathered in the Marriott Hotel, eagerly awaiting an appearance from his Holiness as part of the latest meeting of the Mind & Life Institute, of which his Holiness, Tenzin Gyatso is Honorary Chairman.
The Mind & Life Institute is a non-profit organisation, set up in 1990 to explore the relationship between science and Buddhism as methodologies in understanding the nature of reality. The meeting was opened by the president of the institute, Arthur Zajonc. Also in attendance was Richard Davidson, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin and one of the original scientists to work with the Dalai Lama. The meeting focused primarily on the potential uses for mindfulness techniques in society.
Talking about his appreciation for science, the Dalai Lama recalled being fascinated by technology as a child and later as a young man being enraptured during a trip to the hydroelectric dams and metal smelting works in China. The Dalai Lama emphasised that the Buddha encouraged his followers not to take anything on trust but to investigate things for themselves.
“When I talk about Buddhist literature, people may not listen.” The Dalia Lama stressed the importance of scientific research on mindfulness, implying that people are more likely to listen to scientists, as they have solid evidence to back up their claims. “We’re not talking about heaven, God or nirvana here,” he said, “but how to build a happier society.” – His Holiness, the Dalai Lama
According to his Holiness, the ethics of applying mindfulness in business depends entirely upon the corporation in question and whether it upholds social values and contributes to the welfare of its community. The Dalai Lama also remarked that “mental transformation never takes place through force or fear”, and criticised the widespread belief that money is the ultimate source of happiness.
Ironically, also speaking was Amishi Jha, a psychologist at the University of Miami who has been researching possible applications of mindfulness in business, but most notably in the military. This research has been funded by grants from private foundations and the US Department of Defense. The idea of harnessing mindfulness techniques for use in the military undoubtedly brings up strong reactions. The Dalai Lama did not comment directly on this specific research or its potential use.
Bringing the meeting to a close his Holiness thanked American scientists for leading the world in mindfulness research and quipped. “It’s another American invasion, but a positive one.”