[Paleopsych] CHE: In the Lab With the Dalai Lama

Lynn D. Johnson, Ph.D. ljohnson at solution-consulting.com
Sat Jan 7 05:42:53 UTC 2006

This was hilarious! Imagine being against the Dalai Lama*! What 
Torquemadas these scientists are!

*He is agnostic on the existence of God! How can one object?

Lynn D. Johnson, Ph.D.
Solutions Consulting Group
166 East 5900 South, Ste. B-108
Salt Lake City, UT 84107

Tel: (801) 261-1412; Fax: (801) 288-2269

Check out our webpage: www.solution-consulting.com

Feeling upset? Order Get On The Peace Train, my new solution-oriented book on negative emotions.

Premise Checker wrote:

> In the Lab With the Dalai Lama
> The Chronicle of Higher Education, 5.12.16
> http://chronicle.com/weekly/v52/i17/17b01001.htm
>    Even the Dalai Lama's harshest critics at the Society for
>    Neuroscience meeting last month, in Washington, would have
>    to concede this much: Choosing the exiled Tibetan Buddhist
>    leader to inaugurate the professional association's series
>    on neuroscience and society certainly got people talking.
>    Who would have thought that an announced lecture on "The
>    Neuroscience of Meditation" would set off a protest petition
>    gathering about 1,000 signatures, a counterpetition of
>    support boasting nearly as many names, substantial coverage
>    in The New York Times and on National Public Radio, as well
>    as ample chatter in the blogosphere? In a culture that likes
>    its battles between science and religion to be loud,
>    colorful, and Christian -- another nasty squabble, say,
>    between evolutionists and creationists -- this controversy
>    seemed unlikely to gain much traction. Yet as the dispute
>    built momentum in the months leading up to the event, it
>    soon became clear that the prospect of the red-robed Dalai
>    Lama's urging the study of an ancient spiritual practice
>    upon white-coated lab scientists would provide a newsworthy
>    angle on the usual wrangling.
>    Playing upon tensions far less noticed than those that have
>    plagued relations between science and conservative
>    Christianity, the latest dust-up reveals the spirit wars
>    that divide the knowledge class itself. How purely secular
>    and naturalistic do the members of that class imagine
>    themselves to be, and how committed are they to keeping
>    religion at bay in their conference gatherings, university
>    laboratories, civic institutions, newsrooms, and think
>    tanks? In turn, is "spirituality" a back door through which
>    religion gets to enter the conversation, now dressed in the
>    suitably neutralized garb of meditation as a universalistic
>    practice of inward peace and outreaching compassion? Or does
>    religion, even when soft-peddled in the cosmopolitan
>    language of spirituality and the contemplative mind,
>    inevitably remain an embarrassment to those elites who stake
>    their authority on secular rationality? The dispute roiling
>    the neuroscience society over the past six months has
>    brought such questions front and center.
>    Inviting the Dalai Lama to speak at the meeting created two
>    major border disputes. The first, of modest consequence to
>    religion-and-science debates, was the conflict over the
>    "political agenda" of the exiled Tibetan leader. In an
>    international professional association that includes many
>    Chinese scientists, some members were offended at the
>    implied endorsement that the event gave to the Dalai Lama's
>    larger cause of freedom for Tibetans. The second dispute,
>    more insistently debated, was over religion's showing up --
>    so visibly, to boot -- at an annual meeting of
>    neuroscientists. The almost visceral response by critics was
>    to declare a total separation of religion and science, to
>    wave the flag for the late-19th-century warfare between the
>    two domains. "A science conference is not [an] appropriate
>    venue for a religion-based presentation," a professor of
>    anesthesia from the University of California at San
>    Francisco remarked on the petition. "Who's next, the pope?"
>    That sign-off question pointed to a second part of the
>    strict separationist logic: Even if the Dalai Lama seemed
>    pretty irenic as religious leaders go, he nonetheless
>    represented a slippery slope into a mire of superstition and
>    authoritarianism. (How else, some critics asked, were they
>    to interpret his known affinities with reincarnation and
>    monasticism?) "Today, the Dalai Lama; Tomorrow,
>    Creationists?" wrote a professor of medicine at the
>    University of Toronto, capturing perhaps the most
>    commonplace anxiety given voice among the critics. Keep the
>    society free of all religious discussion, or else the
>    esteemed body might slide into the hell of a Kansas
>    school-board meeting.
>    More interesting than the purists' boundary monitoring is
>    the way the Dalai Lama and his defenders imagine through
>    meditation an emerging meeting point for science and
>    religion in contemporary culture. The headline study that
>    served as the immediate source of intrigue surrounding his
>    recent lecture was an article published last year in the
>    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and produced
>    by researchers at the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging
>    and Behavior, at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
>    That group, led by the psychology professor Richard J.
>    Davidson, has been studying long-term Tibetan Buddhist
>    practitioners of meditation, comparing their brain-wave
>    patterns with those of a control group. Davidson himself has
>    been working in the science-religion borderlands for more
>    than two decades and has been a leading collaborator with
>    the Mind and Life Institute, in Boulder, Colo., one of the
>    principal organizations encouraging the
>    neuroscience-meditation dialogue.
>    Shifting the focus of research from altered states of
>    consciousness or momentary experiences of ecstasy, which so
>    often concerned inquirers in the 1960s and 1970s, the
>    Davidson group has been looking for evidence that sustained
>    meditation causes actual neural changes in everyday patterns
>    of cognition and emotion. In other words, they want to know
>    if the brain function of long-term contemplatives is made
>    demonstrably different through years of "mental training."
>    And not just different, but better: That is, does the
>    well-developed meditative mind sustain higher levels of
>    compassion and calmness than the run-of-the-mill American
>    noggin? Well, after testing eight long-time Tibetan Buddhist
>    practitioners and 10 "healthy student volunteers," the
>    researchers discovered that the 10,000 to 50,000 hours that
>    the various monks had devoted to "mental training" appeared
>    to make a real neurological difference. As the study's title
>    put it, "Long-term meditators self-induce high-amplitude
>    gamma synchrony during mental practice." Davidson and
>    company, careful not to overreach in their conclusions, did
>    suggest that practices of meditation, and the accompanying
>    compassionate affect, were "flexible skills that can be
>    trained." Did that mean contemplative practice could be
>    abstracted from its religious context and then applied as a
>    kind of public pedagogy? Were hopeful supporters wrong to
>    read this as a tantalizing suggestion that meditation might
>    prove beneficial not only for the mental health of Americans
>    but also for the very fabric of society? Where, after all,
>    couldn't we benefit from a little more "pure compassion,"
>    altruism, lovingkindness, and "calm abiding"?
>    As novel as it may sound to monitor the brain waves of
>    Tibetan Buddhist monks in university laboratories or on
>    Himalayan hillsides (Davidson has done both), it is
>    certainly not the first time that American psychologists
>    have sought to re-engage the spiritual through the
>    healthy-mindedness of meditation. At Wisconsin, Davidson
>    occupies a research professorship named for Harvard's
>    William James, the pioneering psychologist, psychical
>    researcher, and philosopher of religion, and it is in the
>    tradition of James that the current turn to the
>    contemplative mind is best understood. Counter to the
>    popular image of Americans as endlessly enterprising,
>    agitated, and restless -- all busy Marthas, no reflective
>    Marys -- James discerned a deep mystical cast to the
>    American psyche and pursued that strain with uncommon
>    intellectual devotion. Yet when it came to "methodical
>    meditation," James saw little of it left among American
>    Christians and turned instead to homegrown practitioners of
>    various mind-over-matter cures. He particularly accented
>    those "New Thought" metaphysicians who were pushing forward
>    a dialogue with far-flung emissaries of yoga and Buddhist
>    meditation in the wake of the World's Parliament of
>    Religions, held in Chicago in 1893.
>    Among James's favored practitioners of these newly
>    improvised regimens of meditation was Ralph Waldo Trine, a
>    Boston-based reformer with a knack for inspirational
>    writing. In The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902),
>    James used Trine's blockbuster In Tune With the Infinite
>    (1897) as an epitome of the emergent practices of
>    concentration, mental repose, and healthy-mindedness then
>    percolating in New England and elsewhere across the country.
>    Though an unabashed popularizer, Trine was not a
>    lightweight. With an educational pedigree that ran from Knox
>    College to the University of Wisconsin to the Johns Hopkins
>    University, he moved easily in Harvard's wider metaphysical
>    circles and energetically engaged various progressive
>    causes. In much the same way that current studies promote
>    the clinical applications of meditation, Trine emphasized
>    the healthful benefits that accrued from cultivating a calm
>    yet expectant mind. He had no scanners or electrodes, but he
>    had the same hopes about improving the mental and physical
>    health of Americans through elaborating a universal practice
>    of meditation, one that transcended the particulars of any
>    one religious tradition and represented a kind of
>    cosmopolitan composite of all faiths. And while Trine did
>    not have the Dalai Lama at hand, he did have extended
>    contact with a well-traveled Sinhalese Buddhist monk,
>    Anagarika Dharmapala, with whom he compared notes and
>    devotional habits at a summer colony in Maine as he was
>    putting together his own system of meditation for Americans.
>    Like other inquirers then and now, Trine was all too ready
>    to look to Asia for a practical antidote to American
>    nervousness.
>    The real payoff for Trine, as it is for Davidson and his
>    colleagues, was not established simply through a calculus of
>    productivity or cheerfulness: Would encouraging meditation
>    or other visualization techniques make people more alert and
>    proficient at the office or on the playing field? Would it
>    make them feel happier and less disgruntled? Trine, like
>    James and now Davidson, was finally more interested in
>    saintliness and compassion than in helping stressed-out
>    brain workers relax and concentrate. It is hard not to hear
>    a hint of Davidson's pursuit of altruism in Trine's "spirit
>    of infinite love," the moral imperative to "care for the
>    weak and defenseless." And it is hard not to see that the
>    world of William James and Ralph Waldo Trine is alive and
>    well as American investigators wire up Tibetan Buddhist
>    hermits in a search for the powers of the concentrated mind,
>    the mental disciplines of harmony, compassion, and peace
>    that might make the world a marginally kinder, less selfish
>    place. That optimism about human nature -- that the mind has
>    deep reservoirs of potential for empathy and altruism -- had
>    a lot more backing among liberals and progressives in 1900
>    than it does today. Still, the considerable hopes now
>    invested in meditation suggest that the old romantic
>    aspirations, spiritual and otherwise, continue to flourish,
>    especially among members of the mind-preoccupied knowledge
>    class.
>    P erhaps the most important dimension of the Dalai Lama's
>    turn to the laboratory is the notion that the
>    religion-science wound will be salved through recasting
>    religion as spirituality. The Nobel laureate's latest book
>    explicitly suggests as much in its title, The Universe in a
>    Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality. In
>    doing so, he expressly appeals to all those Americans who
>    fear fundamentalist incarnations of religion and who instead
>    cast themselves as intellectually curious and spiritually
>    seeking. Religion, on this model, is not a domain of
>    authority competing with science but an inward terrain of
>    personal experience and individual probing. Spirituality,
>    the Dalai Lama writes, "is a human journey into our internal
>    resources." Representing "the union of wisdom and
>    compassion," it shares with science a progressive hope for
>    "the betterment of humanity." In those terms, religion as
>    spirituality becomes the handmaiden of science itself,
>    joining it in an open quest for knowledge, empirical and
>    pragmatic, unconstrained by ancient creeds, cosmologies, or
>    churches. In such exhortations the Dalai Lama shows a fine,
>    intuitive feel for much of American intellectual and
>    religious life, but he is hardly telling today's Emersonian
>    inquirers something about the universe that they do not
>    already affirm.
>    A practice of meditation made palatable to scientists,
>    secularists, and seekers would no doubt look pallid to all
>    those monks, hermits, and saints who have taken it to be an
>    arduous and ascetic discipline. Still, the American pursuit
>    of "spirituality," reaching a crescendo in the past two
>    decades, has been all too easy to dismiss as paltry and
>    unsubstantial, labeled as foreign and threatening to
>    more-orthodox versions of a Christian America. In this
>    often-charged religious environment, the Dalai Lama has
>    astutely laid hold of the science-spirituality nexus as a
>    cultural foothold. As he has discovered in this latest
>    brouhaha, that move has hardly lifted him above the wider
>    debates, whether about materialism or intelligent design,
>    but it has allowed him to connect with America's more
>    cosmopolitan and progressive religious impulses. When
>    William James was asked directly in 1904, "What do you mean
>    by 'spirituality'?," he replied: "Susceptibility to ideals,
>    but with a certain freedom to indulge in imagination about
>    them." In mingling with neuroscientists who have warmed to
>    his talk of spirituality, the Dalai Lama may well have found
>    his own avatars of William James.
>    Leigh E. Schmidt is a professor of religion at Princeton
>    University and author of Restless Souls: The Making of
>    American Spirituality (HarperSanFrancisco, 2005).
> _______________________________________________
> paleopsych mailing list
> paleopsych at paleopsych.org
> http://lists.paleopsych.org/mailman/listinfo/paleopsych

More information about the paleopsych mailing list