Mind and Life Institute

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Mind and Life Institute
Founded 1990
Founder R. Adam Engle; Francisco J. Varela
Type Non-profit
Focus Buddhist meditation, other meditation, contemplative neuroscience, neuroscience, and other sciences
Coordinates = 42°20′17″N 72°36′27″W / 42.33793°N 72.607589°W / 42.33793; -72.607589
Origins Mind and Life Dialogues
Area served
Method conference, scientific research programmes and publications
Key people
The 14th Dalai Lama
President Arthur Zajonc
$4.4m (2013)[1]
Website www.mindandlife.org
Formerly called
Mind and Life Dialogues

The Mind and Life Institute is a US-registered, not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to exploring the interface between science and Buddhism as two different methodologies with a common basic focus, understanding the nature of reality and improving lives.

Activities include convening international dialogues, conferences and symposia between notable scientists and contemplatives, publishing the outcomes, and setting up scientific research programmes on relevant subjects.

Origins: dialogues and publications[edit]

Adam Engle with Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, at the first Mind and Life dialogue, 1987, Dharamsala
Scene from first 'Mind and Life' dialogue between Dalai Lama and western scientists, Dharamsala, India, 1987
Barry Kerzin, an American Professor of Medicine and Buddhist monk meditating with EEG for MLI neuroscience research

Mind and Life Dialogues, forerunners of the Institute, were initiated by American entrepreneur R. Adam Engle in 1983.[2] He heard of Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama’s interest in modern science[3][4] and offered to arrange a dialogue for him with selected scientists.[5] The Dalai Lama accepted and authorised Engle to set one up.[6]

In 1984 Chilean neuroscientist Francisco Varela heard about this.[7] Having participated in a conference on consciousness attended by the Dalai Lama in 1983,[8] and like Engle a Buddhist practitioner since 1974, he was interested in further exploration of the interface between science and Buddhism and contacted Engle, offering to assist.[9]

Engle, Varela, and the Dalai Lama saw Buddhism and science as different methodologies with a similar aim: to investigate nature and reality, using knowledge gained to improve the quality of life and the planet.[10] They concurred that science uses technology and the scientific method as its means while Buddhism uses the human nervous system refined by meditation and rigorous mental and emotional training.[7][11] Until this, there had been no mechanism for scientists and Buddhist masters to meet and share their findings in dialogue. The concept pioneered a new interdisciplinary, cross-cultural engagement.[5][12]

Engle organised the original Mind and Life Dialogue in October 1987 at the Dalai Lama’s residence in Dharamsala, India as a week-long event.[13] Six scientists including Varela, two interpreters and the Dalai Lama spent 5 hours daily sharing views and discussing the sciences of the mind.[5] At the end, Engle asked the Dalai Lama if he wanted to do it again; he said ‘yes’, and the series of dialogues was born.[14]

The second dialogue was a two day event in October 1989 in Newport Beach, California.[5] At the third, held in Dharamsala in 1990, it was decided that in order to organize and fund further dialogues and potential research programmes Mind and Life Institute [MLI] should be incorporated as a non-profit organisation in the USA.[15][16][17] Engle was elected Chair and CEO, a post he held for 22 years until his retirement in 2012 having guided its development into "a worldwide and influential organisation bringing together the highest standards of modern science and contemplative practice". Engle was then succeeded by the physicist and author Arthur Zajonc.[18]

By 1998 MLI had hosted seven dialogues between numerous world renowned scientists, philosophers and the Dalai Lama on cognitive neuroscience and physics, and published six books relating the dialogues to the general public.[19]

By 2013 a total of 27 dialogues with the Dalai Lama had been hosted, eleven books had been published relating the first thirteen dialogues to the public (see publications) and DVDs or videos published on most of the others.[19][20]

Establishment of research agenda[edit]

In 1998, to increase MLI’s potential for societal benefits, Engle moved to broaden its mission to include carrying out scientific research.[14] This idea was encouraged by the Dalai Lama, who, at the next dialogue in 2000, suggested scientific investigation under laboratory conditions to establish whether Buddhist contemplative practices could be of significant benefit to modern society, and if so to find a way of teaching the subject in a secular environment.[14] A research programme was launched accordingly as a result of MLI’s first public dialogue, held at MIT in 2003, entitled ‘Investigating the Mind’.[9] [21] Participants included Nobel Laureate scientist Daniel Khaneman and Eric Lander, Director of the MIT Centre for Genomic Research.[20] This conference attended by 1,200 people marked the birth of Contemplative Neuroscience.[22][23][24]

In 2004, MLI launched its Summer Research Institute at the Garrison Institute which for the first time presented a curriculum on contemplative neuroscience to graduate students, post doctorates and science faculty members.[25] MLI also launched the Francisco J. Varela Research Awards,[26] which provided pilot study funding to qualified applications on a competitive basis. These two programs have been held yearly since 2004.[27][28] In 2005, MLI held its second public dialogue in Washington DC: The Science and Clinical Applications of Meditation, co-sponsored by John’s Hopkins Medical University, and the Georgetown Medical Center.[29]

In 2012 MLI completed its strategy to establish the new fields of Contemplative Sciences by initiating the International Symposium on Contemplative Studies in Denver Colorado, with 700 attendees from the field of Contemplative Science and Studies research.[30]

Another was hed in Boston in 2014 with 1,700 attendees from 28 countries.[31][32]

Publications relating to the dialogues[edit]

External links[edit]



  1. ^ "2013 Annual Report". Mind and Life Spring 2014: 44. Retrieved 13 August 2015. 
  2. ^ Begley 2007, pp.19-22
  3. ^ Tenzin Gyatso (November 12, 2005). "Our Faith in Science". New York Times. Science has always fascinated me 
  4. ^ Melissa Rice (October 3, 2007). "Carl Sagan and the Dalai Lama found deep connections in 1991-92 meetings, says Sagan's widow". Cormell University, Cornell Chronicle. The Dalai Lama, who has had a lifelong interest in science 
  5. ^ a b c d Sharon Begley (2007). "Appendix". The Plastic Mind (Kindle ed.). Random House. pp. 318–324. ISBN 978-1-84529-674-2. 
  6. ^ Begley 2007, pp.19-20
  7. ^ a b Jeremy W. Hayward, Francisco J. Varela (1992). "Preface". Gentle Bridges: Conversations with the Dalai Lama on the Sciences of Mind. USA: Shambala Publications. p. x. ISBN 1-57062-893-9. Retrieved 10 May 2015. 
  8. ^ Begley 2007, pp.18-19
  9. ^ a b Barinaga M. Buddhism and neuroscience. Studying the well-trained mind. Science. 2003 Oct 3;302(5642):44-6. PMID 14526055
  10. ^ Vincent Horn. "The Evolution of the Mind and Life Dialogues". Buddhist Geeks. Retrieved 9 May 2015. And Buddhism ... is based on also understanding the nature of reality and then using that to provide a knowledge base for improving lives 
  11. ^ Curt Newton (February 1, 2004). "Meditation and the Brain". technologyreview.com. MIT Technology Review. The Dalai Lama notes that both traditions encourage challenging dogma based on observation and analysis, and a willingness to revise views based on empirical evidence. 
  12. ^ Watson 2008, p.169
  13. ^ Hayward, Varela 1992, Preface
  14. ^ a b c Vincent Horn. "The Evolution of the Mind and Life Dialogues". Buddhist Geeks. Retrieved 9 May 2015. 
  15. ^ Begley 2007, p.258
  16. ^ "Speakers and Panelists for Investigating the Mind 2005". The Mind and Life Institute. 2003. Retrieved 9 May 2015. [Adam Engle] co-founded the Mind and Life dialogues in 1983, and formed the Mind and Life Institute in 1990 
  17. ^ Watson 2008, p.170
  18. ^ Matthieu Ricard (January 18, 2013). "Celebrating the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of the Mind and Life Institute". Matthieu Ricard, Buddhist monk, photographer and author. Retrieved 28 July 2015. 
  19. ^ a b "A 25 Years History of Accomplishment" (PDF). Mind and Life Institute. 2012. Retrieved 6 May 2015. 
  20. ^ a b "Dialogues with the Dalai Lama - Past Dialogues". Mind and Life Institute. Mind and Life Institute. Retrieved 13 August 2015. [list of dialogues with location, subject, participants etc.] 
  21. ^ Curt Newton (February 1, 2004). "Meditation and the Brain". technologyreview.com. MIT Technology Review. 
  22. ^ Harrington, Zajonc, ed. (2003). The Dalai Lama at MIT. USA: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0674023196. Records of Conference "Investigating the Mind" at MIT 
  23. ^ Claudia Kalb (September 21, 2003). "Dalai Lama: Moment For Meditation". Newsweek. Retrieved 1 August 2015. Adam Engle… hopes that the conference will be a catalyst to attract young scientists to the field and to launch rigorous new research. 
  24. ^ Denise Brehm (September 17, 2003). "Dalai Lama enlists science in quest for 'a happy mind'". MIT News. Retrieved 1 August 2015. 
  25. ^ Begley, 2007 p.260
  26. ^ "Mind and Life Summer Research Institute and Francisco J. Varela Awards". John Templeton Foundation. Retrieved 3 August 2015. 
  27. ^ "Past Summer Research Institutes". Mind and Life Institute. Retrieved 14 August 2015. 
  28. ^ "Varela Award Recipients". Mind and Life Institute. Retrieved 14 August 2015. 
  29. ^ "The Science and Clinical Applications of Meditation". Investigating the Mind. 2005. Retrieved 3 August 2015. 
  30. ^ Katy Killam (May 7, 2012). "International Symposia for Contemplative Studies". Positive Psychology News Daily. Retrieved 4 August 2015. 
  31. ^ James Kingland (November 3, 2014). "Dalai Lama enlightens and enraptures contemplative scientists in Boston". Boston MA: The Guardian. Retrieved 13 August 2015. 
  32. ^ "Conferences of Interest". Emory Collaborative for Contemplative Studies. Emory University. Retrieved 4 August 2015.