By Laura Salinger
Happiness, compassion, and kindness, please meet science.
Those ever elusive qualities of happiness, compassion and kindness
(among others) were figuratively put under the scientific microscope
recently with the grand opening of the Center for Investigating Healthy
Minds (CIHM). The highlight of the weekend-long grand opening of the
center, which will be housed in UW-Madison’s Waisman Center, was a
visit from none other than His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.
“His holiness is one of the world’s most compassionate leaders and
I am proud to say he is a good friend of the state of Wisconsin,” Gov.
Jim Doyle said during CIHM’s grand opening ceremony at the Overture
Center’s Capitol Theater. “We are all honored that His Holiness has
joined us for today’s discussion.”
In an intimate dialogue with a smaller crowd (around 1,000 people)
than what usually marks a visit by the Dalai Lama, CIHM founder and UW-
Madison neuroscientist Richard Davidson sat down with the Dalai Lama
to explore the intersection of health, meditation, and science during their
discussion, “Investigating Healthy Minds.” They graced the stage of the
Capitol Theater, which was set to mimic the look of a living room.
“This is a conversation among friends so imagine that you are looking in
Investigating healthy minds:
Science meets the Dalai Lama
Salinger is a
a small living room,” event moderator and best-selling author of “Emotional Intelligence” and “Ecological Intelligence” Daniel
One of the main questions at stake is: can certain practices make somebody kind, compassionate or happy? Davidson hopes
to determine, through the work at CIHM, how healthy mind qualities develop and what interventions can be used to produce these
qualities in children and adults. A big component of this is meditation. Meditation practitioners have claimed for years that
meditation fosters calmness, healthy minds, and happiness. The Dalai Lama, of course, has been a strong proponent of both the
physical and mental benefits of meditation. CIHM will be the first research facility to house both a meditation area and a brain
imaging lab under one roof. Construction is expected to be completed by early fall but CIHM work is already taking place.
Gov. Doyle called the research that will take place at CIHM “groundbreaking.”
“The new Center for Investigating Healthy Minds is another shining example of how new research based here in Madison can
change the world,” he said.
The idea for such a center was inspired by the growing relationship between Davidson and the Dalai Lama. It began, in a
sense, with a challenge.
"When I met the Dalai Lama in 1992, he challenged me to adapt the tools of Western science, used to study fear and
depression, to the study of positive qualities, like kindness and compassion. The Center for Investigating Healthy Minds is a
response to that challenge and will become what we hope will be the world's premier center for research of this kind," Davidson
While, historically, religion and science often find dispute with each other, the Dalai Lama showed a genuine interest and
support for Davidson’s scientific endeavors.
“There are a lot of creators,” His Holiness said when speaking about the many religions worldwide. “So now, the hopeful
source is scientific findings. Science is universal.”
Many of the Dalai Lama’s enduring messages, however, were center stage during the discussion. He spoke about the many
barriers that exist between people- including religion, race, and socioeconomic status. Negative emotions born from these
barriers, he said, make for an unhealthy mind.
“These are differences (on a) secondary level, forgetting basic human oneness,” he said. “These secondary divisions are
causing (many) problems.” He spoke of the dangerous outcomes of creating the divisions of “we” against “them.” Instead, the
Dalai Lama encouraged everyone to experience the “freedom of oneness.” Whether it’s the President, a queen, a beggar, or
himself, he said, we are all the same.
“We are the same human beings; mentally, physically, emotionally. On that level, I always feel oneness or sameness.”
Although much of the discussion took on serious tones, the Dalai Lama drew numerous bouts of laughter during the discussion. It
started right off the bat, when he donned a red Wisconsin hat with Bucky Badger prominently visible. He revealed his humor and
humanness when discussing the fights he had with his brother while growing up and explained that everyone, even he, has had
negative emotions. And as is expected from His Holiness, his humility shone through in many moments through out the
discussion. Yet, humility is also a large part of science, Davidson says.
“When science is really done in the purest form, we cultivate a lot of humility,” Davidson said. “Because the magnitude of
what we don’t know so far exceeds what we do know.”
CIHM, however, hopes to shine more light on the qualities that make up a healthy mind, discover how a healthy or unhealthy mind
affects health, and what interventions can take place to develop healthier minds and qualities like compassion.
“One of things we’ve learned in science today, is there is a relationship between happiness and physical health,” Davidson
said. “What we don’t yet understand is how that comes to be. We also know that an agitated mind obscures our ability to see
things clearly. There is good scientific evidence to suggest that being able to affectively maintain our emotions is something that
enables us to see the world more clearly and with less distortion. One of the important components of our center is to investigate
what a healthy mind is.”
CIHM will be made up of a diverse group of scientists from various disciplines, as well as humanities scholars, who will all
focus their research on healthy mind qualities. The hope is to use this research to then bring practices that will encourage healthy
mind qualities to schools, prisons, medical settings, and beyond.
For more information about the center's research visit http://www.investigatinghealthyminds.org.
|His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Madison (File photo,
Asian Wiz 2008)