January 23, 2009

Dalai Lama to fund 'Neuroscience of Compassion'

Frequent Tricycle contributor Allan Hunt Badiner points us to this article on the Dalai Lama's latest:

The Dalai Lama is teaming up with Stanford University and a multi-millionaire professor to launch a new research centre dedicated to compassion and altruism.

"His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, provided $150,000 in seed money for the center -- the largest sum he has ever given for a scientific venture -- and has agreed to return to Stanford for a future visit," reads a Stanford press release.


It seems the centre's goals involve not only investigating how the brain deals with compassion and altruism, but also leveraging those findings to improve people's lives.

Doty hopes the centre's research will help understand and combat childhood bullying and recidivism among prisoners. He also wonders whether the benefits of intense mediation can be more easily achieved by healthcare and corporate workers to prevent burnout, depression and anxiety.

The author of this post, Ewen Callaway, then wonders:

These are all great aims, but I wonder if the centre will run into opposition from other scientists for its connection to a religious figure like the Dalai Lama.

Several years ago, the Dalai Lama gave a keynote address at the Society for Neuorscience's annual meeting, amid criticism from some members of the society. More than 1000 people signed an on-line petition questioning his credentials, though some of the opposition was probably tied to his political views on Tibetan independence.

In New Scientist, Chris Frith, a neuroscientist at University College London, expressed support - and scepticism -- for crosstalk between scientists and Buddhists.

"Why would Buddhists be attracted to neuroscience, a more down-to-earth field? Should neuroscientists return their interest? As a practising neuroscientist, my answer is: yes, up to point, but don't expect too much."

Image: Action Press/Rex

As a side note, our friend AHB was very prescient on our new president, as you can read in this piece from March 2007.

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compassionateone's picture

Buddha has all the answers regarding compassion, who needs neuroscience's contribution?

A very bizarre story.

Steven Sashen's picture

I'm just thinking of all the things the DL could do with $150k that are more valuable than this study (especially given the challenges of creating a study that would be useful, valid and relevant).

Having sponsored Tibetan monks and nuns, and Buddhist charities around the world, I know that $150k buys a lot of food, clothing, education and housing.