The Effects of Compassion on the Brain: A Conference by the Dalai Lama
The monk’s reflections on the practice of compassion and its effects on brain chemistry.
In 2010, the Dalai Lama spent six days at Stanford University, where he based his talks and activities on the theorization of the practice of compassion.
In one of his conferences, imparted at the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research & Education at Stanford, the Tibet’s spiritual leader spoke about the neurological implications of practicing compassion to seven thousand people, including important researchers in different scientific fields (psychologists, neuroscientists, doctors, economists, among others).
From the Buddhist perspective, compassion is a similar feeling to love and it implies the capacity to feel what another person is feeling, to experience it and have the will to help.
With a genuine and contagious joy, and his characteristic sense of humor, the monk explained that, regardless of the many assumptions, science and Buddhism are not contradictory.
He also spoke about scientific studies which support the benefits of a trained mind in the Buddhist sense. He mentions, for instance, three neurological studies which indicate that the immune system is severely affected by anger, sadness and anxiety, three emotional states that are noticeably reduced by practicing compassion and meditation.
The Dalai Lama exemplifies the latter by referring to a study which revealed that the brain centers triggered when a person feels emotional pain are the same as when a person feels empathy for someone who is suffering.
The main conclusion is precisely that a mind trained to feel compassion, peace, joy and happiness —a state which, according to the Dalai Lama, without exception, we all seek— changes the brain’s chemistry in a provable manner. To him, in a society used to thinking about the body as if it were a system independent from the mind and emotions, this implies a great beginning, and also because it represents the best excuse to develop an individual imprint, and eventually a cultural one, in favor of empathy.
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