Compassion Research Has Gone Mainstream

CCARE –The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University was founded in 2005 by Dr. James Doty. This organization demonstrates that compassion research has gone mainstream.Horse and Dog AltruismThe premise of CCARE is that compassion and altruism are innate qualities that all people (and animals – see photo!) share.

Their research is totally endorsed and supported by the Dalai Lama who is a significant donor to CCARE.

Compassion Research Has Gone Mainstream

In an excerpt of an article from the Shambhala Sun magazine (to which I have contributed photographs of Plum Village) on the CCARE site, author Barry Boyce asks,

Where does altruism reside? Can it be cultivated? And if so, what kind of training could work to make us more compassionate? In a world with so much violence and suffering these are not trivial questions, and the search for their answers has inspired the creation of a new academic field, one that looks at behavior not so much from the perspective of the dark side of human nature—our proven ability to inflict harm on each other—but from the perspective of our capability for compassion and altruism.

One of the leading researchers in this new field, affective neuroscience, is Dr. Richie Davidson.

CCAREHis research was presented at the Meng-Wu lecture at Stanford University on September 2, which I reviewed in the article in this blog titled, “Richie Davidson Came To Stanford.”

This is what Barry Boyce had to say about Richie Davidson’s work:

At the University of Wisconsin, as part of his ongoing study of meditation adepts, Richie Davidson has been studying a group of Tibetan monks to see what effects their compassion meditation practice has on their brains, as measured by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

The article goes on to highlight other research on compassion. For example, Thubten Jinpa, a former monk, translator for the Dalai Lama and Tibetan scholar, developed a “compassion-cultivation training protocol:”

Jinpa developed the compassion-cultivation training protocol—essentially an eight-week course—that is being used and tested in a pilot program at Google and in other contexts. It is one of the core tools that will likely emerge from CCARE’s work and speaks to the “education” aspect of the center’s mandate. The course is taught only by instructors who combine academic understanding and “intimate familiarity with the contemplative practices associated with cultivating compassion.” As currently structured, the course consists of a two-hour session once a week that includes lecture and discussion; guided group meditation; interactive exercises; and what Jinpa refers to as activities to “moisten” the heart, such as poetry or reflecting on inspiring stories.

Other researchers have adopted Jinpa’s model:

Birgit Koopman-Holm, a doctoral candidate who came to Stanford from Germany to study with prominent psychologist Jeanne Tsai, has used Jinpa’s protocol in a CCARE study Tsai is leading that compares the effects of mindfulness meditation with compassion meditation. Koopman-Holm said that preliminary study results indicate that while mindfulness practice does not seem to perceptibly increase compassionate behavior, practices specifically intended to cultivate compassion do so. …

Like Tsai, Koopman-Holm specializes in how culture can shape our emotional life. She regards compassion meditation as a Buddhist cultural practice, but concludes that deep methods that evolved in one culture may well be applied effectively in other cultures. “Our research gives me some hope that these practices could work just as well with people of many different cultures.”

These and other activities are generally reported on at Meng-Wu lectures, like Dr. Davidson’s and conferences. For example, at  the Conference for the Language of Mental Life supposedly held in July, 2010, Philippe Goldin was one of the participants.

…a clinical psychologist and neuroscientist who also trained in Buddhist monasteries in Nepal (and leads the CCARE research on compassion in medical professionals). Goldin points out that, “There are many Buddhist texts but little research, in the way Western science would use the term. Also, the texts might offer gradations of experiences such as the four brahmaviharas [usually rendered as loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity], but they are described in words we’re not clear about, even after we translate them into English.”

How To Get Involved

The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education offers many opportunities for people like us to participate.

Obviously, any research project like this is going to want you to donate.

Attending the Meng-Wu lectures is also fun and enjoyable.

You can even volunteer to assist in the research projects.

If you live too far from Stanford, you can at least spread the word that compassion research has gone mainstream.

For my part, I plan to attend additional Meng-Wu lectures when the spirit moves me and I have already signed up for the email list.

If you know anyone interested compassion research, be sure to share this article with them.

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