The Mind's Own Physician

Edited by Jon Kabat-Zinn and Richard J. Davidson; with Zara Houshman

In Washington, DC, the Dalai Lama met with Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of "Full Catastrophe Living," Richard Davidson, and other leading meditation researchers to explore the intersection between ancient meditation techniques and modern neuroscience. The result is a fascinating and revealing conversation about the potential of the human mind to heal itself through mindfulness meditation, transcribed and presented to the public for the first time in "The Mind’s Own Physician."




Praise for The Mind's Own Physician

“The Mind’s Own Physician” is a journey of understanding, in which an integrative dialogue unfolds between the spiritual leaders of contemplative meditation and scientists at the forefront of mind-body medicine. This transformative conversation provides valuable insight into how meditative practices can balance the mind with effects on the body, as well as, potential benefits for human health. This blending of contemplative traditions with Western science opens a mindful awareness that has the empowering capacity to fully engage people in their health, and more broadly, in the well-being of our societies.
— Michael R. Irwin, M.D., Cousins Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles
“The Mind’s Own Physician” offers us a precious portal into the seminal conversations that gave birth to the nascent field of contemplative neuroscience. The issues digested, debated, and ignited in its pages will serve as a road map and inspiration for my students and their students over the coming decades.
— Amishi P. Jha, Ph.D., Contemplative Neuroscientist, Associate Professor of Psychology, University of Miami
If you want to see how to build bridges between the deepest wisdom of the heart and the highest standards of contemporary neuroscience, look no further. This series of meetings between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Western scientists and meditation teachers will prove to be epoch-changing, and this book shows why. Here, you will find interior and exterior empiricism in exquisite dialogue. Drink it all in. The brilliance of the participants shines through on every page.
— Mark Williams, Ph.D., Professor of Clinical Psychology, University of Oxford, Director, Oxford Mindfulness Centre
Can meditation improve your health? This question is just the starting point for a series of innovative exchanges across different ways of knowing among first-ranked clinicians, scientists, Buddhist teachers, and the Dalai Lama. Thoughtful, rigorous, and surprising by turns, this dialogue reminds all of us who care about the effects of the mind on health just how much more thinking remains to be done.
— Anne Harrington, Ph.D., Professor of the History of Science, Harvard University, author of "The Cure Within"
Our thoughts can seem too real, giving our imaginings about tomorrow the power to create chronic stress and unhealthy changes in our bodies. Our sense of self can seem too fixed, creating a cage where our habitual worries can run in depressing circles. In the moment that we recognize our thoughts as thoughts and our habits as habits, new and liberating possibilities emerge for the way we live our lives. Contemplative traditions such as Buddhism have long seen the transformative power of that simple moment of recognition, and more recently, clinicians in various domains have discovered the potential that this contemplative insight offers for the treatment of chronic stress, depression, and other especially modern maladies. Yet the potential of interventions based on contemplative approaches has only begun to emerge. The full realization of that potential requires a careful, critical, and honest dialogue among contemplatives and scientists so as to allow research and clinical practices to develop effectively. This remarkable book provides a fresh and clear record of such a dialogue. Informative and highly accessible, “The Mind’s Own Physician” is a groundbreaking moment in the development of contemplative science.
— John D. Dunne, Ph.D., Chair Contemplative Humanities, UW–Madison
A must-read for anyone interested in understanding how Buddhist contemplative traditions and Western scientific traditions can work together to uncover the complexities of the human mind. Mind and Life has done it again: engaged a group of distinguished contemplative scholars, clinicians, and scientists in a lively, productive, and inspiring dialogue with His Holiness the Dalai Lama that furthers our understanding of meditation and its potential to heal.
— Jeanne Tsai, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology, Stanford University, Director, Stanford Culture and Emotion Laboratory
This book marks a milestone in the emerging field of contemplative sciences. With this book, you can relive a seminal 2005 Mind & Life Institute conference that brought together world-famous neuroscientists, clinicians, and contemplative scholars in a dialogue with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. This groundbreaking work explores the development of scientifically based tools and programs aimed at creating more balanced and healthy lives. How does stress evolve? What does it do to our minds and bodies? How can we use ancient mindfulness and meditative practices in our everyday, modern lives and also in clinical settings to reduce stress and cultivate healthier minds? This book is a must for everyone who is interested in making this world a more human place.”
— Tania Singer, Ph.D., Director, Department of Social Neuroscience, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig, Germany
Jon Kabat-Zinn and Richard Davidson bring together an internationally acclaimed cast of neuroscientists and scholars for a stimulating dialogue with the Dalai Lama. They weave a rich tapestry of information on how meditation can be useful for a wide variety of conditions, ranging from depression and stress to anxiety and psoriasis. In easy-to-understand, conversational style, the experts lay out how the mind’s powerful healing effects can be harnessed in ways that are becoming increasingly illuminated by scientific discoveries.
— Stuart J. Eisendrath, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry, University of California, San Francisco, Director of the UCSF Depression Center
It is most befitting that this wonderful book, composed from Mind & Life Institute dialogues with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, would appear after the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 tragedy. Accompanied by greatly increasing psychophysiological stress, anxiety, and depression, the post-9/11 decade has yielded an auspicious upsurge of rigorous scientific and clinical research on mindfulness meditation and other systematic methods of mental training that may help transcend the pain and suffering caused by such deleterious afflictions. “The Mind’s Own Physician” highlights these exciting advances through a series of insightful discussions between His Holiness and a diverse group of stellar contemplative scholars, scientists, and physicians who are leaders in the field of integrative mind-body-brain medicine. Everyone who wishes to cultivate a sound body and sane, healthy mind in these turbulent times will welcome the publication of these inspiring conversations.
— David E. Meyer, Ph.D., Clyde H. Coombs, and J. E. Keith Smith, Professor of Mathematical Psychology and Cognitive Science, University of Michigan
A fascinating book exploring two contrasting views of the human mind. The scholarly discussions between His Holiness and leading scientists provide deep insights into how ancient Buddhist teachings and modern science can inform each other, and potentially transform Western clinical practices.
— Sara Lazar, Ph.D., Associate Researcher in Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital and Assistant Professor of Psychology, Harvard Medical School
“The Mind’s Own Physician” brings you straight into the heart of a remarkable interchange between His Holiness the Dalai Lama, renowned contemplative teachers from Buddhist and Christian traditions, and world leaders in neuroscience, psychiatry, stress physiology, and clinical medicine. Jon Kabat-Zinn and Richard Davidson guide the reader through an authentic chronicle of a landmark meeting of extraordinary minds as it unfolds through a series of crystalline presentations and probing dialogues about the nature of mind, meditation, and brain function. These dialogues provide the foundation for discussion on the biological effects of chronic stress, treatment and relapse prevention in depression, and the historical and evolutionary roots of Western medicine’s struggle to understand and care for the whole person. The highly accessible and rich treatment of each of these areas is fascinating to read. The constant presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s deeply engaged attention, teaching, and critical ear reverberates throughout. The participants’ common commitment to fostering the conditions necessary for human flourishing through intercultural and interdisciplinary inquiry is truly inspiring. In capturing this arc of information and intent, “The Mind’s Own Physician” becomes an essential treatment of one of the most hopeful directions in thought alive today: the human capacity to ease our suffering through introspective insight and our growing scientific investigation into how this may occur.
— Clifford Saron, Ph.D., Associate Research Scientist, University of California, Davis Center for Mind and Brain
It is extremely exciting to read what emerges from the dialogues between the leading experts in the scientific investigation of contemplative practice who present their excellent scientific work and the profound wisdom of contemplative teachers. This is a wonderful book that takes us right into the heart of these inspiring and engaging conversations by exploring profound and essential questions about how we can enhance human potential by cultivating positive human qualities.
— Britta Hölzel, Ph.D., Research Fellow, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and Bender Institute of Neuroimaging, Giessen University, Germany
“The Mind’s Own Physician” is a remarkable accomplishment. It tells the compelling story of how the scientific study of meditation has created a new way of understanding the relationship between body and mind and between science and spirituality. Edited by Jon Kabat-Zinn and Richard Davidson, two individuals who have almost single-handedly brought mindfulness into Western culture, it documents a dialogue between the Dalai Lama and a gathering of researchers, scholars, and clinicians who are blazing new pathways in the science of meditation. The discussion highlights how the neuroscience of meditation is enriching our understanding of human potential. This is a deeply hopeful book. It details how many of the qualities most urgently needed in our world today can be intentionally cultivated in practical, concrete ways that make a real difference. Compassion, wisdom, insight, and emotional balance are not lucky accidents; they are biological capabilities that can be strengthened. “The Mind’s Own Physician” is essential reading for anyone who wants to learn about the ancient tradition of meditation, the promise that it holds for our time, and the essential goodness of the human spirit.
— Michael J. Baime, M.D., Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Founder and Director, Penn Program for Mindfulness
Besides engaging easily with the contemplative, clinical, and scientific contributions to this volume, the reader experiences the remarkable interaction of contributors from diverse traditions. Common assumptions become apparent, constructs in one discipline spark insights in another, broad inter-disciplinary understandings subsume disciplinary understandings. Over the course of the exchange, it becomes apparent that a new culture is emerging with the potential to fundamentally reshape how we understand ourselves and interact with one another.
— Lawrence W. Barsalou, Ph.D., Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Psychology, Emory University
“The Mind’s Own Physician” lets us eavesdrop on a fascinating conversation at the frontier of science and spirituality, medicine and meditation. Anyone who cares about well-being and health will find both news and wisdom here.
— Daniel Goleman, Ph.D., author of "The Brain and Emotional Intelligence"

Special Thanks to the Following People who made this book possible

His Holiness the Dalai Lama, for his enduring inspiration and commitment to mutual engagement and inquiry between the contemplative traditions and science, and to rigorous research to expand our understanding of the nature of mind and its potential to adequately address the full scope and dimensionality of human suffering.

Adam Engle for his incomparable leadership of the Mind & Life Institute over the past 25 years and, in particular, during the last 10 years, when its mission expanded in so many complex and important ways.

Thupten Jinpa for his remarkable translating skills, his transparent presence, and his boundless commitment to His Holiness.

Judy Martin for her organizational wizardry. Dave Womack for helping secure the photographs for this volume. The entire staff of the Mind & Life Institute for their profound commitment to the mission of Mind & Life and the huge dedication they bring to all aspects of their work, often behind the scenes. To former Mind & Life staff members Nancy A. Mayer, Dave Mayer, Cathy Chen-Ortega, and Sidney Prince for the enormous effort, skill, and goodwill they put into organizing the 2005 meeting.

Zara Houshmand for the pleasure of working with her and the benefit of her finely honed intellect and incisive editorial skills, fully tuned to the Mind & Life culture and ethos. Jasmine Star for her excellent, essential, comprehensive, and unrelenting editorial work on the manuscript to bring it into its final form.

The staff of New Harbinger Publications who nurtured the development of this book at every stage with a high degree of professionalism and a seamlessly integrated team so that every base was covered when it needed to be: Catharine Meyers, Jess Beebe, Michele Waters, Adia Colar, Amy Shoup, Heather Garnos, Janice Fitch, Melissa Valentine, and Matt McKay.

We extend our gratitude to all the speakers and panelists for their important contributions to the dialogue, and to all the participants who attended the 2005 meeting. As we noted, the audience constituted a gigantic force at this gathering. Through their presence and their own work, their contributions to the ongoing confluence of these two epistemological streams are keeping the field vital and endlessly creative.

And finally, we wish to express our deep gratitude to all the people who agreed to be subjects in the various studies that were presented. All of us, and indeed the world, are potential beneficiaries of your engagement in this work. We also acknowledge our deep debt to the animals used in some lines of research.