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Destructive Emotions and How We Can Overcome Them

by the Dalai Lama

listed in meditation

[Image: Destructive Emotions and How We Can Overcome Them]

A Dialogue with The Dalai Lama Narrated by Daniel Goleman

This large (>400 pages), masterful and spellbinding work is compelling and awesome in all its aspects:

1. Its unique subject matter – an exploration of the links between destructive emotions such as anger, fear and jealousy, and the neurobiology and neuropsychology of our minds;

2. The underlying question: whether psychological and/or meditation skills could help control or prevent such emotions which lie at the core of so much violence and destruction today;

3. The participants in the week-long discussions – a small and eclectic group of leading neuroscientists, psychologists, philosophers, Buddhist scholars and meditators. These were:

* His Holiness The Dalai Lama;

* Richard J Davidson PhD, Director of the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience and WM Keck Laboratory for Functional Brain Imaging and Behavior, University of Wisconsin;

* Paul Ekman PhD, Professor Psychology Director Human Interaction Laboratory, University of California Medical School, San Francisco;

* Owen Flanagan PhD, James B Duke Professor Philosophy, Professor Psychology (experimental) and Professor of Neurobiology, Duke University;

* Daniel Goleman PhD Co-Chair Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence, Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology, Rutgers University;

* Mark Greenberg PhD, Bennett Chair of Prevention Research, Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Pennsylvania State University;

* Geshe Thupten Jinpa PhD. Trained as a monk in India, he received the geshe lharam degree equivalent to a doctorate in divinity. He also holds a BA in Western Philosophy and PhD in religious studies from Cambridge University. He has been the principal English translator to His Holiness the Dalai Lama since 1985;

* The Venerable Ajahn Maha Somchai Kusalacitto PhD. Ordained as a monk. Deputy Rector, lecturer on Buddhist topics and comparative religion;

* Matthieu Ricard PhD Cellular Genetics (Institut Pasteur). Buddhist monk, Schechen Monastery, Kathmandu, French interpreter since 1989 for the Dalai Lama. Studied for fifteen years with Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche;

* Jeanne L Tsai PhD teaches in the Department of Psychology, Stanford University;

* Francisco J Varela PhD was Fondation de France Professor Cognitive Science and Epistemology at the Ecole Polytechnique, Director of Research, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris and Head of the Neurodynamics Unit, LENA (Laboratory of Cognitive Neurosciences and Brain Imaging), Salpetrière Hospital, Paris. Dr Varela died of liver cancer on 28 May 2001;

* B Alan Wallace PhD, trained for many years in Buddhist monasteries in India and Switzerland and has taught Buddhist theory and practice in Europe and America since 1976.

This book was a riveting read. Here we have a rare glimpse into the interactions of this elite group of scientists, scholars and meditators. These individuals are all committed to developing innovative educational and scientific programs which may advance our understanding of how emotions are generated and processed in our brains, and how we may be able to control, prevent or even change our behaviour using modern and ancient techniques.

One of the most interesting aspects of this book for me was learning about the complex and varied lives of the participants. One doesn't necessarily connect science and psychology with Tibetan Buddhism and meditation. However, the astonishing biographical details of individuals such as the Dalai Lama himself, who, sheltered from the outside world for many years, learned how mechanical things worked by taking apart and putting together again items such as clocks and train sets. Tibetans isolated from the rest of the world learned English from unlikely sources such as comic books, old copies of Life magazine and picture books of the First World War. Curiosity, together with the extremely rigorous and robust schooling undergone within the Tibetan Buddhist monastery, with their strong emphasis upon debate and questioning, has given rise to this highly educated yet humble man who is determined that Tibetan Buddhism not become atrophied in dogma, that its tenets must at least be in accordance with basic scientific facts.

Regarding the understanding of emotions, in the juxtaposition of Tibetan Buddhism alongside psychology and neurobiology, the Tibetan Buddhists have delved far more deeply into what is at the core of emotions, classifying the types of emotions and their families.

There is even the surreal excitement of witnessing an advanced Tibetan Buddhist meditator being subjected to the most state-of-the-art brain imaging equipment on the planet – the functional MRI. Here was someone who could reproducibly and consistently create and hold particular meditative states upon demand: visualization, one-pointed concentration and generating compassion. The laboratory could then image, compute and analyse whether these distinct types of meditation techniques reveal different underlying configurations of brain activity.

This book is a must-read for all wishing to think 'outside the box'.

Sandra Goodman PhD

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