Matthieu Ricard

Do the developmental events of a child’s life have a major role in shaping emotional circuitry? And how can we conduct scientific experiments on the effects of long-term meditation and Buddhist techniques of mind training? Richard Davidson, the eminent University of Michigan neuroscientist, presented some fascinating research on the relation between emotions and brain activity. He had done a study of the influence of a meditation program, conducted over several months, on the balance between the activities of the right frontal lobe of the brain (associated with emotions generally considered as negative) and the left one (associated with positive emotions), as well as on the immune response to vaccination.

The Duke University philosopher and cognitive scientist Owen Flanagan explained how Western moral philosophy has long been concerned with the destructive potential of emotions as well as with the betterment of human traits, either through spiritual exercises aimed at moral improvement or ethical training based entirely on the principles of rationality, democracy, and education.

I gave an overview of the way emotions are handled in contemplative practice and how different methods can dispel their destructive effects by counteracting them, recognising their fundamental nature, or using them as catalysts for inner transformation. Francisco Varela presented groundbreaking experiments on the process of perception. His studies have revealed the synchronisation that occurs in various parts of the brain when a form is recognised, as opposed to when it is merely perceived. —