Wall Street Journal

The Dalai Lama on How Meditation Can Change Your Life

It’s not every day you see the words “transcendental meditation” trending on the Internet, but when Oprah Winfrey and other celebrities are touting the benefits of the practice, it becomes a conversation starter as much as the season premiere of “Mad Men” or the box-office results of “The Hunger Games.” We can’t help but see this as a good thing.

Transcendental meditation (TM) is a technique that originates from India and was founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. TM is practiced for 20 minutes, twice a day, with the eyes closed. According to The Transcendental Meditation Program website, the technique “allows your mind to settle inward, beyond thought, to experience the silent reservoir of energy, creativity and intelligence found within everyone – a natural state of restful alertness.”

TM counts music mogul Russell Simmons, filmmakers Clint Eastwood and David Lynch, and actor/comedian Russell Brand among its devotees. On her OWN network Sunday night, Oprah shared her experience with TM as she visited a community of meditators and meditation schools in Fairfield, Iowa. On her website, Fairfield is called “America’s Most Unusual Town,” and the children at the Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment in Fairfield are learning life lessons it reportedly took Oprah decades to learn.

Dalai Lama

Speakeasy has no experience with TM and can’t speak directly to its effectiveness. But we recently traveled to Dharamsala, India, for a private audience with the Dalai Lama. Among the many topics we discussed in a wide-ranging interview, the Dalai Lama explained why meditation in general is good for humanity, regardless of which technique you practice.

In his latest book, “Beyond Religion,” he gives basic suggestions for the beginner meditation student, such as the option to sit in a Lotus or half Lotus position, and how one can position the eyes, chin and tongue. He also discusses the benefits of practicing analytical meditation in combination with meditation that emphasizes shunyata, or emptiness.

A Buddhist who embraces science and research, the Dalai Lama has long held that there are neurological and medical benefits to meditation. He has held a series of dialogues with the Mind & Life Institute of Colorado to discuss investigations of the mind with scientists and philosophers, and to promote well-being. He also has a longstanding relationship with scientist Richard Davidson, author of the new book, “The Emotional Life of Your Brain.”

Here’s an excerpt from our interview with the Dalai Lama that focuses on meditation.

If science can prove the benefits of meditation on the brain, how would this advance our society?

Now, scientists, they are seeking truth. Science is just a method to seek reality. So now, many scientists, especially medical scientists, many of them recognize peace of mind, calm mind is very important factor for good health, and also a preventive measure. Even illness. Full of enthusiasm or calm mind: much faster recovery. Medical science already knows. So, very very helpful. Unless you touch human emotions and mind, you can’t explain brain activities 100%. Impossible. So far, many scientists believe brain movement can explain emotion. Yes, to some extent, yes. But the deeper, deeper, real controller of the brain is the mind. That’s why now, a number of scientists already accepted meditation can change our brain. So mind is acting like the controller of brain activities. Of course, grosser level of emotion is very much related to brain. But subtle level of mind is more or less independent.

In Chan Buddhism, when we meditate we are told to ask, Who am I? Who am I?

That’s right.

And other forms of Buddhist meditation, they focus on one point or they empty their mind. You have always named the benefits of analytical meditation from the Nalanda tradition. Is this more beneficial?

Yes, analytical meditation brings answers for our curiosity, and also brings conviction out of awareness. Just to close eyes, meditate. I think the unique thing about human mind, that is the ability to investigate it close. Much based on faith. Your teacher [of Chan Buddhism, Master Sheng Yen] taught that, and then I, and Buddha taught that, and then meditate. So there are single-pointed meditation and analytical meditation. Two types must go combined. And then you investigate, where is I? That is the way to investigate about emptiness, shunyata.

Speakeasy reporter Barbara Chai traveled to Dharamsala, India, for a private audience with the Dalai Lama. We will continue to publish stories from her interview, so please check back in. To trace Barbara’s journey, read all the posts in “Blogging to Nirvana” here.