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Using Buddhist Contemplative Practices to Promote Social Connection and Compassion

Research Topic
Using Buddhist Contemplative Practices to Promote Social Connection and Compassion

Lead Researcher
Barbara J. LEHMAN, Professor, Western Washington University

Host Researchers
Seiji Kumagai, Associate Professor, Kokoro Research Center, Kyoto University

Kimberly Suzanne BOWEN, Associate Professor, Kokoro Research Center, Kyoto University

I plan to develop a short contemplative intervention based on Bon or other Tibetan Buddhist practices, and to test the utility of that intervention for promoting health, social connection, and prosocial attitudes and emotions.
This work continues my research on the benefits of contemplative practices for not only mental and physical health, but also for promoting social action and prosocial emotions. Although prior research makes it clear that secular meditation practices such as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction can promote personal health and well-being, only minimal research has explored the mechanisms by which other Buddhist philosophies and practices promote individual and collective well-being. I am especially interested in considering elements of Buddhist practice that are typically neglected in the mindfulness practices that are most commonly implemented in the United States. Such contemplative practices often emphasize shared humanity and the collective good may help to reduce barriers between people and social groups and thereby promote a more compassionate society.
My intention is to test the effectiveness of a short intervention designed to promote compassion among those who already have an established meditation practice, although the details of the study are subject to change through my collaboration with researchers at Kokoro Research Center.
This goal is in accord with many Buddhist teachings that view the stabilization of the mind via mindfulness as just one component of contemplative practice. When the mind is stable, it becomes easier to examine the consequences of one’s own actions, and to develop the insight and wisdom that can guide the development of compassionate behavior (Śāntideva, 7th C/2006). Practices such as lamrim analytic meditations and lojong slogans are intended to promote compassion and insight. I have previously considered studying the tonglen practice, but I look forward to discussing various options with Dr. Kumagai. I am also interested in considering Bon practices including breathing and Tibetan yoga.
It is expected that following the contemplative intervention, participants will report more compassion in response to emotionally evocative stimuli, more prosocial attitudes, greater inclusion of other in self, and better health (e.g., lower depression). I expect that those who are more diligent about completing the daily practices (mentioned below) will experience greater benefits. Likewise, I anticipate that the training will have an especially pronounced effect for those with more prior meditation experience. However, I would expect that the new intervention and a comparison mindfulness condition would be similar in self-reports of state mindfulness.