A deep state of meditative concentration

The initial emphasis of the contemplative training at the Center will be on the achievement of shamatha, a deep state of meditative concentration in which the meditator’s psyche dissolves into a primal continuum known as the substrate consciousness. The specific methods used to reach this state will include mindfulness of breathing, observing the mind, and resting in awareness of awareness itself. Although each of these methods is drawn from Tibetan Buddhism, they are accessible to anyone, regardless of their belief systems. Nine stages of attentional development leading to the achievement of shamatha have been precisely described, based on centuries of experience by Indian and Tibetan contemplatives. As meditators in our Center progress along these stages, shifts in their neurophysiology will be monitored with EEG (electroencephalogram) and fMRI, magnetic resonance imaging used to demonstrate correlations between physical changes (as in blood flow) in the brain and mental functioning (as in performing cognitive tasks).

Correlations between first-person and third-person perspectives

Other physiological tests will be conducted, included measurements of immune cell telomerase activity, which are related to the aging process. In addition, psychological studies will be made regarding the influence of this meditative training on attention, mindfulness, and emotional balance. As meditators progress in their practice, they will share their own subjective experiences and insights with the scientists so that close correlations can be made between these first-person and third-person perspectives. This will be the first true collaboration between advanced contemplatives and scientists in the study of meditation. Discoveries made by means of such research will then be applied to the fields of education, mental health, and so on.

Access to a subtle continuum of consciousness

Throughout history, contemplatives from multiple traditions claim to have accessed a subtle continuum of consciousness from which the human mind emerges during the gestation of a human fetus. This same continuum of individual consciousness is said to continue after brain death. According to these contemplatives’ first-person experience, it is the primal flow of awareness, and not the brain, that is the actual repository of memories in this life as well as in previous lifetimes. From a scientific perspective, this is an exceptional claim, to say the least, and to be taken seriously, it must be backed up with exceptional evidence. This will be one of many hypotheses that will be put to the test of experience in our Center. Contemplatives from the past have also claimed that by experientially accessing this subtle dimension of consciousness, one experiences a deep sense of bliss, luminosity, and serene nonconceptuality. This, they report, is the true source of genuine well-being. This hypothesis, too, will be explored, with potentially deep ramifications for our understanding of human nature and reality at large.

The measurement problem

On the basis of achieving shamatha, meditators will then be guided in a range of methods of contemplative inquiry known as vipashyana. These meditations entail sophisticated means of exploring the role of the mind in nature. Such contemplative research interfaces strongly with some of the deepest insights in modern theoretical physics, specifically quantum cosmology. Advocated by such luminaries as Stephen Hawking, John Wheeler, Andrei Linde, Christopher Fuchs, and Anton Zeilinger, quantum cosmology highlights the participatory role of the mind in the emergence of multiverses, each one arising relative to the observer. While contemporary physics presents this theory on a conceptual level, contemplatives may explore it experientially. In doing so, fresh light may be shed on the unsolved “measurement problem,” that is, how the act of measurement influences the nature of phenomena that are measured. In these ways, research at the Center may provide major breakthroughs for some of the greatest mysteries of modern science: the nature of consciousness and the mind/body problem in the mind sciences, and the measurement problem in quantum physics.