Susan Bauer-Wu: “Better understand the mind and help change the world”

- through Fabrice Groult

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Co-founded in 1987 by the Dalai Lama, the Mind & Life Institute has been building bridges for more than thirty years between science and contemplative wisdom, particularly with the science of the mind that is Buddhism. Its president, Susan Bauer-Wu, talks about the history of this institution, its missions and its key events, which are its major annual conferences and its summer universities.

What role did the Dalai Lama play in the process of creating the Mind & Life Institute?

The Mind & Life Institute was co-founded by three men who each played a very important role: Tenzin Gyatso, the Dalai Lama, who is the spiritual leader of Tibetans; Francisco Varela (1946-2001), a brilliant Chilean biologist who was also a neuroscientist, philosopher and Buddhist; and R. Adam Engle, a social entrepreneur and lawyer, also a Buddhist. These three men were convinced that science and contemplation were the most appropriate frameworks for investigating the nature of reality. That science could be a source of knowledge capable of contributing to improving the lives of people and the planet. For more than thirty years, the Mind & Life Institute has brought together science and contemplative wisdom in order to better understand the mind and thus contribute to changing the world. This type of encounter can break down barriers both within ourselves and between people. For a long time, the main function of Mind & Life was to organize important conferences: the Mind & Life Dialogues. Recently, our missions have evolved.

How and why have they evolved?

Historically, the raison d'être of the Mind & Life Institute was to give life to a new science, to a new field of study, that of the contemplative sciences. Our efforts have been rewarded. Twenty years ago, there were practically no studies on this subject; today there are hundreds. Our Institute funded and supported the first research conducted on meditation. We have awarded nearly three hundred research grants for a total amount of more than five million dollars. We have been at the forefront of organizing conferences on these subjects. There are many ways to explain the success of the mindfulness. It seems to me that this is due in particular to the fact that the benefits generated by these practices have been scientifically proven.

Our missions have evolved in recent years. Initially, we focused primarily on individual suffering by researching how to reduce stress, while promoting individual well-being. Two years ago, we asked ourselves how we could better take into account the problems of our time and encourage healthier bonds between human beings. The world is shaken by more and more divisions and suffering. Our mission has evolved to deal with the crisis of disconnection that we are going through and thus try to enlighten humanity and influence the action of men. We are convinced that we all have much to learn from contemplative wisdom, great traditions and science to understand how we interact with each other. We want to encourage awareness by emphasizing our interconnectedness and our interdependence.

You deplore the growing disconnection between people, and people with their environment. What do you suggest to fix it?

We must first rely on the power of each individual, on the strength of the spirit and the wisdom of the heart present in each one. And listen to the great traditions, psychological sciences and contemplative wisdom. The disconnection between men leads to loneliness, anxiety, distress and depression. And when we enter this downward spiral, we feel even more disconnected. Contemplative practices and scientific research have allowed us to understand that we are all interconnected and interdependent. The more we are connected, connected, humanly speaking, the more we experience a state of well-being, and the more we are able to develop our propensity to love, to develop our compassion and to show gratitude towards others.

Would your work also aim to encourage men to take action?

The Mind & life Institute is not itself involved in the field, in the communities, but the people who follow our programs, who benefit from our scholarships or who read our works can be inspired and thus initiate their own change. We seek to develop the education of the heart, to develop social-emotional learning and to deepen these teachings so that people are more aware of themselves. In the spring of 2018, for example, we organized a Dialogue with His Holiness the Dalai Lama on the theme “Reinventing human flourishing”. We are about to create a digital version of it. I hope that the people who are on the ground, the agents of change, the teachers and school principals, but also the parents will take ownership of them. That all these speakers will be able to help children become aware of all their dimensions and will know how to help them connect to their hearts to gain compassion.

“For more than thirty years, the Mind & Life Institute has brought together science and contemplative wisdom in order to better understand the mind and thus contribute to changing the world. »

Another example, in the field of Mental Health. There is an increase in the phenomena of anxiety, depression and suicide. Many of these plagues are related to disconnection issues. We are all hyper-connected, on a technological level, and at the same time people feel more and more disconnected from themselves and from others. We are convinced that the knowledge we disseminate, through our conferences, interviews, research programs and publications, can help people working in the field of mental health to better address these problems. Environmental activists and social activists engaged in the field also suffer from forms of burnout. The ideas gleaned from our work will no doubt be very useful to them too.

Have some of the major conferences that made the institute's reputation – the Mind & Life Dialogues – particularly marked its history?

The themes dealt with for more than thirty years by the Mind & Life Dialogues have been very varied: “To better understand inner peace and reconciliation processes”; “Educate the heart”; “Addiction”; “Ecology”; “Understanding the Self”; " Dreams " ; " The social connection " ; “Deconstructing mental habits”… Many of these conferences have marked the history of the Institute. At the beginning, the chosen themes were often linked to the natural sciences. Then neuroscience took over, followed by psychology and applied science. The Dalai Lama has always loved the natural sciences. In 2017, we organized a Mind & Life Dialogues in Africa, in Botswana, on the following theme: “Botho/ Ubuntu: a dialogue on spirituality, science and humanity” which is available in digital version. This conference aimed to define humanity through the connections that men establish with each other. It was centered on the Ubuntu philosophy, which can be summed up as follows: "I am because you are".

Who attends your summer universities – the Summer Research Institutes – and what are their objectives?

They bring together around 120 participants. Three-quarters are young adults, in their twenties, who are either studying or have already graduated. The themes change every year. The main objective of these gatherings is to try to inspire the young people who attend them, while offering them the opportunity to rub shoulders with interdisciplinary approaches. And also to allow them to develop their work by collaborating with professionals from other disciplines. It is also about developing in them a form of mindfulness so that they subsequently make more conscious career choices.

photo of author

Fabrice Groult

Fabrice Groult is an adventurer, photographer and Buddhist who has traveled the world since a young age. After studying Buddhism in India, he embarked on an eighteen-month journey through Asia that took him to the Himalayas, where he discovered his passion for photography. Since then, he has traveled the world capturing images of Buddhist beauty and wisdom. He was a guide for ten years, and is now a journalist with Buddhist News.

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