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The Study on The Effects of Meditation I REALLY Want To See

At the start of last night's awesome group for the "Finding Your Path " class series, I mentioned how frequently it now happens that a note appears in my various feeds, linking to new scientific research demonstrating the positive effects of various Buddhist meditation techniques. Most recently, I was astounded to hear that not only does meditation positively affect your state of mind, but (according to a new study from the University of Wisconsin and neurologist Richard Davidson) it even amplifies the expression of positive genetic traits! That's pretty amazing.

One of the largest detriments to Buddhism's continuing status in the public consciousness as some form of religion (albeit a much more agnostic religion than most) is that it is not treated as a coherent system of health and well-being, which is what I believe it was intended to be. Thus, if a scientist or psychologist wants to study the effects of practicing dharma, they focus only on a limited range of meditation techniques, treated in isolation, which scientists feel can be "passable" as secular pursuits. Thus, so far, almost all studies that I've seen about the positive effects of practice focus only on a limited range of meditation techniques engaged in for a very limited period of time.

However, what I believe Buddhism really offers is a complete system of mental wellness, not intended to be cut up piece-meal into components to be studied separately. Meditation techniques are meant to be practiced in an integrative manner, at the same time as we are actively studying teachings on the nature of mind and the nature of reality, while at the same time engaging in ethical contemplations and practices in daily life, all while seeking guidance and support from sangha (community) and teachers. This is the difference between a simple mindfulness technique and a complete path of awakening. An eight-week mindfulness course is just a few sessions that do, indeed, have positive effects, but a Path is a complete system of support and practice with deep and lasting transformation.  I hope we don't continue to omit the study of the Path from our scientific research.

So if there are any researchers out there who would like to actually study the much deeper effects of not simply mindfulness techniques but of actually practicing Buddhism with teachers and a supportive sangha of peers for a period of time (let's say a year) that would be a truly remarkable study. I imagine that the findings would be slightly more qualitative than other studies, but the findings would show positive effects even greater than what has been widely reported so far when only meditation techniques are studied in isolation from their full context. Is anyone doing this?

(Follow Ethan on twitter or facebook or visit his website)

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Here's one - The Shamata Project

Ethan makes a strong argument for a need for a more comprehensive study of meditation - one that would consider following participants training in ethics and wisdom along with meditation - over an extensive period of time - led by a viable teacher - who represent an authentic lineage - and involving well controlled and rigorous scientific methods....here's one that may come close and be a sign of things to come...

The Shamata Project, led by Alan Wallace, PhD

Home page:
http://www.shamatha.org

Short Report on the Shamata Project:
http://mindbrain.ucdavis.edu/labs/Saron/lab-news/The%20Shamatha%20Projec...

Research Dimensions of the Shamata Project:
http://mindbrain.ucdavis.edu/labs/Saron/shamatha-project/

Very cool idea

I always love to brainstorm with people about research design...this sounds a bit like a comparative effectiveness study in the health care world. The way you're describing the whole package of Buddhist practice is equivalent to a multi-component intervention, with meditation being just one component. And let's not forget service as a component - there have also been numerous studies on the health benefits of community service. (I can pull up a reference later.)

I'm in!

This is one direction my research has been going, and I'd love to work with this group to design a strong scientific study.

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