A University of Wisconsin research center received thousands in grant money from one of the world’s most famous holy figures Wednesday.
The donation of $50,000 is from the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso’s, personal trust fund, UW spokesperson Jill Sakai said, and will be used by the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds to further research.
According to the CIHM website, it investigates how minds are formed, with a particular emphasis on the “healthy qualities of the mind.”
Richard Davidson, a UW neuroscientist and the director of CIHM, said he and the Dalai Lama have a long history, particularly because the Dalai Lama fosters an intense interest in neuroscience.
The Dalai Lama has been interested in Davidson’s work since before they met in 1992.
Davidson considers the Dalai Lama the inspiration for his work, which follows an untraditional research path.
Unlike typical research involving the human brain that focuses on negative emotions such as anxiety, Davidson’s research analyzes positive emotions, Sakai said.
In particular, Davidson said his research examines why one person, and subsequently their brain, is more resilient to the changes of life while another person may be more vulnerable.
The result is a form of research encompassing meditation, which promotes well-being and the regulation of emotion, Davidson said.
The seemingly unorthodox research of the time allowed Davidson to cross paths with the Dalai Lama through mutual friends.
They first met when the Dalai Lama invited Davidson to his home in India.
Davidson’s research coincides with the Central Tibetan spiritual leader’s mission of elevating harmony and morality through Buddhism. The 1989 Noble Peace Prize winner, he is believed to be the reincarnation of the Dalai Lamas who came before him.
It was the Dalai Lama who first posed the question to Davidson as to why scientists were not using neuroscience to study positive qualities such as kindness and compassion as opposed to the negative, he said.
Sakai said she sees the donation as an honor to the work Davidson and CIHM conduct.
“I think it’s a reflection of the high regard the Dalai Lama has for the work Dr. Davison has been doing,” Sakai said.
The Dalai Lama’s gift is a donation to the center overall, Sakai said, and can be used for any of the research conducted by CIHM.
Davidson said he believes the funds will be used for a variety of projects, one of the most important being a study on fifth graders in Madison’s public schools.
The students will be taught meditation and researchers will then analyze how meditation impacts their concentration and well-being, he said.
The Dalai Lama has visited Madison multiple times, his most recent visit in May, when he came to UW for the grand opening ceremony of CIHM, Davidson said.
Davidson characterized the largest impact of his research as a lesson in the power of the mind.
“We can think about education as something for the heart, at least metaphorically, and that it is possible to learn how to be kinder and more compassionate,” he said.