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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

A Little Bit of Mindfulness Meditation Can Reduce a Lot of Pain

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

MRI Scans of Brain of Novice Meditator with Pain MRI images of the brain of a novice meditator show signs of pain nearly disappear. (source: Robert Coghill/Wake Forest University School of Medicine)

"You might not need extensive training [in meditation] to realize pain-relief benefits. Most people don’t have time to spend months in a monastery."
Fadel Zeidan, neuroscientist

On the NPR Shots blog, Adam Cole highlights a study at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center showing that even novice meditators are able to curb their pain after a few training sessions. Cole writes:

In the study, a small group of healthy medical students attended four 20-minute training sessions on “mindfulness meditation” — a technique adapted from a Tibetan Buddhist form of meditation called samatha.It’s all about acknowledging and letting go of distraction. …

So how did the researchers gauge the effect? They administered a very distracting bit of pain: A small, thermal stimulator heated to 120 degrees was applied to the back of each volunteer’s right calf. The subjects reported both the intensity and unpleasantness of the pain. If pain were music, intensity would be volume. Unpleasantness would have more of an emotional component, kind of like how much you love or hate a song.

After meditation training, the subjects reported a 40 percent decrease in pain intensity and a 57 percent reduction in pain unpleasantness. And it wasn’t just their perception of pain that changed. Brain activity changed too.

Be sure to read Cole’s article for the details.

(h/t stotheb, via almaswithinalmas)


Radioactive: The Modern-Day Science and Spiritualism of Marie and Pierre Curie

by Jill Schneiderman, guest contributor

A Page from Lauren Redniss' "Radioactivity"
A page from Lauren Redniss’ book “Radioactive.”

Radioactivity. Life. Death. These are front-and-center in my thoughts these days as I contemplate the fallout from the nuclear plant meltdown generated by power outages, triggered by a tsunami set off by an earthquake in Japan. Amidst these events, I turned my attention to reading Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss.

Currently, the book is on exhibit at the New York Public Library. The author, an artist, teaches documentary, drawing, graphic novels, and printmaking at the Parsons School of Design, so one might be excused from not immediately recognizing the logic of her having written a book on the Curies (who shared with Henri Becquerel the 1903 Nobel Prize in physics for their research on radiation.) But there’s little that is logical about the way this story reveals itself and that’s what makes it beautiful and such a pleasure to read.

The book is a piece of art composed of images and words. Although told in roughly chronological fashion, mostly the story has long tendrils of other tales. In this regard, as well as others, I suspect it will be of interest to people fascinated by the intersections of science and mind.

Radioactive by Lauren RednissHere’s what I liked about it. To me, the format of Radioactive mimics the way a mind — mine at least — works. All of us dedicated to a regular sitting practice know that just a few breaths into a sit, the mind is likely to take an excursion, follow an idea. After some time we wake up to the fact of our distraction and come back to focusing on the breath. It is in this manner that the story of the Curies, their colleagues, friends, enemies, lovers, and offspring unfolds. Unlike histories of science or biographies of scientists that are so often linear and wordy, this one provides multiple, pursuable pathways.

Even if they know little else, most people know that Marie Skłodowska Curie was the first woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize. They may also know that her first Nobel in physics was followed by a second in 1911 in chemistry for the discovery of the elements radium and polonium.

But the story of Marie and Pierre Curie is much more interesting than that plain fact. It involves a stimulating partnership of spouses engaged by the same scientific questions, infatuation with the invisible, Marie’s scandalous love affair after her husband’s accidental death by horse-drawn carriage, an ongoing commitment to scientific and medical investigations that ultimately killed her, and offspring — both biological and scientific — who have carried on their work.

In Radioactive, entwined images and prose create a fabric that relates the stories of the Curies to more modern-day concerns: Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and two World Wars. Redniss indulges her readers with haunting cyanotype and archival images offered up in nonlinear fashion; this is a boon for right-brainers such as I whose minds tend toward wandering.

A most fascinating facet of the book tells of the Curie’s explorations in Spiritualism — a movement that suggested the possibility of contact with the divine. As Redniss tells it:

"Electricity, radio, the telegraph, the X-ray, and now, radioactivity — at the turn of the twentieth century a series of invisible forces were radically transforming daily life. These advances were dazzling and disorienting: for some, they blurred the boundary between science and magic…. Spiritualists claimed that clairvoyants possessed ‘X-gazes,’ and that photographic plates placed on the forehead could record vital forces of the brain, or ‘V-rays.’"

The Curies and their circle — including leading artists, writers, and scientists such as Edvard Munch, Arthur Conan Doyle, Henri Poincare, Alexander Graham Bell — participated in the Spiritualist séances of Italian medium Eusapia Palladino and considered it possible to find in Spiritualism the origin of unknown energy that might relate to radioactivity. In fact, as Susan Quinn recounts in Marie Curie: A Life, just prior to his death, Pierre Curie wrote to physicist Louis Georges Gouy about his last séance with Palladino, “There is here, in my opinion, a whole domain of entirely new facts and physical states in space of which we have no conception.”

Both scientists and Spiritualists believed that there was much that exists in the world that cannot be seen by the naked eyes of humans.

Radioactive is a story of mystery and magic as well as a history of science and invention. It shows how science, so often thought of as motivated by passionate rationality, is equally about marvelous ambiguity. The Curies, perhaps influenced by their encounters with Spiritualism, devoted their lives to the search for evidence of phenomena they could not see but that they believed existed. The implications of what they found — the good and the bad, medical innovation and nuclear proliferation — they couldn’t fully anticipate.

A recent New York Times article about nuclear energy, “Preparing for Everything, Except the Unknown,” states the obvious: experts say it is impossible to prepare for everything. As a mindfulness practitioner, I’d like to offer a corollary to that statement: when we sit seemingly doing nothing, plenty happens — we don’t see it, but we sense it. Redniss’s history of the lives of Marie and Pierre Curie inspires me as a scientist to continue to pursue my mindfulness practice.

Jill S. Schneiderman is Professor of Earth Science at Vassar College. She’s also the editor of and contributor to For the Rock Record: Geologists on Intelligent Design and The Earth Around Us: Maintaining a Livable Planet. She blogs at Shambhala SunSpace and Earth Dharma.

We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.


The Unasked Questions for Sylvia Boorstein

by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer

My angry self

"How can I catch my angry self before it catches me!?"

This is one of many anonymous questions posed by the 300 people who came out to hear Krista interview Sylvia Boorstein at a live event in Birmingham, Michigan last month. The theme of their conversation: “Raising Children in Complex Times.” Now in her 70’s, Boorstein is best known as a Buddhist meditation teacher and author. She’s quick to define herself as both a mother and grandmother.

We came away from this event with a big stack of question cards, many of which didn’t get posed because of time. Here’s a sampler:

Toughening kids

"Sometimes my husband will say - we need to toughen these kids up; they have to live in a tough world.  How do we balance teaching them kindness/gentleness versus being tough."

Words of comfort

"What words of comfort can we say to our children (22 yrs) when faced with health issues. (Can be major or minor)."

Cultivating caring

"In a time of overbearing parenting and institutionalized narcisism [sic], how do we cultivate caring?"

Spiritual principles for 6-year old

"Spiritual principles for a 6 yr old.  My daughter is 6 — she asks many questions about ‘God.’  Other than modeling behavior do you have other suggestions on how to discuss spirituality when my spirituality is so abstract?"

Anxiety and parenting

"Growing up in an alcoholic family, and with anxiety as an adult, how does one manage anxiety with parenting?"

Looking at the anonymous cards, each one with its distinctive handwriting, I imagine a person on the other side with a longing for their question to be answered.

Which of these questions speak to you? And what responses would you offer?


The Practical Mystery of Yoga

by Krista Tippett, host

After my interview with Matthew Sanford a few years ago, I started thinking about yoga. I had dabbled in it intermittently across the years, but until very recently the structure of my life did not yield happily to new “non-essential” commitments. I would sign up for a weekly class and then only attend once or twice.

Then I discovered a studio with a full and flexible schedule — drop in classes literally morning, noon, and night — and I was off. Initially — and this is how Seane Corn describes her experience too — I was mostly aware of how good the physical workout felt. (I’m doing “core power yoga” — a fusion that is indeed more of a sweaty workout than I’d experienced in yoga classes before.) But at some point a few months on, I realized that yoga was working in far more significant ways on my energy, my sense of spiritual and mental well-being, the way I moved through the rest of my life.

Several of my colleagues were nearly simultaneously going through a similar process with yoga in their off-hours. And we’re not special or strange in this. The past few years have seen a surge of cultural and journalistic attention — some wary, some appreciative — to the way yoga has suddenly taken in cities, small towns, schools, and workplaces. Perhaps I’m justifying the fact that this show, as much as any we’ve done, indulged an enormous curiosity that has grown in me privately as well as professionally. But when I read Sebastian Faulks’ James Bond redux novel and found that he has the Chief Spymaster M instructing his agents to practice yoga for strength and focus, I felt we had no choice but to at least devote an hour to it.

Seane Corn

Seane Corn is a wonderful and surprising voice for this exploration. She is a master teacher and a star in the ever-expanding universe of yoga teachers and trainers. She appeared as the beautiful face and body of yoga in a Nike “goddess” ad campaign. But the cadence and intensity of her voice — as she’s quick to point out with some pride — reflects a blue-collar New Jersey upbringing and the fact that she is one of life’s fighters.

Nothing in her early life prefigured her current embodiment of yoga’s alignment of strength, energy, and grace. She left home and school to move to New York City at 16, found work as a waitress, and partied hard. She discovered yoga at 19, as she was on the edge of sanity. She had been battling an undiagnosed obsessive-compulsive disorder, which she believes was connected with an episode of childhood sexual abuse.

The drama of Seane Corn’s story makes for a fascinating conversation. But she is also a very down to earth guide into the basic facts about the practicalities and power of yoga.

I’ve written a more personal essay about the changes this practice has affected in me — the very unexpected lessons it has brought to the rest of my life. On this point, too, the intensity of Seane Corn’s story is compelling. But it also throws into relief parallel experiences I’ve had and heard about in others that have practiced yoga in varying forms and degrees. She had been practicing yoga for years until one day she was filled, walking home, with an utterly strange sensation, which she finally understood to be a sense of joy, of happiness.

Her practice of yoga is thoroughly interwoven, at this point, with her understanding of grace, God, and love. The way she comes at that — and expresses it — is anything but light and airy. The joy and love at the heart of yoga drive her to be ruthlessly honest about the darkness in herself and to face the darkness in the world. She takes yoga’s sense of the teacher in every experience with utter seriousness — working with organizations helping get teenage prostitutes off the streets, for example, from Los Angeles to Cambodia.

Like meditation, this ancient spiritual technology lends itself to interpretation and incorporation with many spiritual sensibilities and religious traditions — just as its range of practices are adaptable to any type of body at any stage of vitality or disability. I also see this yoga phenomenon as part of a larger move that we’ve variously explored towards rooting — or rather, reintegrating — the body into spiritual and religious traditions, from Judaism to Pentecostal Christianity. There is some wonderful, fundamental insight here that many of us are reclaiming from wildly different directions. And as Matthew Sanford still so memorably put it to me, the more completely we inhabit our own bodies with both their strengths and their flaws, the more compassionate we become towards all of life. That’s the kind of earthy, reality-based mystery I love.



Meditation and Mindfulness for All of Us: Six Questions with Sharon Salzberg

by Kate Moos, managing producer

People watch the men's Ski Jumping Individual LH at the Whistler Olympic Park during the Vancouver Winter Olympics on February 20, 2010. (photo by: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images)
(photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images)

Sharon Salzberg is one of the pioneering teachers of Buddhist thought and meditation in this country. A co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, she has taught mindfulness for 30 years, and is the author of several books, including Loving-kindness, Faith, and most recently, Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation.

In our show with Jon Kabat-Zinn, Krista cites Sharon Salzberg’s work as an early conveyor of Buddhist and mindfulness practice in this country. We interviewed her in the very early days of this project for a show called "The Meaning of Faith" and in 2008, at the height of the worst economic downturn this country has seen since the Great Depression, to glean her insights into navigating a world of reduced expectations.

Sharon SalzbergSharon Salzberg graciously took my questions as a wanna-be mindfulness practitioner.

I’ve experimented with mindfulness meditation but never managed to develop a consistent practice. Most recently, my insight on this difficulty is that I want mindfulness practice to deliver me some emotional goods, or put me in a better mood, and when that doesn’t happen I get discouraged. What kind of expectations — if any — should I bring to this experience as a beginner?

Meditation is an experiment we are making, bringing us out of our normal habits of intense self-judgment, comparing, and impatience. Mindfulness isn’t about what is happening; it is about how we are relating to what is happening — how much awareness, balance and compassion are bringing to this moment’s experience, whatever it is.

For example, it is very likely you will find your attention wandering, not 45 minutes after you first begin, but probably within a few seconds. You get lost in a fantasy, or fall asleep. That is normal and not a sign of failure. What I emphasize is that the critical moment in your meditation is the moment you see you’ve been distracted; instead of falling into our usual habits of self-condemnation, that’s a time we can practice letting go while being kind to ourselves, and work with the renewing power of beginning again.

Practicing mindfulness sometimes just seems to make my mind race even more than usual. Are there any ways I can prepare for my practice that will help me slow down before I begin?

It can help to do some walking or movement meditation before sitting, to help settle your energy. These are simple techniques that, if walking, involve feeling sensations in our feet and legs — things like heaviness, lightness, hardness. Or if you are lifting your arms instead of walking, it’s the same effort. Simply feel what’s going on in your body.

And once you sit down to begin that part of meditation, you can set an intention that might help frame all the coming experiences in a bigger context, like “I am practicing to learn balance, neither fighting my thoughts or letting them overwhelm me.” That’s like putting the wide-angle lens on the camera, and you can feel some space from the racing thoughts. Also, remember it won’t last forever. That period of agitation is not revealing who you really are, what your life will now look like forever. This too will pass.

Real HappinessThere is almost undeniable evidence that regular meditation brings predictable medical, psychological, and cognitive benefits. Really, it almost appears it makes us smarter and better-looking and it costs nothing. Why do I resist it? Why do I prefer to watch embarrassing television as a way to relax? It seems perverse!

I often say to people, “Isn’t it ironic that if someone said to us, ‘Here is this thing you can do 20 minutes a day, and it will really help your friend,’ we’d probably do it. But to put in that 20 minutes for ourselves is much more difficult.”

It is difficult, but if we really consider the reported benefits, we also see that doing something like meditation isn’t selfish or self-centered. If we become depleted, overwhelmed by the circumstances of our lives, perpetually irritable, or disconnected, we are not going to be able to give much to others.

The common difficulty is why I think it is good to be both reasonable and realistic. Try to make a commitment you can keep — even five minutes a day is a good beginning, and a way to cut through the momentum of our busyness and lack of connection to our inner lives.

We have been creating new shows as part of a series called "The Civil Conversations Project," exploring how we can create healthy engagement and deeper listening across some of the deepest and most entrenched divides in American public life. We live in a world of very real conflict — conflict that doesn’t evaporate when we decide to be polite or civil to each other. Does mindfulness have a place in helping us navigate real-world conflicts?

I think mindfulness could have a significant place in that navigation. Clearly it helps us have more self-awareness, including helping us be in closer touch with our intentions and motivations: “What do I actually want out of this encounter? Resolution? Revenge? Vindication? Understanding?” We can see our motives and decide if we want to pursue that stance or not.

One of the functions of mindfulness is to give us options. We can see our reactions building early, and not just after we have already pressed “send” on that nasty, hostile email or closed a door we actually hope could remain open. We see what is happening within, without panic or getting lost in the reaction. We know we can follow it out or let it go. And because mindfulness helps us be in touch with a big range of feelings, thoughts, and reactions, we know from experience that we can take a strong, principled stand on something while not demonizing someone else for their views or even their actions. We learn that we can be fierce without hating.

You are one of the early interpreters of Buddhism in this country and have been meditating and teaching for decades. You’re also fairly wired; I first reached out to you about this interview on Twitter, for example. Some people predict that new technologies and mobile communication devices will just make us more anxious and distracted, but you seem to find them very useful. Do you experience a contradiction in this?

I think of myself as not particularly technologically savvy. My iPhone has few apps aside from The Weather Channel and a flashlight (though I think I am on a meditation app myself), and there are probably a thousand things my computer can do to make my life easier that I haven’t yet learned. But from the first time I did a tele-teaching, and heard that someone was calling in from Moscow, I loved the idea of our being able to connect to each other so easily.

I do spend quite a bit of time on Twitter (I confess), have done a tweet chat and have more coming. I do find these things quite useful. What’s sad is sitting in a hotel lobby somewhere and seeing every single person in there constantly on a cell phone or PDA, seemingly not noticing where they actually are. And since I do it myself, I try to remember to bring my attention back to my breath and the present moment.

Any final words for someone starting out?

The proof of the benefit of meditation comes in your life. You might not have a great breakthrough experience sitting this Thursday morning, though of course we would like that. It might show itself in your greater ability to begin again once you’ve made a mistake, or really listening to someone rather than mostly contemplating all the other things you need to do as they converse.

There needs to be a critical look at whether meditation is worth your pursuing, but we need to practice it for a while before evaluating, and then evaluate on the basis of your life. After all, we don’t practice mindfulness meditation to become a great meditator; we practice to have a more balanced, aware, and connected life.

Photo of the author by Liz Matthews.


A Necessary and Vital Moment for Jon Kabat-Zinn and Being Mindful in All of Our Senses

by Krista Tippett, host

» audio-only download (mp3, 51:09)

I’m listening with new ears this week to Jon Kabat-Zinn’s practical approach for calming ourselves, and also being a nourishing presence in the world. Before this interview, I had read and heard of Jon Kabat-Zinn for years. But I hadn’t really grasped that he is first a scientist — a molecular biologist — and second one of the world’s leading experts on meditation. And it was when I listened to talks he’d given at Google and MIT that I really wanted to have this conversation with him.

He is the real thing — a teacher — with a personal combination of erudition, warmth, wit, and wisdom.Jon Kabat-Zinn As we began to speak, he told me that the seeds were planted in his earliest life with his microbiologist father and painter mother to pursue the nature of the human condition in its fullest sense.

In more than three decades of work at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Jon Kabat-Zinn has contributed mightily to demystifying meditation — taking it out of a box that says it is only for Buddhists or special practitioners, then studying its effects clinically and bringing the fruits of his research into life-changing work with the ill and dying, with leaders, and with Olympic athletes. He has followed a conviction that began to grow in him after he began to meditate while a doctoral student at MIT in 1966: that if the deepest insights behind mindfulness meditation are true, they must be true for everyone, in every circumstance. That is, the facts of impermanence and imperfection as a commonplace part of life apply to us all; we all struggle to live gracefully with those realities, and we all create suffering for ourselves and those around us as we resist and deny them.

The real challenge that defines our humanity is this: how do we take on reality as it unfolds, navigate it, and truly stay awake and alive in this moment of life, whatever its contours. And here is the silver lining, if you will, of Buddhism’s frank insistence on suffering as a feature of life: a parallel insistence that equanimity and even joy are within our grasp in every moment, without anything at all needing to change. The stakes for getting this right are high. As Thoreau said, in one of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s favorite lines, “Only the day dawns to which we are awake.”

He also points out that our wondrous, seductive, addictive new generations of technologies — at once liberating and stress-inducing — are themselves changing us. And they will force us to re-examine the deepest meaning of what it means to be human. Part of this work, surely, will be in living into our understanding of that second level of knowing that we know — of sovereignty over our minds, of awareness that encompasses “thinking” but also transcends it and can galvanize it towards greater sanity, creativity, and healing.

Coming to Our Senses by Jon Kabat-ZinnThere is a paradox here that I love, and that I explore with delight with Jon Kabat-Zinn in this conversation. That second level of knowing — being mindful — is not about being in one’s head, just as meditation is not about sitting with one’s thoughts. It is first and foremost about rooting in the whole of experience. In the first instance, this means rooting ourselves in our own bodies, in all of our senses, in breath, in the mind itself as a “sense” and not just a cognitive realm. There are a couple of minutes in this hour in which we hear Jon Kabat-Zinn conduct an introductory meditative experience for employees at Google, which we also partake of by way of radio. This spiritual technology or way or living, however you want to name it, is immediately effective and at the same time an engagement for a lifetime. It is about “coming to our senses” in the fullest sense of that phrase.


I Am

by Leland R. Beaumont, guest contributor

I Am

Perhaps your readers will enjoy this graphic meditation on being that was inspired by the book I Am That by Sri Nisargadatta Majaraj.

Leland R. BeaumontLeland R. Beaumont is an electrical engineer and computer scientist who is constantly curious about how the world works.

We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.


Connecting with the Universe through the Distilled Quiet

by Peggy M. Fisher, guest contributor

(photo: Tarah Dawdy/Flickr)

Growing up in the thirties and forties, we engaged in the universe at our doorsteps. Summer was my favorite time. We caught June bugs in our hands and placed them in jars with blades of grass to feed them as we listened to their buzzing sounds.

At dusk we caught neon fireflies in the palms of our hands, released them, and watched their travels to hidden destinations as far as we could imagine. Unpolluted skies made the stars endless as we explored our planetarium.

At night the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper were always there for us to sight. But we used our paired visions to find an animal figure. Shouts of “Look. Look. Over there!” filled the air as we claimed our spaces.

Thunderstorms and golf-sized hail balls hitting our window panes were common and scary, as our parents reminded us: “Sit and listen to God’s anger.” Through the listening came the understanding of how we could improve our lives. We attempted to do that in the silence. Radios were turned off, there were no televisions.

After the storm we flung our doors open and rushed outside to look for the rainbow of regeneration in the east sky. The children and adults laughed together about the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, a fable we all enjoyed. Now the stars are covered by the polluted skies, but the full moon can still be seen.

As a young nurse working in the emergency room when there were shootings, stabbings, and non-stop bedlam, we shook our heads and said: “It must be a full moon tonight!” We believed that a full moon sent people to places they never went, doing things they never would do.

The years have gone by and now I look for the birds outside my window in the morning as I stretch my body to yoga. When I see a bird swoop down from a tree and cross my window, it is my sign that we are all connected with the universe. This revelation harmonizes my spirit.

But the most sacred spaces I have are spent in my moments of daily meditations as I examine my soul with all of its imperfections. Through the distilled quiet I observe life and know that its not a cakewalk, but a struggle of deaths and resurrections. But I have learned how to make the winters scarce.

Peggy M. FisherPeggy M. Fisher is an author living in Camden, New Jersey. She is the author of several books, including Lifting Voices: Voices of the Collective and has been published in several anthologies, most recently in The Story That Must Be Told and Poetry Ink 2010.

We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.


Layers of Tibetan Buddhism Unknown in the West

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Krista Tippett and Thupten Jinpaphoto: Nancy Rosenbaum

Watching Krista’s conversation on stage with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, you may have noticed a demure man in a dark suit seated next to him, a man constantly at his side. He’s the Dalai Lama’s chief English translator, Geshe Thupten Jinpa. Krista sat down with him while in Atlanta for a rare chance to hear him speak from his own experience and perspective.

Thupten Jinpa has inhabited this ancient tradition of Tibetan Buddhism at its most esoteric. His life story parallels the tumultuous modern history of the Tibetan people. In 1959, the then-23-year-old Dalai Lama escaped Lhasa in secrecy under fear of capture by Chinese troops. Thupten Jinpa’s parents followed one year later, with their four-year-old son and his two siblings in tow. He entered a monastery as a boy, studied philosophy and religion at Cambridge, and was a practicing monk for more than 20 years before he left his monastic community in India to become a husband and father living in Montreal, Canada.

He’s created and directs a project to bring Tibetan Buddhism’s classic texts into the world’s languages. He’s also involved in teaching and research at McGill University and at Stanford. And he’s a core member of the Dalai Lama’s Mind and Life Institute. This is an ongoing global project that brings scientists and Buddhist practitioners into dialogue, with their very different approaches to human consciousness and knowledge.

The Dalail Lama Listens to Thupten Jinpa
The Dalai Lama listens to his interpreter, Dr. Thupen Jinpa, while leading a discussion during the Seeds of Compassion Conference at Key Arena on April 11, 2008 in Seattle, Washington. (photo: Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

There are whole layers of Tibetan Buddhism that are unknown in the West. Thupten Jinpa discusses what happens when these metaphysical and human worlds meet modern science and contemporary lives. And, he adds complexity to these popularized concepts of this tradition. Once some of these terms go mainstream, he says, they become a victim of their own success. The nuances in an English context get left out. He explains the limitations of terms popularized in the West, concepts such as the nature of consciousness and how reincarnation fits in, the discipline of compassion, and the reduction of the word “meditation” in mainstream culture:

"People tend to immediately think of meditation as someone sitting quietly, emptying their mind. But if you look at original Sanskrit term, bhāvanā, and the Tibetan term, gom, from which this term meditation is kind of being used now as a translation. Bhāvanā has the connotation of cultivation. It’s like cultivating a field. So there is this connotation of cultivation, and the Tibetan term gom has the connotation of familiarity, a process of familiarity. Meditation can be, as His Holiness often points out, analytic where it’s not simply sitting down and quieting your mind, but it can actually be a process where you use kind of discernment and move from stages and stages to, in some sense, uncovering layers and layers to get to a point.”

Thupten Jinpa also talks about how much “tougher it was to have an intimate marriage partner and to live in a truly sharing life” than living in a monastic community. And, at the same time, he experiences “a certain visceral feeling of love and compassion” for his two daughters that would “take ages to cultivate” for most monks. It’s during these moments that I sense his great happiness and how he truly puts into practice what he’s learned from his Buddhist instruction. And, working in the presence of the Dalai Lama, he’s able to contribute and be part of the transformation he sees as necessary in the world today.


"A Postcard from Bali"

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Good gosh this is beautiful. Ganesha and Buddha. Grass and lotus flowers. Mountains and sea.

(Thank you, Stephan Kot!)


The Great Bell Chant: A Meditation

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

This video is a compassion meditation of sorts, featuring the words and voice of one of our most enduring guests, Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. I wonder if this short film can’t serve as a sort of loosely guided meditation in its own right. If you have several minutes, use this video as a guided meditation. After you’re finished, reflect on your experience and comment on these questions:

  1. How did the sound of the bell and the words of Thich Nhat Hanh help you in focusing your attention?
  2. In what ways did the cinematography of sweeping, aerial vistas and intimate portraits aid you in your focus of nature and fellow people?
  3. Did you find that Phap Niem’s fluid chanting helped you in letting go and being more aware of the compassion inside you?
  4. How did/didn’t the combination of visuals and audio help guide you in this exercise? Did you find them more distracting then helpful?

And, if you’re looking for a more aural focus, try this four-part bell meditation with Arthur Zajonc.


LIVE Video: One-on-One with Geshe Thupten Jinpa, the Man Beside the Dalai Lama

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

date: Monday, October 18th, 2010
time: 4:15 p.m. EDT
duration: 60 minutes

Geshe Thupten Jinpa and the Dalai LamaWe’ve had an incredible few days down here in Atlanta at the summit with the Dalai Lama. And we’ve got Krista working hard, and we’re streaming real-time video of it all.

On Friday, she interviewed the chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, Lord Jonathan Sacks. On Sunday, Krista led an absolutely invigorating discussion with Dalai Lama (listen to audio) and other great religious leaders from the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian traditions. And, this afternoon, an intimate conversation with the Dalai Lama’s right-hand man, so to speak.

Watching the Dalai Lama with his English translator Thupten Jinpa is more like observing an intimate conversation than an interpretation of words. This former monk, now married with children, is also a scholar in his own right. With him, Krista will explore some of the intricacies of Tibetan understandings of the mind and meditation, as well as his front row seat on the Dalai Lama’s teachings and charisma.

We’re continuing to bring you as many behind-the-scenes perspectives as we can, and this live video stream is one more step in that effort. When you can, join us here or on our  live events page for real-time conversation with other viewers. You can leave comments and bounce ideas off of others with our Facebook chat module. Check it out! And, we’ll continue to send real-time updates when the stream goes live on our Facebook page and through our Twitter stream. Keep an eye out!


LIVE Video: A Sold Out Event with the Dalai Lama. A Front Row Seat for You!

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

*UPDATE: Listen to our recording of this magnificent discussion (mp3, 113:52).

"Understanding and Promoting Happiness in Today’s Society"
date: Sunday, October 17th, 2010
time: 1:30 p.m. EDT

» What do Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam teach us about the concept of happiness?
» What do these ancient traditions hold in common about this often elusive state of being, and what are their greatest points of difference?
» How do they define happiness?
» Is happiness the purpose of life, or is it a reward only available after life?

These questions are just the start of a dynamic conversation Krista will be having with the Dalai Lama and other leading religious leaders. We want you to be a part of it. Join us this afternoon and watch our exclusive live video stream from the campus of Emory University with His Holiness and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, and Seyyed Hossein Nasr.

And here’s a rundown of other events that are part of the summit that don’t include Krista, but we’ll be streaming in case you wish to attend:

"The Nature and Practice of Compassion"
date: Sunday, October 17th, 2010 
time: 9:45 a.m. EDT

In this teaching for the Buddhist communities of Atlanta and the southeastern U.S., His Holiness will explain the nature of compassion and the practices for cultivating it as understood in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition — something to which His Holiness has dedicated his entire life. By explaining the essential role of compassion in the flourishing of human life, this teaching will provide a backdrop for all the subsequent events of the visit.

Dalai Lama, Alice Walker, and Richard-Gere"Richard Gere and Alice Walker in Conversation with the Dalai Lama about Spirituality and Creativity"
date: Tuesday, October 19th, 2010 
time: 1:30 p.m. EDT

How do the arts help us to express, or indeed to uncover, our spiritual yearnings and questions or certainties? What do the artist and the spiritual master have to teach each other from their respective disciplines? What is the role of tradition (or, conversely, iconoclasm) in maintaining or renewing art and spiritual life? Is the human being innately spiritual, innately artistic?

And, for the next several days, be sure to watch more of our one-on-one conversations with wise voices and religious leaders from The Interfaith Summit on Happiness in Atlanta, Georgia. Krista will be conducting on-the-ground interviews, and we’ll be live-streaming video of each one. We had an incredible conversation with Rabbi Sacks yesterday (archived video here) and more are on the way, including one with the Dalai Lama’s chief translator, Geshe Thupten Jinpa. We’ll be sending out real-time updates when the stream goes live on our Facebook page and through our Twitter stream. Keep an eye out and let us know how we’re doing!

Please join us for this real-time dialogue. You can leave comments here. If you’re interested in bouncing ideas off of others during this interview, check out our Being LIVE page that contains a real-time Facebook chat module. It’s quite enjoyable hearing what other viewers are thinking and responding to. Check it out!

(photo: David McNew/Getty Images)

French Buddhist Community Plums the Depths of Social Networking for Mindfulness Seekers
by Shubha Bala, associate producer
A year after Thich Nhat Hanh’s Plum Village started its social media plan, the French Buddhist community reflects on what they have accomplished and what are their next steps. I found it particularly interesting that, using Facebook and Twitter, an entirely new demographic has become exposed to the practice of mindfulness:

"The online audience for the Thich Nhat Hanh branded accounts grew in ways that were unexpected, and it grew fast. The initial demographics represented groups not typical of those who came to retreats. Many more young people and also a more equal balance of male and female followers."

Appropriately, we discovered this article through Thich Nhat Hanh’s Twitter feed.
In the photo above, Sister Chan Khong is trained on writing a blog at Plum Village in France. (photo: Geoff Livingston)
French Buddhist Community Plums the Depths of Social Networking for Mindfulness Seekers
by Shubha Bala, associate producer
A year after Thich Nhat Hanh’s Plum Village started its social media plan, the French Buddhist community reflects on what they have accomplished and what are their next steps. I found it particularly interesting that, using Facebook and Twitter, an entirely new demographic has become exposed to the practice of mindfulness:

"The online audience for the Thich Nhat Hanh branded accounts grew in ways that were unexpected, and it grew fast. The initial demographics represented groups not typical of those who came to retreats. Many more young people and also a more equal balance of male and female followers."

Appropriately, we discovered this article through Thich Nhat Hanh’s Twitter feed.
In the photo above, Sister Chan Khong is trained on writing a blog at Plum Village in France. (photo: Geoff Livingston)

French Buddhist Community Plums the Depths of Social Networking for Mindfulness Seekers

by Shubha Bala, associate producer

A year after Thich Nhat Hanh’s Plum Village started its social media plan, the French Buddhist community reflects on what they have accomplished and what are their next steps. I found it particularly interesting that, using Facebook and Twitter, an entirely new demographic has become exposed to the practice of mindfulness:

"The online audience for the Thich Nhat Hanh branded accounts grew in ways that were unexpected, and it grew fast. The initial demographics represented groups not typical of those who came to retreats. Many more young people and also a more equal balance of male and female followers."

Appropriately, we discovered this article through Thich Nhat Hanh’s Twitter feed.

In the photo above, Sister Chan Khong is trained on writing a blog at Plum Village in France. (photo: Geoff Livingston)