Talk on the Shamatha Project by B. Alan Wallace


B. Alan Wallace did a talk this last Wednesday in Santa Barbara on the Shamatha Project, its history, and some of its initial results, now that the first cycle of it has concluded. Wallace is a well known Tibetan Buddhist author and translator who is the head of the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies.

The Shamatha Project is a controlled study of extended meditation practice done in groups of thirty over periods of three months in secluded retreats. Shamatha is a standard form of Buddhist meditation using focused attention and is often translated as “Calm Abiding.” The study describes itself as follows:

Recent studies of the effects of meditation practices on stress management and emotional stability and of meditation as a therapeutic agent have produced exciting results. But the studies conducted to date have been short-term and have generally used non-intensive interventions. We have engaged a team of talented neuroscientists and psychologists in a longer-term study, with state-of-the-art methods, to examine the effects of intensive meditation training on attention, cognitive performance, emotion regulation, and health. This effort, the Shamatha Project, has garnered the endorsement of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and initial funding from three private foundations, The Fetzer Institute, the Hershey Family Foundation, and the Yoga Research and Education Foundation. The training methods, taught by Dr. Alan Wallace, will include deep, intensive meditation training that fosters attentional vividness and stability as well as compassion, loving-kindness, empathetic joy, and equanimity. The expected benefits will include greater attentional control and increased ability to regulate emotions and apply prosocial values and motives. The questions we address include: What measurable changes in attentional ability occur as a function of intensive meditation training? What are the neural correlates of these changes and the range of their consequences? Is it true, as Buddhist contemplatives claim, that improvements in the voluntary control of attention and associated improvements in attention systems in the brain make it easier to recognize and overcome negative emotions, maintain resilience in the face of stress, and improve relationships with other people? Do the changes persist after meditation trainees return from the retreat experience to the cacophony of everyday life in a modern society?

Google Video has an introductory talk available by Wallace on the Shamatha Project.

The more recent talk on December 19, 2007 discussed the goals of the project, the history behind it and some of the preliminary findings from it. This is the first time that this kind of data has been gathered in a controlled environment working with people without a previous background in meditation.

You can view the slides or listen to the mp3 in five parts on the page for the talk. I have enclosed an mp3 of the talk with all of the parts joined below for playback or download but it is an hour and a half long as one file. It is definitely worth listening to if you are interested in the intersection of meditation, consciousness studies, and science.