Tibetan Buddhist monastic debate: Psychological and neuroscientific analysis of a reasoning-based analytical meditation practice.

Author: van Vugt MK1, Moye A2, Pollock J3, Johnson B4, Bonn-Miller MO5, Gyatso K6, Thakchoe J6, Phuntsok L6, Norbu N6, Tenzin L6, Lodroe T6, Lobsang J6, Gyaltsen J6, Khechok J6, Gyaltsen T7, Fresco DM8
1Institute of Artificial Intelligence & Cognitive Engineering, University of Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands. Electronic address: m.k.van.vugt@rug.nl.
2Department of Psychology, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland.
3Department of Psychology, Kent State University, Kent, OH, United States.
4Science for Monks, Palo Alto, CA, United States.
5Department of Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA, United States; Zynerba Pharmaceuticals, Devon, PA, United States.
6Sera Jey Monastic University, Bylakuppe, India.
7Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamsala, India.
8Department of Psychological Sciences, Kent State University, Kent, OH, United States.
Conference/Journal: Prog Brain Res.
Date published: 2019
Other: Volume ID: 244 , Pages: 233-253 , Special Notes: doi: 10.1016/bs.pbr.2018.10.018. Epub 2019 Jan 3. , Word Count: 192

Analytical meditation and monastic debate are contemplative practices engaged in by Tibetan Buddhist monastics that have up to now been largely unexplored in Western contemplative science. The highly physical form of contemplative debating plays an important role in the monastic curriculum. Based on discussions and recorded interviews Tibetan monastic teachers and senior students at Sera Jey Monastic University and preliminary experiments, we outline an initial theory that elucidates the psychological mechanisms underlying this practice. We then make predictions about the potential effects of this form of debating on cognition and emotion. On the basis of initial observations, we propose that successful debating requires skills that include reasoning and critical thinking, attentional focus, working memory, emotion regulation, confidence in your own reasoning skills, and social connectedness. It is therefore likely that the many cumulative hours of debate practice over 20+ years of monastic training helps to cultivate these very skills. Scientific research is needed to examine these hypotheses and determine the role that monastic debate may play in terms of both psychological wellbeing and educational achievement.

© 2019 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

KEYWORDS: Contemplative practice; Emotion regulation; Meditation; Monastic debate

PMID: 30732839 DOI: 10.1016/bs.pbr.2018.10.018