Authors: Ute Kreplin, Miguel Farias & Inti A. Brazil
Year: 2017 (print), 2018 (online)
Title: The limited prosocial effects of meditation: A systematic review and meta-analysis
Summary: This systematic meta review explored the effects of meditation and mindfulness on five types of pro-social behavior (compassion, empathy, aggression, connectedness and prejudice). The study contended that although compassion and empathy were mediated by meditation, the other three factors were not. Further, that compassion levels were found only to increase when a co-author of the study was the meditation teacher or when the control group was a passive (not active) waiting list. The study highlighted a number of key problems in the ongoing study of meditation, particularly the methodological rigor often used.
However weaknesses in the scientific investigation of meditation tend to be linked to the absence of robust theoretical frameworks. For example inconsistent definitions of mindfulness and meditation. Meta studies in this field can reflect wider patterns but risk drawing together forms of meditation that may in effect, be quite different. The authors are correct to highlight the ‘theoretical mist’ surrounding meditation research and the failure of science to treat meditation as either a secular or spiritual practice. But despite citing architects and theorists of contemporary meditation, the authors fall short of explaining how the pseudo spirituality of contemporary secular meditation arose or is being sustained.
Title: The development and validation of the Lovingkindness-Compassion Scale (LCS)
Author: Hyunju Cho, Seunghye Noh, Sunghyun Park, Seokjin Ryu, Ven Misan and Jong-Sun Lee
Year: 2017 (online), 2018 (print)
Summary: The thorny issue of effective trait and state scales for both loving kindness and compassion is far from resolved in psychology. In fact if anything it is less clear now than it was a decade ago. One of the problems can be attributed to attempts to merge or unify concepts with subtle differences and specific cultural weighing factors. This paper explains some of the express differences between compassion and loving kindness from a classical perspective. And justification for drawing them together is found in the ‘boundless state of mind’. However it is reasonable to ask in what way can the unlimited nature of mind be evaluated using limited psychometric measures? To what extent the LCS can align two distinct concepts in one scale will emerge over time.
The three reported highlights of the paper were
- The LCS reflects the Buddhist concept of lovingkindness-compassion.
- The LCS consists of three-factor with fifteen items.
- The reliability and validity of LCS were adequate within our study.
This study was based on the definitions of compassion within a branch(es) of the Theravada tradition. So it should be stated at the outset the precise meanings established as a starting point may not reflect the whole family of Buddhism. This is not to say that other Buddhist schools (Zen, Mahayana or Vajrayana) might not wholly or partially share the definitions used. Simply that the definitions may not be representative of the wider Buddhist community. It should also be noted that the measures therefore may not reflect the explicit, not dual and absolute compassionate approaches found elsewhere in the Buddha Dharma.
Nevertheless this paper established fifteen items within three factors through the use of exploratory factor analysis (EFA) and confirmatory factor analysis (CFA). The results suggest that LCS was significantly correlated with self-compassion, compassionate love, social connectedness, empathy and satisfaction with life. This study used 469 university students as participants and the data supports the reliability and validity of the LCS to measure lovingkindness-compassion.
An extremely useful investigation into compassion and loving kindness, raises several important questions.
Author: Josipovic, Z.
Title: Neural correlates of nondual awareness in meditation
Summary: Most experienced meditators engaged in traditional practices may have an understanding of nondual awareness (NDA). It is the state beyond the simple good-bad, my-your dichotomy that may be fundamentally different from dualistic thought and indeed dualistic meditation. In terms of methodologies, meditation systems can be dived many different ways. But one of the most important and least researched categorisations is between the dual and nondual approaches. Josipovic offers an insight into NDA and explains why and how it is different from other forms of meditation.
Supported both by contemporary experimental evidence and traditional explanations (to some extent). Josipovic presents a study exploring a potential explanation for NDA through the activity in intrinsic and extrinsic networks during three different forms of meditation (NDA, Focussed Attention and Fixation). Results indicate a reduction during nondual meditation of the negative correlation between the intrinsic and extrinsic networks when compared to both fixation and focussed attention.
Editor’s Note: The scientific exploration of meditation in all its forms has been hampered by a (much reported) failure to establish authoritative theoretical frameworks. Josipovic has provided an approach which appears to successfully encompass the traditional explanations of NDA, supports phenomenological accounts and is integrated within a neuroscientific context.
Perspective: Contemplative science, neuroscience
Title: Is mindfulness Buddhist? (and why it matters)
Author: Robert H. Sharf
Summary: Modern mindfulness meditation is often associated with the state of ‘bare attention’, paying attention in the moment, non judgementally but deliberately. This particular state is not without established precedent in different schools of Buddhism and Robert H. Sharf outlines examples from Burmese reformed Buddhism, the Chinese Chan and Tibetan Dzogchen traditions. This paper also highlights issues associated with the theoretical framework for mindfulness in Buddhism and the relationship between the transformative potential of meditation and the wider context within which meditation is undertaken.
Perspective: Religious studies, psychiatry, health psychology
Title: What does mindfulness really mean? A canonical perspective
Author: Bhikkhu Bodhi
Summary: The mindfulness movement is inextricably linked with Buddhism, both Buddhist teachings and meditation practice. It is then of particular interest when Buddhist scholars of the Pali Cannon, such as Bhikkhu Bodhi question one of the most widely used definitions of mindfulness; ‘bare attention’. This is not simply a philological debate regarding the development and use of the term mindfulness but also a discussion of the fundamental understanding of the human behaviour of meditation. There is also the question of the appropriation and ‘translation’ of the term mindfulness into secular contexts and the implications for both Buddhism and the secular meditation schools.
Perspective: Religious studies