2016 Abstracts and Presenters

Introduction to Minds and Mental Factors: An overview of Buddhist Psychology

What is the purpose of Life? For Buddhist, the answer is definitely Happiness. What is Happiness and how to achieve it? Happiness is found at a physical as well as a mental comfort. My presentation will be on how to achieve it at the mental level from a Buddhist perspective. For that we need to know what a mind is and what are the mental factors that maintain and disturb peace of mind? While different lists of Mental Factors are cited between Buddhist traditions, a common list to most traditions includes 51 different mental factors. These, for example, include 11 constructive (or positive) emotions, and 6 root afflictive (or negative) emotions.

Ngawang Norbu, Sera Jey Monastery

Ngawang Norbu was born in a Tibetan Settlement in Bylakuppe, Karnataka State, India to a refugee Tibetan family. He joined Sera Jey Monastery in 1984 and graduated as a geshe (equivalent to PhD in Buddhist Philosophy) in 2014. In addition to his philosophical training Ngawang took interest in learning modern science through Science Meets Dharma, Science for Monks, and the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative. He received the Tenzin Gyatso’s Scholarship to study science for three years at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, USA. He currently serving as a Science Teacher and in charge of the Sera Jey Science Centre, Sera Jey Monastery.

Emotional Awareness & Emotion Regulation: Related Factors that Determine Whether Emotions are Helpful or Harmful

People experience emotions in situations that are important to them. One might feel happy when he wins a debate, angry when his mentor berates him, and scared when he is robbed by a stranger. Emotions coordinate attention, subjective experience (feelings), arousal and action to increase the likelihood that people respond in ways that maximize their benefits (e.g., fear facilitates protecting oneself from threat). Because emotions are not always helpful, people purposefully change, or regulate their emotions. Emotion regulation involves using strategies, such as distraction and acceptance, to increase, maintain, avoid or decrease an emotional response. To successfully regulate emotions, people must to some extent attend to and understand them, which is known as emotional awareness. Research has demonstrated that emotional awareness and emotion regulation are related factors that influence whether emotions are helpful, unhelpful or harmful. Thus, emotional awareness and emotion regulation are together associated with positive outcomes, such as increased quality of life, and negative outcomes, such as increased depression. Research has further demonstrated that emotional awareness and emotion regulation can be targeted for improvement, such as through the use of meditation practice.

Matthew Boden, Clinical Psychologist

Matthew Boden is a clinical psychologist whose research focuses on three factors associated with well-being and psychopathology. First, he investigates how, when and why we attend to and understand our emotional experiences, known as emotional awareness. Second, he investigates how, when and why people use particular strategies to increase, maintain, avoid and decrease emotional responses, known as emotion regulation. Third, he has developed theory and conducted research to examine how emotions influence belief formation and change, and how some of our most important beliefs function to regulate emotions. He has conducted experimental, cross-sectional, longitudinal and treatment-related studies utilizing a variety of methods and statistical techniques to demonstrate how these three factors are associated with adaptive and maladaptive functioning inside and outside the context of psychotherapy. Additionally, he has practiced mindfulness-based psychotherapies with clients suffering from a variety of mental disorders.

Emotional Transformation: Learnings from Buddhism and Psychoanalysis

There have been many psychoanalysts over the years who have been interested in learning and reconciling Buddhist philosophy and practices of amelioration of suffering with their own tradition of psychological enquiry. As one of these analysts, I would discuss the core difference  between the two traditions on their view of emotions and their transformation and suggest the possibility of a reconciliation which could enrich both.

Sudhir Kakar, Psychoanalyst

Sudhir Kakar is a psychoanalyst, novelist, and a scholar in the fields of cultural psychology and the psychology of religion. He has been Lecturer at Harvard University, Senior Fellow at the Centre for Study of World Religions at Harvard (2001-02), and Visiting Professor at the universities of Chicago (1989-92), McGill, Melbourne, Hawaii and Vienna. Kakar has been a Fellow at the Institutes of Advanced Study, Princeton, Berlin, and the Centre for Advanced Study of Humanities, Cologne. His many honours include the  Bhabha, Nehru and ICSSR National Fellowships of India, Kardiner Award of Columbia University, Boyer Prize of the American Anthropological Association, Germany’s Goethe Medal, Rockefeller Residency, McArthur Research Fellowship, and the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. Kakar is the author of eighteen books of non-fiction and five of fiction. His latest books are Young Tagore: The makings of a genius (Penguin-Viking, 2013), and the novel The Devil Take Love (2015). His books have been translated into twenty-two languages around the world.

Yoga for Mental Health – New promise from an Ancient Science

Yoga, including meditation, has traditionally been a spiritual practice to facilitate union of the individual consciousness with the cosmic. In this process, there are several benefits that accrue to both the body and the mind. This has led to its use a practice for attaining better physical and mental health. Yoga-based practices have also proven effective as a therapeutic intervention in several physical and mental disorders. This has led to scientific research to understand the efficacy and mechanisms of these effects.  Several recent studies, including randomized controlled trials from NIMHANS, have shown that yoga-based interventions reduce symptomatology, improve functioning and cognition in patients with several mental disorders, including Depression, Schizophrenia, Anxiety disorders, childhood psychiatric disorders and cognitive problems in the elderly. However, the biological underpinnings of these effects remain unclear, although there are some indications that augmentation of neuroplastic mechanisms, hormones like oxytocin, and other brain mechanisms may contribute. The presentation will focus on the effects of yoga-based practices on mental health, the rationale for using yoga-based interventions in psychiatric disorders, the current status of evidence for the benefits, and the possible mechanisms underlying the effects.

Shivarama Varambally, NIMHANS

Shivarama Varambally completed MBBS from Mysore Medical College in 1999 and MD in Psychiatry from NIMHANS in 2003. After working in Australia from 2005 – 07, he joined NIMHANS as a faculty in May 2007. He is currently in charge of the NIMHANS Integrated Centre for Yoga (NICY) which is carrying out focused work to understand the efficacy and mechanisms of action of yoga in several neuropsychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, depression, and cognitive problems in the elderly. He has published more than 80 research articles, of which half are in the area of yoga and its applications in mental health.

Therapy Dogs As An Intervention for Attention Bias in PTSD

Dogs are a favored companion animal to people in the United States, and are often recognized for having a positive emotional benefit.  More recently, dogs are being bred and used intentionally to provide therapy to people with mental disorders, including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In the most rigorous study on this topic to date, we are evaluating whether therapy dogs for veterans can help to alleviate a specific symptom of PTSD: attentional bias to negative stimuli. People with anxiety disorders, including PTSD, tend to pay more attention to threatening or aversive stimuli versus neutral or positive stimuli. Preliminary findings from this study have revealed that veterans with PTSD pay less attention to negative stimuli when they are in the presence of a therapy dog. Findings thus far suggest that dogs are an effective treatment options for alleviating at least this one symptom of PTSD.  These findings are important because PTSD is difficult to treat and researchers are challenged to look for new and effective interventions.

Sasha Gala

Sasha Gala obtained a degree in law and interned for the California District Attorney’s office and Public Defenders’ office. She worked for Atkinson Andelson, a leading California law firm, where she focused on education and employment law. She left her legal career to become the Chief Operations Officer of Auxilio Inc, a publicly traded company in the healthcare industry. She now works in public service, where she focuses on helping those with psychological trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. She has worked extensively in various counseling and other support services for victims of rape trauma and sexual violence. She has managed studies at the Veterans Administration including a study of Compassion Cultivation Training for Veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. She coordinates the collection of data from veterans who are treated at the Veterans Administration’s Trauma Recovery Program. She currently works on a research team studying the effects of dog companionship on veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, with specific focus on cardiac reactivity, sleep disturbance, social cognition and attentional bias. Sasha still serves on multiple advisory boards in business but her passion is to broadly improve the health of people who have experienced trauma.

Emotions as a path to Transformation

Why are there all the problems in the world we live in? Isn’t it time to give karma a break and step back and create a little space in which we mind find a solution? My presentation will describe how Buddhist approach emotions as a path to liberation, by regulating and transforming them.

Lama Ngodup Dorji, Ati Foundation

Lama Ngodup Dorji is the 15th generation of Shingkhar Lama at Shingkhar Dechenling under Bumthang District which is considered as one of the Eight Lings established by Omniscient Longchenpa in Bhutan. He holds a Masters Degree in Buddhist Philosophy from Ngagyur Nyingma Institute, Mysore, India and he has taught in DeSisto School, The Berkshires, Massachusetts, USA for number of years. He is also a member with the Global Fund Country coordinating Mechanism in Bhutan. Lama Ngodup is also one of the founders of the Ati Foundation, Bhutan, where he currently serves as the secretary general.

Transformation of Self and Society: Gandhi’s Notion of Trusteeship as a Way of Being (A Buddhist Perspective of this Notion)

Human beings, everywhere, are experiencing a host of inter-related crises: environmental, economic, social, and existential. In this context, a radical transformation at the level of both individuals and social institutions has now become essential to survival itself. Gandhi offered a perspective, a Way out of these crises – “At the level of the individual: living as if one were a ‘trustee’ of all one’s natural and socially acquired endowments; And at the level of society: Making ‘Trusteeship’ the legally binding, core guiding principle of all social institutions.” “Trusteeship” was the only idea which Gandhi took directly from the Western tradition, from English Common Law, but in his characteristic way, he refashioned it in the light of Indian religious traditions – Hindu/Jain/Buddhist –  thereby both deepening and extending the concept. This presentation will explore Gandhi’s notion of Trusteeship, and whether it can bring about this radical transformation of our ways of being, which is so desperately necessary today. In doing so, it will bring out the deep resonances between this concept and all religious thought, be it Indian, Semitic or any other. The perspective is “Buddhist” only in so far as Gandhi’s notion of Trusteeship has particularly deep resonances with Buddhism.

K.G. Chandy, Rishi Valley School

K. G. Chandy studied Physics and Law in Indian Universities (late sixties and early seventies); was part of the student movements in the sixties and subsequently, as a political activist, worked in rural areas, in slums and with industrial workers during the seventies. This experience raised many questions in my mind, which led me to withdraw from political activity and begin a serious study of Philosophy. Was at the University of Heidelberg (West Germany) during the years 1981 – 88; concentrated on the study of Aristotle, Nietzsche, Heidegger and also Kant, Hegel, Marx during this time; got unexpectedly drawn to Buddhism, Krishnamurti and Indian thought in general, during the latter part of this period. Returned to India in 1989, worked with development organizations for a few years; subsequently came to Rishi Valley School in 1995 to pursue my engagement with Buddhism in parallel with Krishnamurti. This is continuing. Have also been teaching Economics for the last 15 years and engaging with students at multiple levels (RV being a residential school). I am generally known as Rajan by my students, family and friends, though my official name is K G Chandy as above.

Challenging the Classification of Emotional Experience: Broadening the Context of What It Means to be Mentally Healthy

In some Western cultures, there has been routine use of classification systems to categorize thought, emotion, and other private experience. These systems of classification have endured longstanding debate over their relative successes and shortcomings, especially as the categorization of negative internal experience is often ambiguous in nature and contextually dependent. Indeed, there are even disagreements about what constitutes mental illness and health; further obscuring the classification system. In recent years, new behavioral interventions have focused more on the contextual variables that play a role in well-being, placing less emphasis on the categorization of internal experience. This presentation will provide a brief overview of a classification system, explore the context in which this type of system as arisen, and discuss potential alternative approaches to an individual’s personal relationships with their thoughts and emotional experience.

Robyn D. Walser, Veterans Administration

Robyn Walser is Director of TL Consultation Services, staff at the National Center for PTSD and is Associate Clinical Professor at University of California, Berkeley. As a licensed clinical psychologist, she maintains an international training, consulting and therapy practice. Dr. Walser is an expert in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and has co-authored 4   books on ACT including Learning ACT, The Mindful Couple, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for the Treatment of Posttramatic Stress disorder and ACT for Clergy and Pastoral Counselors: Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to Bridge Psychological and Spiritual Care. She also has expertise in traumatic stress and substance abuse and has authored a number of articles, chapters and books on these topics. She has been doing ACT workshops since 1998; training in multiple formats and for multiple client problems. Dr. Walser has presented her research findings and papers at international and national conferences, universities and hospital settings; and she has been invited to international conferences to speak about ACT. She is invested in developing innovative ways to translate science-into-practice and continues to do research and education on dissemination of ACT and other therapies. She has had a number of leadership roles in international and national organizations and she served as Member At Large and President for the Association for Contextual and Behavioral Science, the main association that houses ACT.

Opening up Emotional Pathways in Education: ‘moral’ intelligence in school worlds

This presentation focuses on the urgency of paying attention to emotional learning in schools in India where cognitive learning is over-emphasized. Understanding emotional learning and how it may work at school, the author focuses on ‘moral’ intelligence and the moral domain that rests on personal agency and will in the context of relating to others. Such a moral intelligence that dwells and acts out of a sense of justice, empathy and concern for others is a dire necessity for the times we live in. Through the insights of J. Krishnamurti and HH the Dalai Lama, right education, where there is a focus on developing such an intelligence, is briefly examined and offered as essential for schools to bring up a new generation.

Meenakshi Thapan, University of Delhi

Meenakshi Thapan is Professor of Sociology at the Delhi School of Economics, and Co-ordinator of the D.S. Kothari Centre for Science, Ethics and Education, University of Delhi.  She is also a Trustee of the Krishnamurti Foundation (India) since 2012. Her first book was Life at School: An Ethnographic Study (Oxford University Press, 1991, 2006) and the most recent are (ed.) Education and Society. Themes, Perspectives, Processe (Oxford University Press, 2015), (ed.) Ethnographies of Schooling in Contemporary India (SAGE, 2014), (ed.) Contested Spaces. Citizenship and Belonging in Contemporary Times. (Orient Blackswan, 2010) and Living the Body: Embodiment, Womanhood and Identity in Contemporary India. (SAGE, 2009). She is also Series Editor of a series on the Sociology and Social Anthropology of Education in South Asia(SAGE 2015-2019) and of a five volume series on Women and Migration in Asia  (SAGE, 2005-2008).