Interest in contemplative practices has burgeoned in recent years as research suggests that meditation practice may have significant effects on health and well-being. Scientists in diverse fields are pointing out the importance of compassion for human happiness and well-being. Primatologist Frans de Waal, for example, has surveyed a growing body of empirical evidence to argue that our common perception of human nature as a self-centered drive for individual survival is largely distorted, if not altogether wrong. Rather, the roots of empathy, compassion and morality run deep in our evolutionary history. Developmental psychologists have also noted that humans are “wired for connectivity”, and in fact have a powerful need for affiliation from infancy on. Further, work in social neuroscience has shown that perceived social isolation is a risk factor for poor cognitive performance and executive functioning, increased depressive thoughts, and in increased sensitivity to social threats. Taken together, this research suggests that practices that enhance our sense of connectivity with others, such as compassion training, might show positive effects on our physical and mental health, and emerging data is lending support to this view.
To view a talk by Dr. Charles Raison on the need for cultivating compassion, click here.
Cognitively-Based Compassion Training (CBCT)
Cognitively-Based Compassion Training is a systematic method for gradually training the mind until compassion becomes a spontaneous response. Dr. Lobsang Tenzin Negi, director of the Emory-Tibet Partnership and a former Buddhist monk, originally created CBCT as a response to increasing mental distress in Emory College students as evidenced by several suicides during the 2003-2004 academic year.
Drawing from the Tibetan Buddhist lojong tradition—a set of meditative practices that are designed to bring about ‘thought transformation’— Dr. Negi, with the assistance of Teri Sivilli, rendered this mind-training methodology into a contemporary form appropriate for use by individuals of any, or no, faith tradition.
Based on the understanding that self-centered thinking and behavior cause suffering for self and others, while other-centered thoughts, emotions, and behaviors ultimately benefit all, CBCT works to promote a deep sense of endearment for others. Compassion is fostered through a process that begins with the stabilization of the practitioner’s mental activity, and then progresses to the cultivation of a sense of closeness or connectedness to others, and the recognition of the causes of suffering.
The fundamental premise—that compassion is a trait that can be developed and expanded, and that its practice benefits both self and society—is a view expressed by great thinkers from Charles Darwin to Albert Einstein to the 14th Dalai Lama. And now scientific research is demonstrating what a wide variety of religious and wisdom traditions have held for centuries: that the practice of compassion yields tangible benefits.
For more information about CBCT or enrolling in one of our Foundation Courses or CBCT Teacher Certification Program, please visit our Course Offerings or our Teacher Certification page.
Visit our Research page for more information about our ongoing projects.
Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi, Ph.D., is the founder and spiritual director of Drepung Loseling Monastery, Inc., in Atlanta, GA, and a Senior Lecturer in Emory University’s Department of Religion. He also serves as Director of the Emory-Tibet Partnership, a multi-dimensional initiative founded in 1998 to bring together the foremost contributions of the Western scholastic tradition and the Tibetan Buddhist sciences of mind and healing. In this capacity, he serves as Co-Director of both the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative and the Emory Collaborative for Contemplative Studies. He also developed Cognitively-Based Compassion Training (CBCT), a compassion meditation program that is currently utilized in a number of research studies, including an NIH-funded study examining the efficacy of compassion meditation on the experience of depression.
Dr. Negi, a former monk, was born in Kinnaur, a small Himalayan kingdom adjoining Tibet. He began his monastic training at The Institute of Buddhist Dialectics and continued his education at Drepung Loseling Monastery in south India, where he received his Geshe Lharampa degree, the highest academic degree granted in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, in 1994. Dr. Negi completed his Ph.D. at Emory University in 1999; his interdisciplinary dissertation centered on traditional Buddhist and contemporary Western approaches to emotions and their impact on wellness.
Timothy Harrison is the Assistant Director of Teacher Training for Cognitively-Based Compassion Training (CBCT).
Timothy Harrison joined the ETP staff as Assistant Director for Cognitively-Based Compassion Training in 2013. In this capacity, he coordinates the expanding CBCT Teacher Certification program as well as the provision of CBCT for research studies – most recently including studies involving breast cancer survivors (University of Arizona, Tuscon), PTSD sufferers (Atlanta VA Center), HIV patients (Grady Clinic), and NICU nurses (Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta).
Tim teaches CBCT courses to students at the Emory School of Medicine as well as to undergraduates through Emory’s Counseling and Psychological Services. He also works with several of our community outreach programs, offering CBCT to incarcerated individuals, adolescent foster children, and young victims of domestic violence.
Having studied architectural history and engineering at Duke University, and then architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Tim thrived as an Atlanta architect for 20 years both in practice and as visiting professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Alongside his professional journey, he studied and practiced several forms of meditation (including lo jong and Zen) and saw these practices as deeply beneficial on a personal level. He was unaware there could be a way to share these benefits more broadly, until coming across CBCT in 2010.