Foto Heidelberg: Thaddäus Zech






Research projects

The lay Buddhist meditation movement in Thailand and Germany: cosmological implications in cross cultural perspective

The proposed research is looking at the socio-cultural and ethical dimensions of the lay meditation movement in Thailand and Germany. The focus will be twofold: 1) on meditation as a form of individual transformation practice, a ‘technology of the self’ which seems to confirm processes of individualization often assigned to so-called ‘modern’ cultures; 2) on the deeper Buddhist cosmology and its ethical dimension which is traditionally the foundation and concern of meditation practice. These two aspects will be examined in the context of a cultural flow between indigenous Buddhist culture and its adaptation in Europe, in particular Germany.


"The empirical data that we perceive, together with the scientific theories that account for them, all consist of mental representations; and we have no objective yardstick with which to compare them with what we assume to be the ‘real world". Alan Wallace

In Western science objectivity is a highly valued condition or asset for conducting research, both in natural and social sciences. As the mind of the researcher is crucial for acquiring knowledge in the context of empirical science it seems important to look more closely at the ‘mechanisms’ of the mind and qualities like perception, attention and awareness – in short, the consciousness of the researcher. Generally this aspect of the researcher’s own consciousness is neglected or ignored, despite the fact that, at least in the social sciences, it is her/his main tool for understanding and acquiring knowledge. If untrained though, our consciousness or mind is not per se a very reliable tool for understanding.

At the institute, detailed attention is given to the cognitive processes of the researcher to develop a form of ‘mind training’: a set of trainable mental skills for cultivating awareness about these processes rather than being unconsciously influenced or guided by them. Besides the cognitive aspects, the training addresses the potential of the physical, emotional and mental processes of the researcher during research or fieldwork as having explicit epistemological worth rather than hindering the ‘objectivity’ of the research project.

The project of developing this form of ‘mind training’ is based mainly on so-called ‘contemplative phenomenology’ as developed by Francisco Varela and Allan Wallace from the Mind and Life Institute. It is carried out in cooperation with the Institute for Integral Studies, Freiburg.

Educational frameworks for cosmopolitan ideals

In classical Stoic cosmopolitanism the emphasis is on the ethical capacities of the individual. As with most our capacities, our ethic and moral ones also need encouragement. To cultivate and foster these ethical capacities of the individual, and also the practice of conscious self-reflection as an inevitable prerequisite, supportive educational frameworks are vital. A project at the Institute is therefore to work out and teach modules/seminars suitable for schools and other educational institutions.


Foto Aborigine:
Landmark Media / interTOPICS