October 28th, 2010
12:16 PM ET
Editor's note: Video produced by Brandon Ancil. Shot by Jarrett Bellini and Mandy Carranza. Text by Dan Gilgoff.
Lobsang Tenzin Negi wears a lot of hats.
He’s a former Buddhist monk who presides over a Buddhist monastery in - of all places - Atlanta, Georgia. He directs Emory University’s unique partnership with Tibet's government-in-exile.
And he’s a highly regarded meditation teacher, designing meditation courses for much of the recent scientific study of the practice.
Like many Buddhists, Negi insists that a person doesn’t don’t have to be Buddhist to benefit from meditation.
“Meditation is not even a religious practice, much less a Buddhist one,” he says. “Way before Buddhism was founded, meditation was a widespread practice in India.”
“It's a simple training by which you enhance certain skills like compassion, attention, love - you train again and again to get better,” he says.
Many Westerners have discovered focused-attention meditation, during which the practitioner focuses on a single object, often the breath, for a set period of time in an attempt to cultivate powers of concentration.
The style draws on ancient meditation techniques that have been standardized by Buddhism over the past 2,500 years.
For Tibetan Buddhists, however, a different meditation style - compassion meditation - is at the heart of contemplative practice.
Unlike focused-attention meditation, which is intended to still the mind’s emotional states by training attention on the present moment, compassion mediation aims to summon an intense emotional state that’s sometimes referred to as lovingkindness.
“We are social beings and compassion is a practice by which one becomes deeply connected with others,” Negi says. “Not just to the few people nearest us, like parents and siblings and relatives, but to strangers or even people we may call adversaries.”
“If we embrace them with compassion," he says, "that means that our relationship to them is grounded in a deep sense of connectedness. And that kind of social connectedness is crucial to our well-being, physical and emotional.”
Interest in compassion meditation outside Buddhist circles may be growing, with the Dalai Lama - the spiritual and political leader of Tibetan Buddhists in exile - encouraging Westerners to take it more seriously.
Decades ago, the Dalai Lama also helped lead Negi toward the practice.
Born in Kinnaur, India, across the border from Tibet, Negi enrolled at the Dalai Lama’s private school in Dharamsala, India as a young teenager.
Negi's Atlanta monastery, called Drepung Loseling, is the North American affiliate of a prestigious Tibetan Buddhist monastery in India.
Negi left monastic life in 2002 - he's now married - but maintains close ties to the Dalai Lama. The Tibetan leader’s first stop after touching down in Atlanta last week for a three-day visit to the area was the the Drepung Loseling monastery.
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