By Tony Sokol

Zeena translates a study on the language of Buddhists.

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(Photo : zeenaschreck.com)

BERLIN, April 13, 2015 /Daily Offbeat/ — A recent study found that people being exposed to Buddhist concepts can make them more socially accepting of outside behavior and undermine prejudice.

 

The study, “Buddhist Concepts as Implicitly Reducing Prejudice and Increasing Prosociality” was led by Stanford University researchers from Belgium and Taiwan. It was published in the April issue of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. The study supplements research about a phenomenon called priming, which theorizes that merely being exposed to certain words or concepts changes the way people think or behave.

The researchers conducted three separate experiments of 355 individuals. They found that being exposed to words related to Buddhism could “automatically activate prosociality and tolerance, in particular among people with socio-cognitive open-mindedness.”

Zeena Schreck is an artist, musician, author, animal rights activist and Tantric Buddhist in the Nyingma, Drikung Kagyu, Karma Kagyu lineages (also known as the “Oral Lineage” or Whispered Transmission traditions).

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(Photo : Zeena Schreck)

Zeena whispered exclusively to Daily Offbeat about the study.

“We usually only attribute the familiar phrase ‘You are what you eat’ to edible nutrition, but the phrase also relates to mental nutrition,” Zeena began. “If you only put ‘junk-food’ into your mind, it becomes flabby and unhealthy. You will see everything in a nihilistic ‘glass half empty’ view, develop feelings of paranoia, persecution or entitlement and your resentment towards others will grow to a crippling degree.”

“But if you ‘ingest’ healthy, life affirming and spiritually nutritious thoughts, you become those thoughts, without needing to be preachy about it or making a show of righteousness and virtuousness,” she said.

The study points out that Buddhist practices like meditation foster an open-minded and compassionate viewpoint.

“The tantric Buddhist practice of utilizing mantras to liberate the mind from disturbing emotions, conditioning and limitations for the greater purpose of spiritual Enlightenment, can have immediate positive effect on even those new to the techniques,” Zeena said. “I’ve seen this personally when teaching these practices in my workshops and retreats. The effect experienced by the participants after a long mantra meditation session is visible in their faces and bodies. They appear more peaceful, centered and alert.”

The researchers studied the reactions of Western subjects who were familiar with Buddhism when they read religious words like “Dharma” and “Nirvana” in a word puzzle. The researchers found the participants expressed lower negative attitudes toward outgroups than the subjects who were exposed to positive non-religious words like “freedom.”

“Like mantras, the Buddhist related words used in this study, such as Dharma and Nirvana, also have a vibrational ‘weight,'” explained Zeena. “The energy of these religio-magical terms comes from centuries of priming and charging by beings who used them to express spiritual bliss, love, compassion, liberation and enlightenment.”

“Words, like symbols, are not superficial. There is an intrinsic energy and life to all words. So a religious word such as Dharma or Nirvana, to an intelligent person who knows the basic meaning, will have a very different subliminal effect than non-religiously-primed, secular words such as ‘freedom,'” she continued.

The study found that Westerners with a Christian background scored higher on prosociality measures after being exposed to Buddhist concepts, but the research found that the measure of prosociality did not increase after subjects were to Christian concepts.

“I would suggest that this has something to do with the non-dualistic mental attitude and approach of Buddhism in contrast to the dualistic mindset of monotheistic, specifically Abrahamic, religions,” Zeena interpreted. “To my experience as a tantric Buddhist, Buddhism actively discourages a morally superior attitude between the various schools of Buddhism and its practitioners. Causing division among the Sangha is one of the Five Heinous Crimes of Buddhism.”

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The study found that “unlike Christian and other monotheistic religious systems that paradoxically seem to encourage not only prosociality but also prejudice, Buddhist ideas favor both prosociality and outgroup tolerance, and these ideals seem particularly efficient (in leading to action) for people with relevant personality dispositions.”

“We are taught that each and all of the various schools and vehicles of Buddhism are important elements of the greater Buddha-Dharma teachings,” Zeena said. “This expansive, inclusive and non-judgmental mindset is inbuilt to the religious teachings and practices. They are the basis by which the same mentality toward all beings should be understood. By contrast, among the various sects and denominations of Christianity, division, contention, segregation and judgment is prevalent and not especially discouraged.”

Buddhism does not draw a sharp line between believers and unbelievers like the three dominant monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Subjects with a Christian background who were predisposed to valuing the welfare of all people and an aversion towards authoritarianism reportedly became more tolerant after being exposed to Buddhist concepts. Tests imply that these subjects were less prejudiced against people of African descent and Muslims than participants exposed to Christian concepts or neutral concepts.

“Emotional (compassion) and cognitive (tolerance of contradictions) mechanisms explain, to some extent, how Buddhist concepts, across cultural and religious contexts, enhance prosocial and tolerant attitudes and behavioral tendencies. Religious and cultural characteristics ‘travel’ and influence people’s attitudes and behavior in a globalized world even at the implicit level of consciousness,” the study concluded.

“The Dharma practitioner learns to consider his or her words and thoughts and apply mental antidotes to negative thoughts and speech,” Zeena said. “In developing this kind of awareness whenever possible, transformation is immediately possible. Replacing any negative thought with a time-tested traditional mantra will automatically and organically begin to transform body, spirit and life.”

Zeena Schreck is a Berlin-based tantric Buddhist teacher and interdisciplinary artist. She can be contacted on her blog, on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, YouTube and Pinterest

For more information on the full study, contact Magali Clobert, Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Bldg. 420, Jordan Hall, Stanford, CA 94305, USA. Email: mclobert@stanford.edu

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