by Nicholas Boeving, Ph.D. Spring 2017 Graduate
Legacy. As we use the word today, it means a kind of heritage, benefaction, or gift — an ancestral endowment, passed from generation to generation. These are modern inflections, however. Originally, the word “legacy” translated into a “body of persons sent on a mission,” from the Medieval Latin word legatia, meaning an “ambassador” or “envoy.” Put differently, a legacy was not, etymologically speaking, something you inherited, but something you embodied.
As a recent graduate of Sofia’s Global Ph.D. program in psychology, however, I have become increasingly aware of just what this rich transpersonal legacy actually means, both in the sense of an academic inheritance, as well in the more ancient sense of being an ambassador or envoy.
Both of these related, yet distinct, fields of awareness were brought into sharp relief upon my having been granted a scholarship to attend November’s Mind & Life Institute’s International Symposium for Contemplative Studies. Even during the application process itself, I realized that I was, in a very real sense, an ambassador of Sofia University. The symposium, which brought together leading academics, researchers, and contemplative practitioners, who live, think, and write at the intersection of neurobiological and contemplative inquiry, was a veritable who’s-who of contemplative science.
The Mind & Life Institute, while nominally committed to exploring the interface between science and Buddhism as two distinct but not incompatible methodologies with a common basic focus, in actuality embraces a full plurality of methodologies and contemplative perspectives that are not necessarily restricted to Buddhism. The atmosphere of the event itself was, in a word, electric. Each day was inaugurated with an opening meditation, followed by a variety of brown-bag lunches and a scintillating series of lectures and discussions by people who literally line my bookshelves — Roshi Joan Halifax and Sharon Salzburg — to name just two of the luminaries involved.
This atmosphere of intellectual playfulness and exploration was the brainchild of the American entrepreneur R. Adam Engle, who, upon learning of Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama’s interest in modern science, proceeded to arrange a dialogue for him with selected scientists. The Chilean neuroscientist Francisco soon joined the initiative and thus the first Mind and Life Dialogue was held in October 1987 at the Dalai Lama’s residence in Dharamsala, India for seven days of interdisciplinary and cross-cultural exploration. This was to be the first of many such events.
Academic inquiry isn’t just about the subjects of study themselves, however, it is about the community of researchers who dedicate their professional lives (and much of their personal lives as well.) The Mind & Life symposium I attended was an intellectual estuary of spiritual confederates and the ideal location to network and plug in to the thriving community of contemplative researchers. I knew when I walked through the doors, I carried with me the academic DNA of Sofia’s legacy school, the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, with me – that rich, illustrious lineage of top-tier scholars in transpersonal studies who were the real reasons I applied to Sofia in the first place.
I also knew that I, as a then-graduate student, was a living legacy myself, an ambassador of the transpersonal tradition, and the name of Sofia itself. A tall order to fill, to be sure, but one which I humbly and gratefully accepted. After all, Sofia’s legacy of transpersonal scholarship and transformative personal inquiry have much to offer the world of contemplative science. Indeed, there is much each tradition can learn from the other.
About the Author
Nicholas Grant Boeving is a Los Angeles based writer, independent scholar, and consultant to the non-profit sector. He completed his PhD in psychology at Sofia University, with his dissertation A Luminous Doom: Death Anxiety Along the Spectrum of Substance Abuse and Recovery written under the directorship of David Lukoff, William Parsons, and Stanley Kripper, the legendary American psychologist and internationally known pioneer in the scientific investigation of human consciousness.
Nicholas did his graduate training in the psychology of religion under Jeffrey Kripal while a doctoral student at Rice University. He is currently a Senior Research Fellow of the 12 Step Institute in Los Angeles, CA, and Director of the Single Parents and Teens Foundation of Dallas. He has published in the areas of psychology of religion, new religious movements, and addiction studies. His primary research interests focus on the Recovery Movement as a form of “existential medicine.”