Varela Awards

Francisco J. Varela

The Mind & Life Francisco J. Varela Awards (Varela Awards) are an important and integral component of Mind & Life Europe’s support of contemplative scientists and scholars. They are based on neuroscientist and philosopher Francisco J. Varela’s belief that contemplative training offers modern science novel methods for investigating human experience. In his vision, contemplative training not only provides a new domain for scientific study, but it also – and more importantly - offers resources for advancing scientific theories and models of consciousness, emotion, and cognitive processing.


The programme

The Varela Awards fund rigorous examinations of contemplative techniques with the ultimate goal that findings derived from such investigations will provide greater insight into contemplative practices and their application for reducing human suffering and promoting flourishing. The Varela Awards are an essential feature of Mind and Life's overall strategy of building an interdisciplinary understanding of the mind and human behavior. The awards are a key vehicle for increasing the number of exemplary scientists, scholars and clinicians involved in contemplative sciences. Strong proposals will meet the highest standards of rigor in the applicant’s field of expertise. Furthermore, preference will be given to interdisciplinary studies that incorporate first-person contemplative methods (e.g., introspective investigation and reports on subjective experience) into traditional cognitive, behavioral, physiological, clinical, or socio-cultural research. This awards program also encourages the active collaboration of researchers with contemplative scholars/practitioners in all phases of investigation.


New research proposals

The Varela Awards were established in 2004 as a companion program to MLSRI and have been a critical element in supporting the development of Contemplative Science and Contemplative Studies. The Varela Awards support new research proposals, most developed through collaboration at the Mind & Life Summer Research Institute and/or the European Summer Research Institute, which often do not qualify for traditional streams of funding.


Future basis of  emerging fields

Since 2004, Mind & Life has distributed more than $ 2,100,000 in funding to support junior scientists in these emerging fields. As a result of the until now 150 funded Varela Awards, a significant increase in cognitive, behavioral, neuro-biological, and clinical findings are being published in top-tier, peer-reviewed, scientific journals. To date, more than 190 scholarly articles have been published resulting from Varela Award projects, and hundreds of scientific presentations have been given at conferences and special lectures. Further, the relatively modest awards have been leveraged into more than $ 62 million in follow-on funding for awardees. Research that is now being conducted with the support of Varela Awards will be the future basis of the emerging fields of Contemplative Science and Contemplative Studies. Today’s researchers will be tomorrow’s leaders in the exploration of the mind.



To be eligible for a Varela Award, researchers and scholars must have attended the Mind & Life Summer Research Institute or the European Summer Research Institute within five years of their application. This grant is intended as a career development award, and is open to graduate students and post-doctoral fellows currently affiliated with a research institution, and junior faculty up to their third year of university appointment.

For any questions about the Varela awards, please email VarelaAwards(at)

Varela Awards 2017


Mind & Life Europe is seeking applications for the Mind and Life Francisco J. Varela Awards for Contemplative Sciences Research (Varela Awards) 2017. The following application criteria need to be met:

  • Applicants should have attended a European Mind & Life Summer Research Institute (ESRI).
  • Applicants should be graduate students, post docs, or junior faculty members within their first 3 years of appointment.
  • Application period: 25 September - 30 October 2017
  • €15,000 and two-year time frame
  • Awardees will be announced at the end of January 2018.

More information on the application procedure.

Varela Awards 2016

Seven research projects were awarded a Mind & Life Europe Francisco Varela Award in February 2016.

The 2016 awardees are: Gabriel Axel Montes, Carlos Garcia Rubio & Catherine Andreu, Britta Hölzel, Barbara Jachs, Gesa Kappen, Anna Reebs, Michael Tremmel and Freya von Hohnhorst. 

Mind & Life Europe congratulates the awardees on their award and wishes them well in their work. We also extend our sincere gratitude to the Hershey Family Foundation for its support of this programme.

More information on the 2016 awardees