Varela Awards

Mind & Life Francisco J. Varela Research Awards

Francisco J. Varela

The Mind & Life Francisco J. Varela Awards (Varela Awards) – an important and integral component of Mind & Life Europe’s support of contemplative scientists and scholars – 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 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. Mind and Life views the Varela Awards as an essential feature of its overall strategy of building an interdisciplinary understanding of the mind and human behavior. These 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.

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 MLSRI and/or the ESRI, which often do not qualify for traditional streams of funding.

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 SRI or the European SRI 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 this award email VarelaAwards(at)

2016 MLE Varela Awards

Seven research projects were awarded a Mind & Life Europe Francisco Varela Award at the end of February 2016.

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

Mind & Life Europe congratulates the awardees on their award and wishes them well in their work. MLE extends its sincere thanks to the Hershey Family Foundation for its support of this program!

More information on the 2016 awardees