Professor to link Tibetan meditation with cancer treatment in lecture

by Katie Ruppel, The Buddhist channel, Feb 12, 2009

Houston, Texas (USA) -- Hinduism, Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, Jainism, Buddhism: you name it, Dr. Alejandro Chaoul has studied it.

Chaoul is an assistant professor at the John P. McGovern Center for Health, Humanities and the Human Spirit at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. He is also an adjunct assistant professor at the Department of Palliative Care and Rehabilitation Services at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. This is where he began his present work combining Tibetan meditation practices with cancer treatment, which he will be lecturing about Wednesday at the Brown-Lupton University Union.

In reference to how he started this work, Chaoul said, "I was searching..." and paused for a moment to recall how his journey began.

Chaoul was born into a Catholic community in Argentina but was raised in a Jewish family and sent to a Presbyterian school.

He said he did not find what he was looking for spiritually in any of those religions, and went to the United States to study philosophy, where he met Indian transfer students who sparked his interest in Eastern religions.

Chaoul traveled to India and Nepal, where he studied with a number of prominent Tibetan masters, including the Dalai Lama. Chaoul said what interested him the most about his Buddhist teachers was their sincere way of life.

"They would talk about compassion and love and humility, and you can see that in their actions, not just in the Dalai Lama but even in everyday people," Chaoul said.

He said that after studying the Tibetan traditions for more than 10 years, he returned to the United States to pursue his doctorate in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism. He worked as a volunteer at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. He was interested in the center's meditation program for cancer patients, and started to incorporate Tibetan practices such as breathing techniques and yoga into the program. He eventually earned a contract with the center and did a five-year study on women with breast cancer who used Tibetan yoga and meditation program.

"It was an eye-opener to see that century-old practice that I was learning actually had a purpose in the medical field and in the western world," Chaoul said.

Andrew Fort, a professor of religion and coordinator of the lecture, said he admires Chaoul's determination to research such an abstract notion as the mind-body connection.

"All sorts of people talk like 'with a will, a way' or 'mind over matter,' but to have someone who is a serious medical man investigating a serious disease, to see how healing can be helped is an important thing," Fort said.

Carrie Currier, director of the Asian Studies program, said Chaoul's research is one example of how Asian Studies can be an interdisciplinary subject, not just with religion but also with humanities, social sciences and the medical field.

Fort said he also hopes people from many different disciplines find this lecture interesting.

"I really hope people see something that originally is supposed to be exotic or 'over there' as something that is really applicable, relevant and valuable here," Fort said.