Changes in self-concept, ego defense mechanisms andreligiosity
following seven-day Vispassana meditation retreats

Tipawadee Emavardhana; Christopher D. Tori

The Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion
Vol.36 No.2 (June 1997)

COPYRIGHT 1997 Society for the Scientific Study of Religion

            Interest regarding the effects of meditation based on traditional 
            Buddhist principles remains high (Goldstein 1993; Kabat-Zinn 1994; 
            Shapiro 1992a; Tart 1990). Vipassana, which is one of the oldest 
            forms of Buddhist meditative practice, was developed within the 
            Theravada tradition and consists of the mindful observation of 
            whatever arises in consciousness. It is believed the sustained 
            awareness of cognitive and sensory phenomena will lead to the 
            realization that unnecessary suffering results when attempts are 
            made to attach to anything within the impermanent flux of human 
            experience (Bucknell and Stuart-Fox 1993: ch. 4; Janakabhivamsa 
            1995; Nyanaponika 1988; Sold-Leris 1986). Other terms for Vipassana 
            practice include "insight meditation" or simply "mindfulness" 
            (Gunaratana 1993). This form of meditation is gaining increased 
            recognition, and several studies have shown positive outcome 
            following the application of interventions based on insight 
            meditation procedures (e.g., Kabat-Zinn 1982; Kabat-Zinn et al. 
            1992; Kaplan, Goldenberg and Galvin-Nadeau 1993; Sharma, Kumaraiah, 
            Mishra, and Balodhi 1990). 
            Within Buddhism, it has long been argued that the desire for a 
            continuous, unchanging self (atta) is a particularly strong and 
            insidious source of unhappiness (Fryba 1989; Harvey 1990; Sujiva 
            1990). In Vipassana, meditators are therefore encouraged to engage 
            in what Epstein (1988) has called the "deconstruction of the self by 
            paying close attention to the transitory nature of their 
            Problems associated with the concept of "nonself" or "egolessness" 
            have received particular attention by Buddhist meditation 
            researchers (e.g., Epstein 1988; Muzika 1990; Walsh 1978). This has 
            been necessary for a variety of reasons including contemporary 
            beliefs regarding the importance of autonomous development and the 
            quest for self-fulfillment through mastery, acquisition, and 
            individualism (Baumeister 1987; Cushman 1990). From this 
            perspective, the thought of selflessness can lead to severe anxiety 
            (Loy 1992) and may be partially responsible for adverse effects 
            noted among Vipassana meditators, which have included disturbances 
            of identity and self-concept (Engler 1986), negative emotional 
            experiences (Miller 1993; Shapiro 1992b; Walsh 1977), and the 
            exacerbation of psychiatric problems (Epstein and Lieff 1986). As 
            Engler (1986: 49) has cautioned, a "phase-appropriate" developed and 
            healthy sense of self is necessary before one can gain insight into 
            the ultimate illusoriness of self-depiction that persists beyond its 
            moment to moment mental construction. 
            In spite of extensive efforts by Buddhist apologists to describe the 
            benefits resulting from the deconstruction of the self, there has 
            been no empirical research directly assessing changes in 
            self-concept during meditation practice. If it is true that many 
            aspects of ego functioning are actually strengthened through 
            insights regarding the fluidity and impermanence of self (Epstein 
            1988, 1989, 1990), it seems reasonable to expect that the experience 
            of self will undergo discernable transformation for committed 
            meditators. Therefore, it was hypothesized that significant pretest 
            to posttest change would be found in self-concept scores of those 
            participating in seven-day Vipassana meditation retreats. 
            Most contemporary models of the self have been influenced by the 
            psychoanalytic view of the ego as the principal energy-directing 
            system within the person (Page and Berkow 1991). Freud (1923) 
            concluded that unconscious ego defense mechanisms regulate instinct 
            and affect, enabling the person to act in an adaptive manner. 
            Because Vipassana supposedly leads to the quieting of instinctual 
            drives with resulting emotional tranquility and skillful living 
            (Goldstein 1993; Kornfield 1993), significant change in ego defense 
            mechanisms were also expected. 
            Religious beliefs were evaluated before and after the retreats 
            because only one study (Shapiro 1992c) has examined the influence of 
            Vipassana on religious orientation. Interestingly, for a small group 
            of Americans, length of practice was negatively associated with 
            monotheism. While it is known that religious experiences can 
            significantly improve the self-esteem of believers (e.g., Latkin 
            1990; Stromberg 1990; Ullman 1989), the relationship between 
            heightened faith in Buddhist tenets (e.g., metaphysical 
            inconsistency, nonsoul, selflessness) with measures of self-concept 
            and ego defense mechanisms has never before been investigated. 
            In summary, the present study was designed to assess changes in 
            self-concept, ego defense mechanisms, and Buddhist beliefs occurring 
            over the course of seven-day Vipassana meditation retreats. It was 
            believed the dependent variables selected for use in this research 
            would capture the central outcomes of this form of Buddhist 
            meditative practice (i.e., deconstruction of the self, increased 
            self-control, and heightened religiosity). While significant pre-to 
            posttest differences were anticipated, the direction of change for 
            the self-concept and coping measures was not predicted given the 
            lack of empirical investigations evaluating the impact of Vipassana 
            meditation practice upon conscious and unconscious ego functioning. 
            Two cohorts of meditation participants ([N.sub.1] = 222, [N.sub.2] = 
            216) who attended separate retreats were utilized in this study. The 
            recruitment of the samples was undertaken by the staff of the 
            Bangkok headquarters of the Young Buddhist Association of Thailand. 
            Announcements of the seven-day Vipassana retreats were sent to 
            secondary schools and colleges throughout the country, inviting 
            interested individuals to complete an application form to attend the 
            retreat. To be accepted, an applicant had to be above the age of 12 
            years, a matriculated student, have parental permission (if under 
            18), be without any serious medical or psychiatric problems, and 
            present a short letter of recommendation. 
            The majority of the meditators were teenagers with the mean ages of 
            the two samples being 18.27 (SD = 4.22) and 17.79 years (SD = 4.02) 
            years, respectively. Most were female ([N.sub.1] = 146, 66%; 
            [N.sub.2] = 127, 59%) and college students ([N.sub.1] = 138, 62%; 
            [N.sub.2] = 127, 59%). High school students formed the second 
            largest group ([N.sub.1] = 75, 33%; [N.sub.2] = 76, 35%) with the 
            remainder of the participants in both cohorts being teachers and 
            other adults. Seventy-nine percent of the meditators were residents 
            of the Bangkok metropolitan area; the rest came from other Thai 
            provinces. Most (N = 309, 71%) had never before participated in a 
            weeklong Vipassana meditation retreat. There were no dropouts and a 
            certificate of completion was given to each participant at the end 
            of the retreat. 
            The control group of 281 individuals was selected to be commensurate 
            with the meditators on age (M = 18.11 years, SD = 4.95), gender (61% 
            female, N = 172), education (64% high school students, N = 180), and 
            demographics (82% were Bangkok residents, N = 231). Like those in 
            the meditation groups, the control participants were willing to 
            participate in a scientific study that required extra time to 
            complete test forms on two occasions (one week apart). Students in 
            both the meditation and control conditions were in good academic 
            standing and they came from high schools and colleges with similar 
            Tennessee Self-Concept Scale (TSCS). This is a 100-item 
            multidimensional personality inventory that assesses internal and 
            external aspects of self-representation (Roid and Fitts 1988). A 
            total self-esteem score is obtained along with a number of subscales 
            including (a) Self-Criticism, (b) Identity, (c) Self-Satisfaction, 
            (d) Behavior, (e) Physical Self, (f) Moral-Ethical Self, (g) 
            Personal Self, (h) Family Self, (i) Social Self, (j) Variability 
            (consistency of self-concept), and (k) Distribution (certainty of 
            self-perceptions). The TSCS was designed to be used with individuals 
            12 years or older who are able to read at a fourth-grade level, and 
            it can be completed in 10 to 20 minutes. Extensive research has 
            shown high reliability and validity (Blascovich and Tomaka 1991), 
            and the TSCS remains a very popular self-concept assessment 
            instrument (Marsh and Richards 1988), which has been used with 
            diverse international populations (e.g., Ezeilo 1982; Migone de 
            Faletty and Moreno 1991). 
            The TSCS was translated into Thai under our direction, with 
            preliminary versions of the Thai text being prepared by the second 
            author in conjunction with two bilingual Thai language instructors 
            at the American Alumni University Association Language Center, 
            Bangkok, Thailand. The first author then reviewed the translated 
            materials and made any necessary final revisions. Only one statement 
            from the original TSCS required substantial change to be appropriate 
            for a Buddhist population (viz., "I am satisfied with my 
            relationship with God" became "I am satisfied with my relationship 
            with my religion"). 
            We have used the Thai version of the TSCS for five years, collecting 
            normative data on 1,835 participants. The results of factor 
            analytic, reliability, and validity analyses of these data revealed 
            that the factor structure of the Thai and American editions were 
            very similar and the item groupings suggested by Fitts had high 
            internal reliability (Tori and Emavardhana 1996a). For these 
            reasons, and in order to make the results of the present study 
            comparable to others that have used the TSCS, the item configuration 
            of scales was not altered in this investigation. 
            The pretest and posttest internal reliability coefficients of the 
            translated TSCS self-representation scales for the three groups of 
            participants were very similar and high. The mean of the Cronbach 
            alphas for the pretest Total score was .91 and alphas ranged from 
            .71 to .77 for the pretest Identity, Behavior, Self-Satisfaction, 
            Physical Self, Moral Ethical Self, Personal Self, Family Self, and 
            Social Self scales. The 10 item Self-Criticism scale had the lowest 
            mean internal reliability at pretesting (.60). Since all items are 
            used in the calculation of the Distribution and Variability scores, 
            alphas were very high ([greater than or equal to] .89). 
            Life Style Index. The 97-item Life Style Index was developed by 
            Plutchik, Keilerman, and Conte (1979) to measure the following eight 
            ego defense mechanisms: (a) Compensation, (b) Displacement, (c) 
            Denial, (d) Intellectualization, (e) Projection, (f) Reaction 
            Formation, (g) Regression, and (h) Repression. This instrument was 
            based on a psychoevolutionary theory of emotion (Plutchik 1982, 
            1990) and the psychoanalytic theory of unconscious ego defense 
            mechanisms as the primary regulators of affect (Vaillant 1992). The 
            psychemetric characteristics of the Life Style Index have been 
            described by Plutchik (1989) and the inventory has been used in a 
            number of American and European studies (Conte and Apter 1995). 
            The Thai translation of the Life Style Index followed procedures 
            identical to those for the TSCS, and our statistical study of the 
            test's reliability and validity was based on the norm group (N = 
            1,835) who had also taken the TSCS. Because the eight scales 
            conceptually derived by Plutchik et al. (1979) were stable (Tori and 
            Emavardhana 1996b), it was decided to retain these variables in this 
            Cronbach alphas for the eight pretest and posttest ego defense 
            mechanisms scales were equivalent satisfactory; the mean values at 
            pretest were: Compensation = .61, Displacement = .71, Denial = .63, 
            Intellectualization = .58, Projection = .61, Reaction Formation = 
            .66, Regression = .69, and Repression = .56. 
            Buddhist Beliefs and Practices Scale. An 11-item scale which 
            assessed Buddhist beliefs and practices (e.g., I believe in the 
            doctrine of no-soul; The teachings of the Buddha are very important 
            in my life; I observe the 5 precepts) was created by the authors for 
            use in the study. The mean internal consistency coefficient 
            ([Alpha]) for the scale at pretesting was .69. 
            The retreats. The retreats were held at the Young Buddhists 
            Association Retreat Center, Bangkok, Thailand. As is common in 
            Vipassana retreats, a very demanding schedule was followed 
            (Hamilton-Merritt 1976; Kornfield 1979; Nyanaponika 1988: ch. 6). 
            The day began at 4:00 A.M. and the participants observed complete 
            silence at all times. All activities (e.g., eating, walking) were 
            performed with heightened awareness and the 18-hour day was divided 
            between alternating periods of sitting and walking meditation, 
            mindfulness exercises (e.g., slow, deliberate drinking of a beverage 
            in the afternoon), listening to brief dharma sermons, and morning 
            and evening prayers. There was a daily small-group discussion 
            regarding the experiences of the participants with the meditation 
            master. The day ended at 9:30 P.M. following an hour of sitting 
            meditation and evening chanting. 
            Testing. For those attending the retreats, the pretest measures were 
            administered during the initial orientation hour, which occurred 
            prior to any meditation practice. The meditation participants 
            completed the posttests on the last day of the retreat before the 
            final communal meal. Most of the control participants (84%) took the 
            measures in school settings and none reported any prolonged 
            meditation experiences. 
            A nonequivalent-groups, pretest-posttest design (Heppner, Kivlighan, 
            and Wampold 1992: 154-58) was used to assess the changes that 
            occurred over the course of the study. Means and standard deviations 
            of all outcome variables for the three groups (meditation 1, 
            meditation 2, and control) by time (pretest, posttest) are presented 
            in Table 1. 
            Preliminary Analyses 
            Assumptions for multivariate testing. Because of large sample sizes 
            and significant correlations among TSCS and Life Style Index 
            subscale scores (Tori and Emavardhana 1996a, 1996b), a multivariate 
            approach to data analyses was adopted. Assumptions necessary for the 
            multivariate analyses of variance (MANOVA) and covariance (MANCOVA) 
            were found to be satisfactory including normal distributions, 
            significant tests of sphericity, and high associations between pre- 
            and posttest scores. 
            Combining data from the two meditation groups. It seemed likely the 
            pretest and posttest scores of the two meditation cohorts who had 
            attended different retreats would be equivalent, because these 
            participants followed identical daily schedules at the same facility 
            and the two groups were alike on the demographic variables of age, 
            gender, education, and place of residence, ps [greater than or equal 
            to] .07. The results of 2 (groups) x 2 (time) MANOVAs for (a) TSCS 
            scales (except the composite Total score) and (b) the eight 
            ego-defense variables, confirmed this expectation with interaction 
            and main groups effects being nonsignificant, ps [greater than or 
            equal to] .08. Univariate groups x time ANOVAs on the TSCS Total 
            composite score and the Buddhist Beliefs and Practices scale also 
            yielded nonsignificant interaction and groups effects, ps [greater 
            than or equal to] .11. The two different meditation groups were, 
            therefore, combined for all subsequent statistical analyses. 
            Pretest equivalence of combined meditation and control groups. 
            Pretest differences between those who attended and did not attend 
            the retreats were minimized by selecting control participants on the 
            basis of the demographic and social factors that characterized the 
            meditators (i.e., urban, young, mostly female, willing to take part 
            in research, and good academic standing). The results of one-way 
            MANOVAs on the noncomposite TSCS and ego defense mechanism pretest 
            scores obtained from the combined meditation group vs. the control 
            group were not significant, ps [greater than or equal to] .09. There 
            were also no significant between groups pretest differences on the 
            TSCS Total and Buddhist Beliefs and Practices scores, ps [greater 
            than or equal to] 11. 
            Data analysis plan. Given the equivalence of the meditation and 
            control groups at pretesting, several approaches to data analyses 
            were possible (Reichardt 1979). The contrast of the posttest scores 
            of the meditators vs. controls using the analysis of covariance 
            (pretest scores as covariates) followed by tests of pretest-posttest 
            change was deemed the most powerful and complete analytic stratagem 
            to evaluate the outcome of our investigation (Huck and McLean 1975). 
            Group Differences Following the Retreats 
            Self-concept. The adjusted, noncomposite TSCS posttest scores of the 
            meditation and control groups were first subjected to a multivariate 
            analysis of covariance (Norusis 1994: ch. 4). Following the 
            retreats, self-perceptions of meditators were significantly 
            different than controls, F(11, 707) = 8.66, p [less than] .001. 
            Using an adjusted alpha level of .004 (modified Bonferroni 
            procedure; Howell 1992: ch. 12) to protect against Type I error, 
            follow-up ANCOVAs revealed significantly higher posttest 
            self-concept scores for those in the meditation group on all TSCS 
            variables except Self-Criticism and Family Self. Relative to 
            controls, meditators became much less disapproving of themselves, p 
            [less than] .003; although the perception of self in relation to 
            family became higher for meditators than controls (p = .025), this 
            increase did not meet the more stringent statistical significance 
            The multivariate comparison of TSCS pretest and posttest scores for 
            the meditation group was significant, F(11, 427) = 7.67, p [less 
            than] .0001, while little change occurred among control 
            participants, p = .34. As before, with the exception of Family Self, 
            the posttest self-representations of the meditators were more 
            positive than their pretest appraisals (ps [less than] .004). 
            At posttesting, the overall self-esteem (Total TSCS composite score) 
            of those attending the retreats was found to be much higher than 
            controls, F(1, 716) = 12.27, p [less than] .001. Pre- to posttest 
            change on this variable for those in the meditation group was 
            significant, p [less than] .001. The pre- and posttest Total scores 
            of controls participants did not undergo significant change, p = 
            Ego Defense Mechanisms. The MANCOVA testing of the vectors of 
            adjusted posttest ego defense mechanism scores for the two groups 
            yielded significant results, F(8, 710) = 7.76, p [less than] .0001. 
            Using a Bonferroni adjusted alpha of .006, follow-up univariate 
            ANCOVAs revealed that the meditation participants significantly 
            decreased on the Displacement, Projection, and Regression scales 
            relative to controls, ps [less than] .004; Denial and Reaction 
            Formation scores, on the other hand, increased to a greater extent 
            among meditators than nontreated participants, ps [less than] .005. 
            The groups were alike on the posttest Compensation, 
            Intellectualization, and Repression variables, ps [greater than or 
            equal to] .04. 
            The Life Style Index posttest scores of meditators were 
            significantly different from pretest values, F(8, 430), = 5.61, p 
            [less than] .001 with the same pattern of change as described above, 
            ps [less than] .005. Control group Life Style Index pretest and 
            posttest scores were equivalent, p = 19. 
            Buddhist Beliefs and Practices. As expected, the retreats had a 
            powerful effect on the Buddhist beliefs and practices of the 
            meditators, F(1, 716) = 142.16, p [less than] .00001, while the 
            control group showed virtually no change on this variable, p = .72. 
            Correlations of Increases in Religious Beliefs with Self-Concept and 
            Ego Defenses Gain Scores 
           Gain scores (posttest minus pretest) were used to evaluate the 
            relationship of heightened beliefs in Buddhist precepts with changes 
            in self-concept and ego defense mechanisms among those attending the 
            retreats. As shown in Table 2, an elevation in religious convictions 
            was significantly associated with an increase in overall self-esteem 
            (Total Score), r(437) = .44, p [less than] .00001; the correlation 
            coefficients between the remaining TSCS gain scores (except 
            Variability) and the pre- to posttest difference in the Buddhist 
            Beliefs and Practices scale were significant (ps [less than] .01) 
            with gains in religiosity being associated with positive changes in 
            self-concept and less self-criticism. 
            As Buddhist beliefs increased, the Life Style Index scales assessing 
            the ego defense mechanisms of Compensation, Displacement, 
            Projection, and Regression decreased in magnitude, ps [less than] 
            .001. Greater use of Denial was associated with raising Buddhist 
            religiosity, r(437) = .22, p [less than] .001. Finally, variation in 
            the pre- to posttest measures of Intellectualization, Reaction 
            Formation, and Repression were not related to the gains in Buddhist 
            Beliefs and Practices scale. 
            The quantitative results obtained in the present study are 
            consistent with phenomenological accounts of insight meditators 
            (Hamilton-Merritt 1976; Kornfield 1979; Miller 1993; Walsh 1977, 
            1978) and supportive of the hypothesis that participation in a 
            seven-day Vipassana meditation retreat significantly changes ways 
            the self is perceived and defended. As predicted, the TSCS scores of 
            meditators underwent transformation with those attending the 
            retreats showing increases in overall self-esteem, feelings of 
            worth, benevolence, and self-acceptance. The unconscious coping 
            mechanisms of the Vipassana participants were also altered. At 
            posttesting, they were less affected by external stimuli and sexual 
            impulses than controls. Those in the meditation groups, further, 
            were less likely to use the defenses of displacement, projection, 
            and regression following the retreat. Heightened belief in Buddhist 
            precepts was associated with positive change in self-concept and 
            less self-criticism. Finally, increased Buddhist religiosity was 
            correlated with reductions in the defenses of displacement, 
            projection, and regression and with greater use of denial. 
            TABLE 2
            Variables                                   r(437)
            Self-Concept Scales
            Identity                                    .33(*)
            Self-Satisfaction                           .29(*)
            Behavior                                    .45(**)
            Physical Self                               .32(*)
            Moral-Ethical Self                          .32(*)
            Personal Self                               .38(**)
            Family Self                                 .20(*)
            Social Self                                 .30(*)
            Self-Criticism                             -.27(*)
            Variability                                 .11
            Distribution                                .35(*)
            Total                                       .44(**)
            Defense Mechanisms
            Compensation                               -.21(*)
            Denial                                      .22(*)
            Displacement                               -.43(**)
            Intellectualization                         .07
            Projection                                 -.31(*)
            Reaction Formation                          .11
            Regression                                 -.42(**)
            Repression                                 -.10
            * p [less than] .001; ** p [less than] .0001.
            Understanding Experimental Findings from a Buddhist Perspective 
            Recognizing that more than one explanation can be offered for the 
            study's outcome, results will first be interpreted from the 
            perspective of Buddhism. Siddhatta Gotama taught that human 
            suffering (dukkha) arises when futile attempts are made to preserve 
            and intensify self-satisfying experiences that are transitory in 
            nature (Harvey 1990; Rahula 1974). The recognition of nonself 
            (anatta) is liberating because it frees people from the constant 
            distress inherent in clinging to an egocentric identity 
            construction. When self-centered cravings are relinquished, the 
            meditator can feel a sense of liberation, increased personal 
            control, and equanimity (Goldstein 1993; Kabat-Zinn 1994; Kornfield 
            1993). Based on these tenets, the observed changes in self-concept 
            following the retreats would not be surprising. 
            The deconstruction of the self in Vipassana, however, is not 
            accomplished without potential psychological dangers (Engler 1986; 
            Epstein and Lieff 1986). Before the self (or, more precisely, 
            selfishness) can be transcended, an appropriately developed 
            phenomenological sense of coherence and continuity is necessary 
            (Engler 1986; Epstein 1990; Fontana 1990). The teachers of the 
            retreat center, therefore, monitored the progress of the meditators 
            in daily interviews. Dharma lectures and a communal schedule of 
            activities were further guards against possible adverse reactions to 
            the seven days of intense, solitary introspection. 
            The observed changes in coping can also be understood within the 
            context of Buddhist psychology (de Silva 1990). From this 
            perspective, meditation participants would attempt to (a) be more 
            tolerant of stressors, (b) reduce sensual cravings, and (c) evaluate 
            the behavior of others with greater charity and understanding. It 
            was not surprising that following the retreats test items that 
            indicated increased detachment and forbearance (e.g., It is better 
            to think things out rather than getting angry; Hearing a baby cry 
            does not bother me) were more frequently endorsed. On the Life Style 
            Index, this was shown by significant increases on the Denial scale 
            coupled with a reduction in attributing unacceptable feelings to 
            others (Projection) and diminished immature behaviors (Regression). 
            Lessened reactivity to sexual impulses (Reaction Formation) has 
            important implications given the acuteness of the AIDS epidemic in 
            Although defense mechanisms are often thought of as sources of 
            psychopathology, Vaillant (1992) has explained that they should also 
            be understood as "potential steppingstones of ego development" (35). 
            There is agreement among psychoanalytic psychologists that defense 
            mechanisms are adaptive or pathological depending on the situations 
            in which they are employed and the intensity of use. Gottschalk, 
            Fronczek, and Abel (1993), for example, showed that anxiety denial 
            in psychologically healthy individuals is a functional coping 
            response while it furthers psychopathology among those with mental 
            disorders. For participants in the present study who faced stressful 
            environments, being less reactive and fractious was likely adaptive 
            if not done in an excessive manner. In this regard, it should be 
            remembered that Buddhism favors a "middle way" in which all extremes 
            are avoided. Based on Plutchik's psychoevolutionary theory of 
            emotion, Endresen (1991) has shown that the defenses of denial and 
            reaction formation are associated with the emotions of acceptance 
            and joy. It seems reasonable that these feelings would be prominent 
            following an intensive Vipassana retreat. 
            Limitations and Alternate Explanations 
            Design issues. In view of nonrandom group formation, appropriate 
            caution must be used when findings are evaluated. To strengthen the 
            validity of the study, we used two large meditation samples (Ns 
            [greater than] 216) and equated the nearly 300 control participants 
            with those in the meditation groups on age, gender, urbanity, and 
            educational achievement factors (Kruskal and Mosteller 1979). Like 
            the meditators, control participants were willing to participate in 
            scientific research and, in Thailand, attending a Vipassana 
            meditation retreat would not be considered an unusual activity 
            (Jumsai 1980). The equivalence of the meditation and control groups 
            on pretest self-concept, ego defense, and religiosity measures 
            provides further support for the supposition that selection biases 
            were reasonably controlled. 
            It should also be noted that the lack of follow-up testing precludes 
            an empirical answer to the question of the durability of the changes 
            that occurred following the retreats. Based on the high test-retest 
            coefficients of the instruments used (Conte and Apter 1995; Roid and 
            Fitts 1988; Tori and Emavardhana 1996a, 1996b) and research 
            concerning the long-term effects of meditation (e.g., Shapiro 1992c; 
            West 1986), it seems likely the changes would not be short-lived. In 
            the future, we hope to supply quantitative data on this question. 
            Setting variables. The influence of expectancy, demand, and social 
            facilitation factors on the two meditation cohorts must also be 
            considered when interpreting the results of the present study. 
            Because the vast majority of Thais consider Vipassana a meritorious 
            religious activity, it is likely that the meditators felt they were 
            going to do something hallowed and beneficial. The seven retreat 
            days were quite moving (e.g., total silence, intense introspection, 
            sermons, chanting) and physically demanding (e.g., early rising, 
            sitting in the half-lotus position for prolonged periods). 
            Meditators would, therefore, experience cognitive pressure to 
            undergo expected psychological and spiritual transformations (e.g., 
            greater self-control, equanimity, and compassion). 
            The isolation of the specific factors responsible for the consistent 
            changes obtained after the meditation retreats remains an important, 
            but difficult, experimental task. In psychotherapy process research, 
            for example, identification of the precise mechanisms responsible 
            for outcome remains an elusive and perplexing task (Erwin 1994). 
            What can be concluded is that the Vipassana retreat, with its 
            ideology, rituals, and social practices can have pronounced effects 
            on the psychology of meditators. Separation of the unique and 
            interactive influences of each of the variables operating in this 
            intervention must await further studies with multiple comparison 
            groups (e.g., low expectancy for change, theologically focused 
            contemplation, reduced communal activities). 
            Correlational Findings 
            The final question addressed by the present research concerned 
            changes in self-concept and coping mechanisms that were associated 
            with increased Buddhist religious beliefs. Interestingly, greater 
            acceptance of the creed of nonattachment (no deity, everlasting 
            soul, or self) was significantly correlated with a heightened sense 
            of personal worth and fulfillment. As Buddhist beliefs increased, 
            efforts to correct personal shortcomings were enhanced and 
            self-criticism decreased. Reductions in the use of defenses that 
            impute the causes of one's problems to others and in regressive 
            immaturity were associated with heightened religiosity. 
            These correlational findings are not unexpected when placed within 
            the context of other research regarding the influence of religion on 
            feelings of well-being and satisfaction. As Stromberg (1990) has 
            argued, identity transformation is likely when persons are 
            influenced by any ideology which provides convincing answers to 
            troubling existential realities (e.g., the causes of unhappiness and 
            suffering). Thus, the psychological changes associated with 
            increased Buddhist religiosity are similar to those reported 
            following conversion or involvement in theistic religions (Ellison 
            1991; Payne, Bergin, Bielema, and Jenkins 1991; Poloma and Pendleton 
            1990; Ullman 1989). Although the specific mechanisms responsible for 
            the obtained correlations remain unknown, this first empirical 
            investigation of the influence of increased Buddhist beliefs on 
            self-concept and coping revealed many arguably beneficial effects. 
           In sum, results of the present study demonstrate that among 
            youthful Thais, an intensive seven-day Vipassana meditation retreat 
            has positive effects on self-concept and unconscious ego defense 
            mechanisms. Following the retreats, the self-perceptions of 
            participants were more favorable, and coping became characterized by 
            greater maturity and less reactivity to common stressors. While the 
            relative importance of variables responsible for these changes 
            cannot be fully specified, our findings have many theoretical and 
            applied implications. The transcendence of self-centeredness may be 
            an important step in the development of a healthy and individuated 
            self-concept. If the deconstruction Of the ego can occur within a 
            structured environment, which provides supportive philosophical 
            reasons for the attainment of selflessness, this process can be safe 
            for those without serious psychiatric problems. Results also show 
            that Vipassana can be used as an intervention for youths. Given the 
            growing problems associated with the undercontrol of impulses among 
            young offenders, Vipassana may hold promise as a treatment modality 
            in settings where increased internal control is a therapeutic goal 
            (Rhead and May 1983; Shapiro 182, 1992a). Finally, correlates of 
            increased belief in the tenets of the world's largest nontheistic 
            religion have been shown. 
            We wish to thank the administration, teachers, and staff of the 
            Young Buddhists Association Retreat Center, Bangkok, Thailand, for 
            their generous support of this research. We also appreciate the 
            editorial comments of our colleagues Carl Norris and Daniel Taube 
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            Tipawadee Emavardhana is an associate professor and director of the 
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            Thailand. E-mail: 
            Christopher D. Tori is a practicing clinical psychologist and 
            professor at the Alameda campus of the California School of 
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