European Varela Awards (EVAs)

Congratulations to the awardees of the 2023 cycle! Find out about their projects here.

If you have any questions about the European Varela Awards, or your application, you can email us at VarelaAwards@mindandlife-europe.org.

Varela Grants

Named after one of Mind & Life’s co-founders, neuroscientist and philosopher Francisco J. Varela (1946–2001), The European Varela Awards have been an important and integral component of Mind & Life Europe’s support of contemplative scientists and scholars. Francisco believed 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 offers resources for advancing scientific theories and models of cognition, emotion, and consciousness.

The Varela Grants were established by the Mind & Life Institute in 2004 as a companion program to the Mind & Life Summer Research Institutes (MLSRI) and have been a critical element in supporting the development of Contemplative Science and Contemplative Studies. Following this, in 2014, Mind & Life Europe established the European Summer Research Institute (ESRI) and the European Varela Awards (EVAs) which have been supporting the young generation of contemplative researchers ever since. 

Funding Remit

The Varela Awards fund rigorous examinations of contemplative techniques with the ultimate goal of providing greater insight into contemplative practices and their application for helping us to understand mind and life, and reducing human suffering and promote flourishing. Mind & Life views the Varela Awards as an essential feature of its overall strategy for building an interdisciplinary understanding of the mind and human behaviour. These awards are a key vehicle for increasing the number of exemplary scientists, scholars and clinicians involved in contemplative sciences.

Given the importance of neurophenomenology as an empirical paradigm to Varela’s vision of developing Contemplative Sciences, the research proposals combining first- (and/or second)- with third-person methods are particularly encouraged. Further developments of first-person methods uniquely suited to the study of contemplative practices and associated experiential states are also much needed (e.g. microphenomenological interviews and introspective reports on subjective experience). Strong proposals will meet the highest standards of rigour in the applicant’s field of expertise. Preference will be given to interdisciplinary projects. 

Impact to date

Since 2014, the European Varela Awards at Mind & Life Europe has supported 63 projects with a total of just over €942,000 awarded to junior scientists in the field of contemplative studies. As a result, there has been a significant increase in the scholarly articles being published in top-tier, peer-reviewed, scientific journals reporting cognitive, behavioural, neurobiological, and clinical effects of contemplative practices.

Grants of up to €22,000 have been awarded annually through a competitive application and selection process. Thanks to the generosity of MLE’s Varela Awards donor, for the 2023 cycle, the maximum amount increased to €23,500. 

Research conducted with the support of the European 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 the European Varela Award, the applicant must have attended Mind & Life Europe’s European Summer Research Institute (ESRI) within the last five years OR participated in at least one Mind & Life Europe Retreat. The EVA is intended as a career development award, and is open to:

  • Graduate (PhD) students (ideally within their 1st or 2nd year of registration if full-time);
  • Post-doctoral fellows affiliated with a research institution or university;
  • Post-doctoral researchers on fixed terms contracts of at least 2 years’ duration (if your contract is due to expire prior to the proposed timeline for completion of the EVA project if awarded, you will need to provide a confirmation from your supervisor/line manager that your contract will be extended or there will be other funding available to support your salary/living costs for the duration of the award);
  • Junior faculty (i.e. lecturers) up to the fifth year (inclusive) of university appointment.

For questions about the eligibility, please have a look at our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).

EVA Recipients

Mentoring & Alumni

We are proud to present our current and former recipients of the European Varela Awards (EVAs) and their research projects.

Click here to learn more!

Mentoring is an essential component of fostering the next generation of contemplative scientists. These EVA alumni members offer prospective EVA applicants mentoring advice: for example, how best to present your EVA application or guidance on securing further funding and a research post to ensure career progression.

Click here to learn more!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is included under ‘contemplative practices’? 

The term ‘contemplative practice’ is meant in a broad sense to include a wide range of diverse phenomena such as meditation, yoga, contemplative prayer, prostration, tai chi, etc.

Are the European Varela Awards open to international applicants?

Yes. European Varela Awards are not limited to residents of Europe. We encourage worldwide applications.

Can I apply for both Varela Awards if I have attended both the US and European Summer Research Institutes?

No. Applicants may only apply for one Varela Award each year. If you have attended both the US and European Summer Research Institutes in the last 5 years, you must choose which award you would like to apply for.

Would I be eligible if my work is based in the public sector, rather than a university? 

Applicants need to be affiliated with a research institution (such as a university), especially in order to obtain IRB/ethics approval. Clinicians or others not affiliated with such an institution should partner with an eligible applicant who can provide access to research resources.

Can I submit two applications for different projects, or different aspects of the same project?

We do not accept two separate grant proposals from the same applicant, or from different applicants for two aspects of the same project.

Can I submit a proposal if I’m a current awardee?

While it is possible to be funded more than once through a given grants program, applicants must not be currently funded through any MLI/MLE mechanism. Current Mind & Life grantees must submit a final report and budget reconciliation for existing grants before applying for a new grant.

What is included under ‘research costs’?

Research costs can include participant payment, experimental costs (e.g., MRI scans, lab equipment and supplies), project-related services, training for the PI, travel necessary for research/field work, etc. Grant funds may not be used for salaries or remuneration for the PI(s) or project collaborators. When funds are used to pay outside individuals, they can cover: consultants for statistical analysis; meditation teachers; dedicated lab support such as a research assistants; or services, including participant scheduling, data entry, transcription, etc. Please clearly explain all such costs in the budget section of the application form. Grant funds also may not be used for conference attendance (e.g., registration, travel, etc.)

Does EVA cover indirect costs?

Grant funds may not be used to cover indirect costs. If a grant is awarded, the grantee’s institution must agree to waive all overhead and administrative fees, and further agree that the funds will be used solely for research purposes conducted by the grantee.

Can I apply with a co-PI and/or Co-I?

Up to two people can be listed as PIs and up to three people can be listed as co-Is on the application. All applicants must meet all eligibility criteria for the given grant. If one applicant does not meet criteria, that person can be listed as a collaborator but would not receive funds. In the case of Co-PIs, one of the applicants must fill out a single application form for the whole project, and upload the CVs for all co-applicants (Co-PIs and/or Co-Is).

Note that funds will be disbursed to the submitting applicant’s institution. If funds need to be distributed to a co-PI and/or co-Is, that must be handled by the submitting PI and their institution.

Can my PhD supervisor/Line Manager provide a reference if he/she is a co-applicant?

No, the PhD supervisor/Line Manager can only provide a reference if he/she is not named as either a co-investigator or collaborator as this presents a conflict of interest. He/she can be named as a scientific adviser in the application.

Can I upload Word or Excel files?

All application materials must be in PDF format.

Who receives the grant money?

Grant funds will be sent to the grantee’s institution. Grants cannot be given directly to an individual. If funds need to be distributed to a co-PI, that must be handled by the primary PI and their institution.

Do I need an Ethics Approval?

Yes. Payment of the award will not be made until the institutional ethics review approval confirmation (Institutional Ethics Review Board approval or IRB for the US institutions) has been received. The ethics approval should be in place within six months of the date of notification of the grant award.

What if I need more than two years to complete the project?

The length of the grant is two years from the date of the notification of grant acceptance. A request for an extension must be submitted to the EVA office on VarelaAwards@mindandlife-europe.org using a ‘Change in Status’ form. It will then be sent to the chair of the EVA review panel for approval.

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