Drepung Lachi, Mundgod, Karnataka, India, 22 January 2013 - Early this morning, in the Drepung Lachi Temple once more, saw the conclusion of 26th Mind & Life Meeting, a momentous occasion attended by up to 8000 people, the majority of them Tibetan monastics, but also attracting significant interest worldwide. The live webcast of the event received 240,000 hits over the course of the event on the Office of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama's website.
Diana Chapman Walsh welcomed His Holiness and expressed the gratitude of everyone attending the conference for his fulsome participation. She then invited Geshe Lhakdor as co-host to speak about the project to introduce science into Tibetan Buddhist monasteries. After his own words of welcome and appreciation, he said.
“The dialogue between science and Buddhism is aimed at promoting human happiness and relieving suffering. The word science means knowledge and as we know it is a lack of knowledge that is a cause of suffering. Therefore, it is necessary for us to generate insight into the world to alleviate suffering, and in that science and Buddhism have a common goal.”
He said that irrespective of the form initiatives take, it is essential that the ideas do not simply remain on paper, but are actually put into practice. There are many Buddhists who do not really know what the practice of Buddhism entails, and as far as the public is concerned many do not understand scientific theory, but remain contented with its results. This dialogue is an attempt to improve understanding of both traditions.
Ten years ago the Library of Tibetan Works & Archives (LTWA) was asked to form a science programme. Amchok Rinpoche began this and when Geshe Lhakdor came in 2005 he expanded it. Because of the need for scientific literature in Tibetan, they began to prepare texts. A group of six Tibetans has been training to do this at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, USA and a second group is already in training. Annual summer programmes have been organized for students from 24 monasteries and nunneries from all traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. In addition to the general science training, a science leadership programme has also been launched.
Although monks and nuns in their respective monasteries and nunneries study the practices of meditation, scientists are now studying them too in surprising detail. Consequently, he said, there is a need for people with working knowledge of such practices.
It is common in Tibetan Buddhist culture to express concern for all mother sentient beings, but we need to put this concern into effect. In western scientific culture there is a trend to organize public programmes to raise public awareness of crucial issues. An example is health care. Geshe Lhakdor lamented how often monks work hard to complete their studies and qualify as teachers only to succumb to poor health. We need simple steps to curtail this loss, he said.
“His Holiness has often remarked that Tibetans visit monasteries and temples admiring the buildings and images without appreciating the treasury of knowledge they represent.”
|Geshe Lhakdor speaking on the project to introduce science into Tibetan Buddhist monasteries during the concluding session of the Mind and Life XXVI Conference on January 22, 2013. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL|
Last year a resolution was passed to introduce science into the monastic curriculum. This will begin with the Three Great Seats of Learning, Drepung, Sera and Ganden, but will be by no means restricted to Gelugpa monks and nuns, including those from other traditions who wish to join too. These students will be expected to have completed ten years basic monastic education, while those attending the summer programmes should have studied in their monastery for at least two years. It is felt that students should have a firm grounding in their own tradition before embarking on their science education. So far this broadening of monastic education has revealed no disadvantages, while it has received good support from abbots and the monastic authorities. When someone recently asked His Holiness how long he expected it to be before concrete results of this initiative can be seen, he answered, “100 years.”
Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi then spoke on behalf of the Emory Tibet Science Initiative (ETSI). He recalled His Holiness telling the monastic community here at Drepung in 1986 of the need to study science and the encouragement he was giving scientists to study Buddhist science and philosophy.
“In 1987, you helped launch the Mind & Life (MLI) dialogues, which was further evidence of your far-sighted vision. Then to ensure the introduction of science into the monasteries and nunneries, you commissioned Emory University to work with the LTWA to put it into effect.”
He said this has resulted in three phases - 2006-7 Planning, undertaken by a number of experienced Tibetan and Western scholars under His Holiness’s guidance, during which it was decided to offer 6 year bilingual courses in physics, neuroscience and biology; a Development Phase 2008-13, during which the courses have been created. 2014-23 will see the Implementation phase. Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi said that as the Development Phase comes to a close those involved feel ready and eager to launch the ETSI programme. While the Three Great Seats of Learning have been in existence for six centuries, it is going to be a challenge to introduce changes without disturbing the prevailing pattern of study.
The first four years of science will be taught to coincide with the Higher Knowledge (Abhidharma) courses, while the remaining two years will coincide with the Karam classes. As the programme is going to need the support of teachers from abroad in the short-term, timing of the courses is likely to be in the summer, when they have more time to come. However, as the courses are modelled on the monastic debate style, they will ultimately depend on Tibetan teachers. Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi concluded,
“I believe we are part of the fulfilment of His Holiness’s commitment and are gratified to be part of this visionary project. We offer whatever achievements we have made to our spiritual teachers.”
Diana Chapman Walsh invited His Holiness to respond.
|His Holiness the Dalai Lama with Mind and Life XXVI Conference participants at Drepung Monastery in Mundgod, India, on January 22, 2013. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL|
“The nature of this conference has been something quite special. This is the 26th occasion that we have met with scientists and scholars, but this time the location is different. Here at Drepung rigorous study has gone on for hundreds of years, and it happens to be the monastery closely associated with the line of Dalai Lamas. Many have participated with great enthusiasm, and although I have not attended the question and answer sessions, I have heard that everyone has been pleased with how they too have gone. The conference has been meaningful and I’m glad.
“Local monasteries have contributed to the organization and I thank them. The Ganden Tri Rinpoche and other Hierarchs have presided over the occasion and I thank them. In addition, many great masters and scholars have attended, despite their advanced age, and of course great numbers have come from the monastic student body and nearby schools, I thank them too. Of the scientists and scholars, many are old friends; I thank you for your dedication. You have been frank with each other as has been necessary.”
His Holiness then looked back to the origins of this mutual exploration between modern science and Buddhist science and philosophy. He said that even as a child he was curious to know how things worked and would dismantle his clocks and toys. After beginning to study Buddhist epistemology and logic his curiosity about why things happen the way they do was sharpened. He gradually became more interested in science. While proud of Tibetan Buddhism’s analytical methods, he recognised that modern science pursued the truth in different but complementary ways. This was a recognition he felt he should not keep to himself but share with others.
There were those concerned that science would be a distraction, but in 1999 Amchok Rinpoche requested His Holiness to give firm advice to the monastic community of the efficacy of studying science. He did, but also pointed out that they had understanding and experience of consciousness to share in return. Programmes teaching mindfulness under the auspices of the Mind & Life Institute in North America and Europe have been successful because people have found them to be practical and beneficial. Plans are afoot for MLI meetings in Japan and elsewhere.
Speaking to Tibetan schoolchildren, he said that in the twenty-first century it is possible to study Buddhism as laypersons and he urged them to do so. The Tibetan tradition of logic and Middle Way (Madhyamaka) philosophy is something of great value. Similarly, the tradition of wishing for the well-being of all sentient beings and the tendency to protect life is precious.
“Tibetans, especially those in Tibet, are presently in a very sad situation, and yet people from elsewhere still remark that we are on the whole kind, honest and warm-hearted. This and our language and Buddhist heritage are things to be proud of.
“At the same time, these days I talk a lot about secular ethics, common sense supported by science, and its value to the world. Our goal is to serve others according to their needs and dispositions.
“When I met with the Mind & Life Institute last year I encouraged you to come to the monasteries in South India, where, because it’s hot, it’s a little inconvenient, but it has gone very well. I’m looking forward to our future meetings in Dharamsala and in other parts of the world. Thank you.”
|Arthur Zajonc, President of the Mind & Life Institute, saying a few closing words at the end of the Mind and Life XXVI Conference at Drepung Monastery in Mundgod, India, on January 22, 2013. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL|
Arthur Zajonc, President of the Mind & Life Institute had a few closing words to say.
“We’ve covered a lot of ground and touched on difficult topics. We’ve enjoyed the profound implications of our two traditions. We hope our contribution has been of benefit to the monastic community. The world needs exemplars and you, Your Holiness, have worked hard to bring our two communities together. Two years ago at Stanford University you spoke of friendship, that nothing is more precious than friendship. I hope that our work and friendship will endure. I began my presentations with pictures of you in your youth with your telescope. Your gaze has broadened, but your energy is undiminished. Thank you.”
Finally, His Holiness closed the proceeding with a few lines of prayer:
May all mother sentient beings achieve happiness,
May all suffering beings be free from pain and suffering,
And wherever they may be,
May the aspirations of the Bodhisattvas (those completely dedicated to the benefit of other beings) come to fulfilment.