Delhi, India, 25 March 2015 - The second day of the Science, Ethics and Education conference at Delhi University began soon after 9am this morning with a presentation from Mind & Life veteran Clifford Saron. He is the principal investigator of the Shamatha Project and his talk focused on ways contemplative practices can provide mental and emotional training that helps teachers. He told His Holiness the Dalai Lama that in 2009 he had asked how to encourage ordinary people to investigate their minds and he had replied that it was up to people like him. He said that since then there has been a huge growth in interest in mindfulness, but not all of it positive. He cited an announcement “Make a killing on Wall Street - start meditating”.
Using a vivid graphic display of a cube Saron illustrated object orientation, dereification, meta-awareness, as well as aperture, clarity, stability and effort in relation to full time training in meditative quiescence and emotional balance as part of the Shamatha Project. This allows a much clearer assessment of the ways attentional, emotional and physiological processes are modified over a period of three months.
His Holiness reiterated an interest he has previously expressed in distinctions between nonconceptual and conceptual thought. He drew attention to the difference between a sensory perception and the image of an object in the mind and what investigators might find out about the mental level of practice. He also remarked:
“It makes a difference whether the object on which you focus is an external object or the mind itself. He recommended taking the mind itself as the object of focus.”
Rajan Chandy, who like Radhika Herzberger, teaches at the Rishi Valley School opened his presentation by asserting that there is a widespread belief that meditation involves emptying the mind of all thought. He outlined the three fold approach to knowledge common to ancient Indian practice. It comprises hearing from a teacher or reading about something, thinking about it in contemplation and becoming so familiar with what you’ve understood through meditating on it that the knowledge becomes part of you.
|Rajan Chandy during his presentation at the second day of the Science Ethics and Education conference at Delhi University in Delhi, India on March 25, 2015. Photo/Tenzin Chojeor/OHHDL|
In the second part of his presentation, Chandy suggested that students would do well to think about what social development means when it is driven by self-centredness rather than concern for others. He pointed out the huge number of cars there would be, the pollution and traffic chaos that would ensue, if India continued to take the USA as a model of development. Another example of the need for reassessment is the use of aluminium, which has become so necessary in modern life. Aluminium is derived from mining bauxite, but in India bauxite mining means destruction of forest and displacement of tribal people who depend on the land. The question he would like his students, members of the coming generation to analyse, is whether there is an alternative.
His Holiness remarked:
“You’ve been talking about what we call analytical meditation, which leads to vipassana or insight. You’ve raised an important question about the long-term consequences of harmful self-cherishing attitudes. If, on the other hand, you help others you’ll win friends and be happy. I appreciate what you had to say.”
|Nandini Chatterjee-Singh speaking during her presentation at the second day of the Science Ethics and Education conference at Delhi University in Delhi, India on March 25, 2015.|
Nandini Chatterjee-Singh, who is a cognitive neuroscientist working at the National Brain Research Centre, changed her presentation to share research about the way music evokes emotions. She said that emotions are central to human existence and ragas of North Indian Classical are believed to be capable of evoking distinct emotions. Conducting a behavioural study online revealed that ragas elicit distinct emotional responses, some uplifting others calm and soothing. She pointed out that it makes a difference if a teacher enters the classroom in a state of calm and suggested that listening to music beforehand could prompt this. Similarly students might be better disposed to study if their day began with calming music.
His Holiness commented:
“I know people enjoy music and that I should support that, but personally I pay no attention to music. However, if you think it might have a positive effect, I’d support playing music in places like Syria where people are killing each other!”
|His Holiness the Dalai Lama being presented an honorary doctorate on behalf of the Academy of Sciences of Mongolia during the conference at Delhi University in Delhi, India on March 25, 2015. Photo/Tenzin Chojeor/OHHDL|
At the start of the second session in the afternoon, the Mongolian delegation conferred an honorary doctorate on His Holiness on behalf of the Academy of Sciences of Mongolia. He responded:
“This award has a special significance for me because of the long relations that have existed between Tibet and Mongolia. In the 13th century Sakya Phagpa introduced the Nalanda tradition to Mongolia. After that my predecessor, Sonam Gyatso travelled to Mongolia and died there. He was given the Mongolian name Dalai Lama.
“When I first went there in 1979 the country was still under communist control, but in Ganden Monastery they chanted in Tibetan, so loudly and intensely that their faces went red. At that time when there was no translator available the old monks and I were able to communicate through written Tibetan. Now they have freedom, while we are still facing problems. When we were still in Tibet there were many really good Mongolian scholars. In fact my principal debating assistant was one called Ngodup Tsognyi”
|Yanjinsuren Sodnomdorj during her presentation on Buddhist ethical aspects of education in Mongolia during the second day of the Science Ethics and Education conference at Delhi University in Delhi, India on March 25, 2015. Photo/Tenzin Chojeor/OHHDL|
Yanjinsuren Sodnomdorj, who teaches Buddhist philosophy and historical sources of Mongolian religion, gave a painstaking explanation of the Buddhist ethical aspects of education in Mongolia. With an intention to increase awareness and knowledge of what it means to be a good student and citizen, handbooks have been published in contemporary Mongolian for primary, secondary and high school students under the title ‘Citizenship Education’.
His Holiness described himself as very impressed by the serious research she had undertaken. As an example of the pervasive positive effect of Buddhist culture he told a story of a Tibetan, who in his personal religious observance is Muslim, but has been influenced by Buddhist culture. He told His Holiness that on his pilgrimage to Mecca, he couldn’t help but feel strong compassion for the animal that was sacrificed as part of the proceedings.
|Kimberly Schonert-Reichl speaking about educating the heart under the title Contemplative Science Goes to School during the second day of the Science Ethics and Education conference at Delhi University in Delhi, India on March 25, 2015.|
Kimberly Schonert-Reichl, who began her career as a teacher and is now an educational psychologist and fellow of the Mind & Life Institute spoke about educating the heart under the title Contemplative Science Goes to School. She reviewed ground-breaking research that demonstrates the importance of promoting children’s social and emotional learning (SEL) in schools. Social and emotional skills enable children to be happier, to learn that it’s good to be good. British Columbia is a leader in having introduced SEL curriculums from Kindergarten to High School in all its schools. Schonert-Reichl spoke about growth in empathy when, in addition to students, teachers have been included in the MindUp SEL program. His Holiness saw some of this for himself during his fourth visit to BC towards the end of last year.
When questions were invited from the audience, Shantum Seth asked His Holiness if there were ways to bring understanding of emptiness to school classrooms.
“I don’t know,” was His Holiness’s initial response. “The practice of understanding emptiness or shunyata requires a lot of thought, a lot of preparation, the hearing, contemplation and meditation we were hearing about before. The general concept is that there is no independent self, which all four schools of Buddhist thought agree on. In the 1960s, although I employed the terms of a Madhyamaka-Prasangika, I think my view, checked against authentic texts, accorded to the Svatantrika-Madhyamaka. Gradually the real feeling grew stronger.
|Members of the audience attending the second day of the Science Ethics and Education conference at Delhi University in Delhi, India on March 25, 2015. Photo/Tenzin Chojeor/OHHDL|
“The Buddhist approach is to use your intelligence to the full. It’s not easy. Many years ago I reported my understanding to Ling Rinpoche, my principal tutor and the monk who gave me full ordination. He replied, ‘O you’ll soon be a space-yogi,’ which gave me encouragement. Let me encourage you Tibetan and Mongolian students here that what you need to cultivate is method and wisdom. Then your minds will become peaceful and relaxed.”
Prof TN Madan offered a vote of thanks. Anuradha Sharma read a summary report of the proceedings and Meenakshi Thapan thanked everyone who had made the conference possible. His Holiness had the final word:
“We’ve had a useful meeting over the last two days. I’ve learned several new things and now those of you who have been listening would do well to discuss what you’ve heard among yourselves. Analysis is important and helpful. I’d like to thank Delhi University for organizing this occasion and look forward to further similar meetings in the future. Let me tell you I’m already thinking of convening a meeting on the theme ‘Quantum Physicists in Dialogue with Scholars of the Madhyamaka View’, which could also be useful.”
Tomorrow, early in the morning, His Holiness returns to Dharamsala.