This year marked the 26th Mind & Life Dialogue and took place at Drepung monastery in Mungod, Karnataka. The conference spanned over six days and sixteen presentations. His Holiness became fascinated by science when he chanced upon a telescope in Tibet left behind by his predecessor and began observing the moon. As his curiosity deepened he discovered that several aspects of science corresponded to Buddhist thought and was happy to open a dialogue. He has since actively advocated the importance of science.
This conference was organized by The Dalai Lama Trust, The Library of Tibetan Works and Archives (LTWA) and The Mind and Life Institute. In addition to an audience of 900 in the hall with the His Holiness and the scientists, there were another 5,000 monks and nuns in a larger hall watching the conference on screens.
This year, the three topics chosen were Modern Physics, Neuroscience and Quantum Research. These disciplines were united by one underlying theme, which is common to science, Buddhism, philosophy and the spiritual journey of all individuals – understanding the nature of reality.
This conference comes at a time when science is being introduced into the monastic curriculum, with monks and nuns being the primary audience. The objective of this dialogue was to familiarize the monastic community with scientific concepts and how they might correspond with Buddhist thought.
Arthur Zajonc, President of the Mind & Life Institute, recalled that the first such meeting had taken place 25 years ago and now science is being introduced into the monastic curriculum. This is a courageous move, he said, but clarified that science is not a branch of materialism but an attempt to penetrate reality. “We follow the evidence of the senses employing the power of the mind. Our research in our labs is intent on benefiting humanity.”
The incorporation of science into monastic education has been possible thanks to projects like the ‘Emory- Tibet Science Initiative,’ ‘Science for Monks’ and ‘Science meets Dharma.’ These projects have been working for several years now in teaching science and mathematics to monks in various monasteries all over the country and in designing an appropriate curriculum of study.
As the topic of Neuroscience was broached, Richard Davidson Ph.D, said “the human brain is probably the most complex piece of matter in the world,” adding, “and yet scientists have very little idea of how it works. However, we do know that it is the source of both delusion and insight.”
It was a welcomed treat to learn that the experiments conducted with contemplative practices showed exceptional results. Children from K-12 were being taught meditation, mindfulness practices and alertness. This seems to have incredible results, increasing the students’ concentration, attitude, awareness and interest. Meetings like this are very important as they make available new ideas to both ends of this spectrum – scientific and monastic studies.
Geshe Lhakdor explains “the scientific community is beginning to agree that given the widespread problems we are facing in human society on every level, unless we make some fundamental changes in our way of thinking, scientific discoveries and technological facilities cannot alone solve the problem. Modern time is a sacrilege of human mind and scientists can see many areas in which Buddhism can contribute, especially in the case of inner reflection and contemplative practices which don’t exist in modern science and psychology.”
Thupten Jinpa, who has been involved in the Mind and Life Conferences since the very beginning says – “the meeting of the Buddhist tradition and science is very important because at a very fundamental level the two traditions represent two investigative approaches. One focusing on internal processes, mind and emotions, and the other in trying to understand the physical world, and atleast in principle the idea is to bring the two together so we have a more comprehensive understanding of ourselves and the external world.”
The Trust also organized the recordings of the conference. This was taken care of by our Audio Visual Section has worked tirelessly to collect and have each day’s worth of videos up and running on the internet for the audience at home in addition to shooting the live stream. The Audio Visual Team also had the proceedings of the conference captured and screened in a larger auditorium for about 5,000 monks.
Day 1- Nature of Reality
Day 2- Quantum Physics
Day 3- Neuroscience
Day 4- Nature of Consciousness
Day 5- Contemplative Practices
Day 6- Conclusion
Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
Arthur Zajonc, PhD, President Mind & Life Institute
Michel Bitbol, PhD, Directeur de Recherche Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique
Khen Rinpoche Jangchup Choeden, Abbott Gaden Shartse Monastery
Richard Davidson, PhD, Founder and Chair Center for Investigating Healthy Minds University of Wisconsin- Madison
Sona Dimidjian, PhD, Associate Professor Department of Psychology and Neuroscience University of Colorado at Boulder
James R. Doty, MD, Director Center for the Study of Compassion and Altruism Research and Education Stanford University
John Durant, PhD, Adjunct Professor Science,Technology & Society Program Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Anne Harrington, PhD, Professor Department of the History of Science Harvard University
Wendy Hasenkamp, PhD, Program and Research Director Mind & Life Institute
Thupten Jinpa, PhD, Adjunct Professor McGill University Chairman Mind & Life Institute
Bryce Johnson, PhD, Director Science for Monks Staff Scientist Exploratorium
Geshe Lhakdor, Director Library of Tibetan Works and Archives
Rajesh Kasturirangan, PhD, Associate Professor National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore
Christof Koch, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer, Allen Institute for Brain Science
Geshe Dadul Namgyal, Member and Translator/ Interpreter Emory-Tibet Science Initiative Emory University
Lobsang Tenzin Negi, PhD, Senior Lecturer Emory University
Vijayalakshmi Ravindranath, PhD, Professor and Chair Centre for Neuroscience at the Indian Institute of Science
Matthieu Ricard, PhD, Buddhist Monk Shechen Monastery
Geshe Ngawang Samten, Vice Chancellor Central University of Tibetan Studies
Tania Singer, PhD, Director Department of Social Neuroscience Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences
Aaron Stern, Founder and President The Academy for the Love of Learning
Diana Chapman Walsh, PhD, President Emerita Wellesley College Governing Board Member The Broad Institute of MIT & Harvard
Carol Worthman, PhD, Professor Department of Anthropology Emory-Tibet Science Initiative Emory University