Dawn Engle: The Dalai Lama or Tibetan Buddhism put to the test by science

- through Henry Oudin

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Documentary director The Dalai Lama, Scientist, premiered in Venice during the Film Festival, Dawn Engle addresses an unknown aspect of Holiness the Dalai Lama: his passion for science.

Dawn Engle, the director of the documentary The Dalai Lama, Scientist, presented in preview in Venice during the Film Festival, addresses an unknown aspect of the person of the Dalai Lama. The film retraces, with unpublished archival documents, his interest in science since his childhood. And we see him, later, debating with scientists – Paul Ekman, in psychology, Richard Davidson, in neurosciences, Francisco Varela, the Nobel Prize winner Steven Chu and specialists in quantum physics – during the Dharamsala and Mind and Life meetings. Institute, where he analyzes the range of possibilities between Buddhist and Western sciences. These extraordinary exchanges have led to the creation of new practices, at the crossroads between ancestral Buddhist knowledge and cutting-edge scientific research, including the introduction of the notion of empathy in the medical field, or studies, in neuroscience, on the cerebral mechanisms in activity during meditation.

Dawn Engle and her husband Ivan Suvanjieff, producer of the film and the series Nobel Legacy Film Series, founded Peace Jam, an organization that brings together young people with innovative projects and fourteen Nobel Prize winners, including Rigoberta Manchu, Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, one of the first founding members. Lasting one year, the program takes place in forty countries and develops projects for peace in connection with the specificity of each Nobel Prize, dealing with racism, women's rights, but also empathy, compassion and climate change with the Dalai Lama. “For more than thirty years, I spent time with Western scientists,” says the Dalai Lama. “Thinking about it, I sometimes think I'm half a Buddhist monk and half a scientist. “We discover in The Dalai Lama, Scientist » the extraordinary initiatives launched by the Dalai Lama, a rare interlocutor between Eastern and Western knowledge.

Why didyou decided to make a film about the Dalai-Lama ?

Ivan, my husband, had the idea of ​​creating Peace Jam, an organization that connects Nobel Prize winners with young people in order to develop innovative projects in their communities. The Dalai Lama, who was a founding member of Peace Jam, approved the idea of ​​a documentary on him, specifying: "But not only with me". And Ivan suggested: “With all the films we have on the fourteen Nobel Prize winners, let's make a series of documentaries on them”. The film Kundun by Martin Scorsese existed, but there was nothing about his interest in science. So we decided to make a documentary in which he tackles this subject, starting from his childhood.

Was the Dalai Lama open to sharing his childhood memories ?

He was very approachable and enjoyed talking about it. He is passionate about technology and confided that if he had not become the Dalai Lama, he would have been an engineer or an electrician! And I wanted to tell his story on his own terms, starting with his childhood, where we see this little boy, future Dalai Lama, dismantling his toys, and discover his analytical mind from an early age.

“The Dalai Lama is passionate about technology and said if he hadn't become the Dalai Lama, he would have been an engineer or an electrician. »

What is your relationship to the Dalai Lama?

I'm an economist in the US Congress; I participated in human rights legislation in Tibet and was part of the Colorado Support Group for Tibet. So I was very involved in helping Tibet. I met the Dalai Lama thirty years ago at a Mind and Life Institute conference led by Adam Engle, my ex-husband.

During their interviews with the Dalai Lama, scientific experts are surprised by his observations, his curiosity and his ease in debating these specific subjects. Did they change their minds at the end of this film and do they think differently today?

Each of the scientists featured in the documentary was impacted by their exchange with the Dalai Lama, and the questions he asked them changed their directions of research. The visions of Buddhist science have changed some Western scientific concepts.

In the United States, where there are so many "spiritual" currents, including the creationist movement, which accepts the idea of ​​the creation of the world only from a divine source, your documentary shows the rational aspect of applied Buddhist philosophy to today's life and world: what type of philosophical approach did you intend to put forward?

By participating in the conferences of the Mind and Life Institute, I understood that there is on the one hand the Buddhist faith and philosophy, and on the other a very elaborate Buddhist science. This interaction between Western and Buddhist sciences that we show in the film was in fact born from the meeting with Dalai Lama, a unique personality in the religious world. Moreover, at the beginning of the cycle of Mind and Life conferences, certain scientists refused to take part in the dialogue with him for fear of losing their credibility.

"The Dalai Lama has created a new generation of scientists, by establishing a curriculum of contemplative sciences, and a new generation of scientifically erudite Buddhist monks and nuns, for common achievements in the field of scientific innovations, which will contribute for the good of humanity. »

We discover his adaptability to synthesize information from all sides, especially when he evokes “analytical meditation” in response to a psychologist, recalling that “Western psychology is a kindergarden (kindergarten), versus Buddhist psychology”. So his interest is in all aspects of science?

The Dalai Lama is extraordinary in his openness to everything and everyone, in his way of making you think with him and triggering a common thought. A rare gift! He is very familiar with the modern world and developments in the field of neuroscience; it has created a new generation of scientists, by establishing a curriculum of contemplative sciences, as well as a new generation of Buddhist monks and nuns who are scientific scholars, for common achievements in the field of scientific innovations, which will contribute to the good of the world. 'humanity. We therefore really need to hear his salutary message in this difficult moment in which we find ourselves today.

By launching this scientific study program for monks in American universities, and with the appearance of a new generation of Buddhist monks, the Dalai Lama is creating an innovative teaching of Buddhism. What do you think ?

Indeed, by deciding to include the sciences in the monastic curriculum, he made an extraordinary change. It is now possible to follow a curriculum in sciences, an option approved by the directors of the monasteries and the Geshe elders. He succeeded in having his project accepted by everyone, without ever having imposed it. The program for monks at Emory University in Atlanta trains them to become science teachers in monasteries, which is totally new. There is also the See program (Social Emotional Ethics) and the contemplative neuroscience program. But it's not just about pure research, the Dalai Lama insists that research leads to new projects and actions.

Is it therefore not only a question of interest in the debate, but of an activist approach?

Indeed, he declared: “Enough talking, let's get down to business! This film is a tool for people to discover the bridges between Western science and Buddhist knowledge. And even if you don't know Buddhism or science, you will learn something. As a non-Buddhist economist, I learned a lot. Our wish is to spread the Dalai Lama's call to action through joint initiatives. Because, for him, science represents a solution to problems, in a climate of trust. So let's create our future together, by uniting Buddhist and Western scientific knowledge, a wonderful way to bring the world together.


Release scheduled for December 10 (anniversary of the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the Dalai Lama) on iTunes, Amazon Prime, Vimeo, YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, etc. 

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Henry Oudin

Henry Oudin is a Buddhist scholar, spiritual adventurer and journalist. He is a passionate seeker of the depths of Buddhist wisdom, and travels regularly to learn more about Buddhism and spiritual cultures. By sharing his knowledge and life experiences on Buddhist News, Henry hopes to inspire others to embrace more spiritual and mindful ways of living.

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