Science and Buddhism: the new challenge for monks in the XNUMXst century

- through Sophie Solere

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The study program "Emory Tibet Science Initiative", or "Science for Monks", created by the Dalai Lama, promotes research between Buddhism and science. Based in the United States, at Emory University in Atlanta, and set up in 2006 following a meeting between the university and the Tibetan Archives Library in Dharamsala, this unique course builds bridges between Eastern and Western systems of thought, through the initiation of Tibetan monks to scientific knowledge linked to Buddhism.

Every two years, six monks from different monasteries are selected for a two-year study residence, with the desire to create a new generation of monks who, on their return to India, will transmit their teachings in the light of the scientific knowledge acquired. in the USA. The medical research department of the Emory-Tibet Medical Sciences Initiative, led by Dr. Raymond Schinazi and Dr. Tashi Dawa, originally from Tibet, also hosts a program of investigations into the anticancer and antiviral properties of Tibetan medicinal plants. "For the past twenty years, the laboratory has developed drugs for the treatment of HIV, cancer...", says Dr. Schinazi, adding: "I have the greatest respect for Tibetan medicine, and I am optimistic about the results of our joint research”.

Emory University's Center for Monk Science Studies marks an important step in the advance between Buddhist knowledge and Western scientific research. This teaching program, with a transmission of Buddhist philosophy in the light of science, contributes to the establishment of a new contemporary Buddhist leadership. Interview with Kalden Gyatso, Tibetan monk in residence at Emory University.

How did you enter the Emory University program?

My father, from whom I received teachings, is a monk. I became a monk myself at the age of twelve, when I fled from Tibet, walking 29 days to Nepal with my brother, where we were welcomed at the refugee center in Kathmandu. At the monastery of Seray, I studied the five treatises of Buddhism: the Treatise of Wisdom, for seven years; the Middle Way, for four years, and Abidhama, for two years. Then I joined the Emory program, organized by the Tibetan Library, to teach science in monasteries. We are currently six monks at the university and we study with 130 other students. The nuns also follow the program and teach in their monasteries in India.

What is the purpose of teaching science to monks?

We have to serve the world of the XNUMXst century, and the simple teaching of meditation is no longer enough: it is important to understand the functioning of the brain, to be able to combine science with Buddhist philosophy, being able to establish parallels between these two visions – as in the case of the quantum physics and some Buddhist concepts - which are related. We really like this program because at the monastery we only study Buddhism. This new knowledge enriches our training

What did you discover at Emory University?

As soon as I arrived I was impressed by the variety of individuals, as I had only seen monks since childhood and had no idea of ​​such human diversity. It's fantastic to discover all these cultures, and necessary when you have to address the greatest number. I am 37 years old, and I teach by attaching myself to the correspondences between Buddhist philosophy and science. Take, for example, the way the physical body changes: this notion is transmitted in Buddhism, but it is not easy to understand. With the data of science on the internal organs, it becomes easier to perceive the physical modifications and the functioning of the cells. The notion of Buddhist interdependence is also easier to understand from a scientific angle. These new disciplines enrich Buddhist philosophy.

What is the Emory program?

We study biology, evolution, genetics, neurosciences, mathematics, physics, but also psychology, English and pedagogy in order to teach in monasteries.

What main similarities have you observed between the Buddhist teachings and this scientific curriculum?

The use of logic, the fact of not believing blindly without having experienced first, which is an inherent notion in Buddhism. The Buddha said: “You should not accept anything out of simple respect”. It is important, at first, to be able to analyze a subject, this is what we do in our traditional practice of debate, where we approach a theme from different angles, in the light of multiple reasoning. For the Buddhist teachings have their own analytical methods.

“We have to serve the world of the XNUMXst century, and the simple teaching of meditation is no longer enough: it is important to understand how the brain works, to be able to combine science with Buddhist philosophy. »

How do students react to your presence on campus?

They are very surprised. A student came to me for advice when he broke up with his fiancée, because he was unhappy and wanted to know how to get out of it! (laugh) I encouraged him to consider the problem from various angles: perhaps this breakup was an opportunity? I also encouraged him to ask himself about the reasons for the breakup: had he made a mistake? I advised her not to start looking for a new relationship, but to try to transform herself internally, to cultivate herself. A new friend would come to him in due time. I encouraged him to concentrate on his studies and on his inner development; seen from this angle, perhaps this rupture occurred for the best? He had to learn to look at his problem from different angles and not mope around, because that's no use: when he felt good about himself, someone would appear, he didn't have need to worry. He replied "heard" and thanked me.

So you wear several hats, including that of a psychologist?

(Laugh) I don't know anything about all this, I've been a monk since childhood, I've never had a friend: so it's a funny situation! But people come to me and I learn thanks to these encounters, because I try to understand the universe of these students who come from all over the world; being led to teach, I have to know the world. In this sense, my stay here brings me a lot.

How do you see your future?

I want to pursue meditation and science research to address XNUMXst century issues and provide science education to monks, pursuing studies in neuroscience and psychology. I am interested in analytical meditation: in the case of anger, for example, how does it arise and how can this problem be solved with the contribution of science? Because we have our analytical approach in Buddhism, in the practice of meditation, in particular Vipassana, which holds a very important place: without Vipassana, one cannot achieve enlightenment.

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Sophie Solere

Sophie Solère is an economic and social journalist who has been interested for years in the environment and interdependence. She works for Buddhist News, a media platform dedicated to Buddhist spirituality and wisdom. By practicing yoga and meditative dance, Sophie discovered the power of spiritual journeys, which offer so many paths to (re)find yourself. She is dedicated to sharing inspiring stories and valuable advice on spiritual practice and the environment with Buddhist News readers.

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