Category Archives: Emory Tibet Science Initiative

Why science for Tibetan monks at Emory?

Today (October 18) in a rare moment, His Holiness the Dalai Lama explained the background for why he encouraged teaching monks modern science.  At a lunch at Emory, honoring the science faculty and translators who have been working for three years on developing a ground breaking science curriculum for Tibetan monastics, His Holiness started with, “Let me give a little background.”  He talked about how an early 5th Century BC university, Nalanda University, possibly visited by the Buddha, was the inspiration.  Early scholarly works from Nalanda were translated into Tibetan and set up the framework of logic and learning that is followed even today in monastic training.  This system of logic is ingrained in Buddhist teaching, said His Holiness.  He said, people have asked him if science would not destroy religion.  His response, “The Buddha himself said, Do not believe what I say because I say it, investigate it for yourself.” And for this reason, he said, there was no conflict between the inquiry based approach of science and Tibetan Buddhist monastic training.

Faculty from Emory, Georgia Tech and other universities have been teaching at Dharamsala the past two summers.  The curriculum, initiated in 2009 by Geshe Lobsang Negi and me, has gained popularity and students.  It is a two way street, as we teach the monastics modern science, quite often we are forced to reevaluate what we have taken for granted.  “If I had an object shaped like a cone, would the force of gravity be different on the pointed edge or the flat edge? ” “When you talk about a cell, are you talking about its body or its mind? ” and so on.

To take it to the next level, we welcomed six special freshmen this month on campus, six monks wandering through introductory biology and chemistry with other Emory freshmen.  I can’t wait to see their mid term grades.

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Science Matters to Tibetan Monks

Yes, it does matter to Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns. This May, with about 15 faculty and students from Emory and Georgia Tech, I will travel to Dharamsala, India to run the second Emory Summer Science Institute for Tibetan monastics and nuns.  Yes, that is right.  Monks want to learn science with a passion.  Sessions include physics, biology and neurosciences, some math and some chemistry.  And philosophy of western science.  We learned so much from the monastics while were there. About ourselves, about teaching and learning in science.  About other ways of problem solving and other knowledge systems.

Last year a smaller group offered the first summer institute and it was a mind blowing experience.  If you are a science educator, when was the last time you had 40 keen minds just concentrating on your every word, with passionate interest and deadly focus?  And the questions were some of the most clever, thought provoking, original questions I have ever heard.  And yes, we did not always have an answer.  I’ll post some of them in future posts.