June 30, 2009

In Dharamsala India, Buddhism meets the Big Bang

An article appearing in yesterday’s New York Times highlights an emerging month-long math and science program designed for Tibetan nuns and monks living in Dharamsala, India. Students in the Emory Tibet Science Initiative, which is backed by Emory University in Atlanta, attend a wide range of courses including biology, physics, neuroscience, math, and logic. In its second session this past spring 91 monastics enrolled in the rigorous program which introduces concepts such as the Big Bang Theory, cloning, and climate change. The Times article explores Tibetans’ emerging interest in modern science despite a Buddhist curriculum that remains largely unchanged:

Tibetans marked the 50th anniversary of their exile this year, and a return to their homeland remains elusive. The need to keep Tibetan cultural identity alive, yet modern and relevant, has grown increasingly urgent as the 73-year-old Dalai Lama ages.

"If you remain isolated, you will disappear," said Lhakdor, director of the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, in Dharamsala, who goes by one name. The Dalai Lama himself has often remarked that isolation from the world only aided Tibet’s fall to China.

In the past resistance from senior monks stood in the way of such initiatives, but support from the Dalai Lama coupled with an increasing recognition of the need to integrate modern science into traditional Tibetan teachings has opened the door and a handful of modern educational programs have taken root. Emory University’s program coordinators envision a symbiotic exchange between visiting teachers and monastics emerging in the coming years:

Science may be far advanced in the West, but a moral vacuum exists, said Bryce Johnson, an environmental engineer who coordinates the Science for Monks program. "There’s something lost in the West,” Dr. Johnson said. The meeting of science and Buddhism is “a healthy exchange that is as much for the scientists."

To read the Times article in its entirety Click Here

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