Sager Family

SCIENCE FOR TIBETAN MONKS

Objectives

The vision of the Science for Monks initiative is to create an indigenous capacity for science education and dialogue across the Tibetan Buddhist monastic centers of higher-learning.

Its mission is two-fold: (1) to develop the science leadership needed to grow and sustain science learning that engages Buddhism with science, with an emphasis on cosmology, neuroscience, and scientific inquiry; and (2) to disseminate the work of the monastics and their unique perspective on science and spirituality.

The overall goal in the next five years is to establish leadership programming that ensures enduring and growing science learning and dialogue:

I. Building the capacity of monks and nuns to teach and share science within their local monastic communities

II. Creating a network of leaders in monastic institutions across India needed to sustain and extend science education and dialogue

III. Disseminating scientific and Buddhist ideas on topics of common interest through publications, media and exhibits

The Dalai Lama on Science Education

“Seeing the tremendous importance of science and recognizing its inevitable dominance in the modern world fundamentally changed my attitude to it from curiosity to a kind of urgent engagement. …. I wanted to understand science because it gave me a new area to explore in my personal quest to understand the nature of reality. I also wanted to learn about it because I recognized in it a compelling way to communicate insights gleaned from my own spiritual tradition.”

His Holiness the Dalai Lama
The Universe in a Single Atom (pages 9-10)

“When there are two challenging forces they seem to be able to mutually contribute to each other’s growth and development, whether it is in the realm of ideas or in the natural world. …. right at the beginning of the birth of Buddhism this kind of interface with different philosophical ideas was an important part of the development.”

His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Mind and Life XIV, April 9, 2007

“It is most important for the traditions of western science and eastern mental development to work together. At some stage people gained the impression that these two traditions are very different and incompatible. In recent years, however, it has become clear that this is not exactly the case. This kind of dialogue is therefore extremely important, as a means of contributing something to future humanity, by enabling each tradition to benefit from the other. So this is one goal, I also think that it is very important for Buddhists to understand the latest scientific findings concerning the nature of mind, the relationship between mind and brain, and the nature of consciousness, these sorts of things, whether consciousness does or does not exist as a discrete entity, for example. So I would like to introduce some of these western explanations to Buddhists in general, and to Tibetan Buddhist in particular.”

His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama
Gyumed Monastery, 1987

History

For the past 10 years, Science for Monks has brought Western scientists to India for annual workshops designed to teach the concepts of Western science to Tibetan monastics in exile. Sparked by the interests and directives of the Dalai Lama, the program has sought to introduce science education to the major Buddhist monastic centers of higher learning within the exiled community. Over the years, 25 Western scientists have taught more than 100 monks about cosmology, neuroscience, and principles of scientific inquiry.

The Library of Tibetan Works & Archives (LTWA) monastic science initiative began in 1999 through the instruction of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to the then LTWA director, Achok Rinpoche. In the main hall of Gyumed Monastery, in the presence of all the abbots of different monasteries and Geshes and thousand of monks, His Holiness announced that he would like to introduce formal science education in all the “three seats” of Gelukpa university monasteries and asked LTWA to shoulder this responsibility. Although the Library had almost no expertise in science at the time, their capacity as a center of learning serving all the major Tibetan Buddhist traditions was ideal for implementing the project.

In the first year of the project, LTWA set-up a team of 4 translators which would translate various scientific materials into Tibetan and at the same time organize science courses for a select group of scholarly monks. In 2000, a group of 50 monastic scholars with a deep understanding of Buddhist philosophy were selected to study science. In order to provide science education in a manner that did not distract from the monks intensive program of Buddhist studies, a 4-week intensive course was organized in between the traditional monastic semesters.

In 2001, the Sager Family Foundation partnered with the Tibetan Library to introduce western science into the monastic centers of higher-learning. Despite the challenges of finding qualified teachers, translators and the daunting but vital task of coordinating participants from several monasteries and teachers from around the world, nine workshops were successfully organized between 2000 and 2007:

  • 2000 Sera Monastery
  • 2001 Gaden Monastery
  • 2002 Drepung Monastery
  • 2003 Upper Dharamshala Tibetan Children’s Village
  • 2004 Gopalpur Tibetan Children’s Village
  • 2005 Selakui Tibetan Children’s Village
  • 2006 Selakui Tibetan Children’s Village
  • 2007 Sera Monastery
  • 2007 Deer Park Institute – Bir

A major outcome of these workshops was an overwhelming demand for science education within the monastic institutions. In 2008 a group of 30 science leaders began training to teach science and start implementing science education programs and dialogue within their local monasteries.

Why We Are Doing It

When asked why in the midst of all of the work that we do around the world having to do with conflict and dire situations are we so interested in the connection between science and Tibetan monks, consider this analogy. The exotic plants of the rainforest may hold the cure to some terrible disease, and maybe there is something in Tibetan Buddhism that could also profoundly impact the future of humankind. But like the exotic plants that have their habitat destroyed, the Tibetans must perpetuate a religion and a people while their environment is similarly under siege. Teaching Western science to Tibetan monks makes the wisdom of Tibetans more accessible to the rest of the world.

How We Measure Success

His Holiness the Dalai Lama himself has stated that it may take 100 years to know whether the Science for Monks has achieved these objectives. Although the full impact of the program may take many years to observe, there are several success measures that will be visible in the shorter term.

How effectively the program transfers scientific knowledge and understanding to Tibetan monks:

  • Number of monks trained in Western science
  • Number of teacher/leaders trained to deliver science education to the greater monastic community
  • Measurable improvement in the understanding of science by the monks