Based on 10 years of experience in the Science for Monks program, we have found that processes of critical investigations build a strong bridge between science and Buddhism. Our experience has demonstrated that how monastics connect with science matters. During the 4-week science training, hands-on investigations and interactive lectures will provide a real experience in conducting scientific investigations, direct insights into the epistemology of science, and build relationships between scientists and religious leaders. Daily dialogues will further explore the rich connections between science and Buddhism and deepen these relationships.
The purpose of this course is to support the monastic graduates capacity to engage biological sciences, namely neuroscience. By providing a basic foundation of biology and chemistry needed to understand cell biology, the course will address the question, what is a cell? (1) Beginning with the concept of atoms and the periodic table, and developing the concept of chemical bonds and molecules, addressing the question – what is a chemical? (2) Structure of a cell, focusing on membrane structure (phospholipid bilayers), how do cells stay together? (3) Genetics, DNA – the code the cell needs to build itself, stability of information that passed on from one cell to the next, how do cells replicate? (4) Cell function – what do different cells do?
Collaborations with Neuroscience
Over the past 20 years, several prominent scientists have conducted pioneering research in collaboration with Buddhist scholars and contemplative practitioners. Overall, this work investigates the relationships between various forms of meditation (attention focus, loving-kindness, compassion) relate to western psychological constructs like cognition, emotion, health and well-being. This course will begin with an overview of systems-level functional neuroanatomy (how mental processes relate to activity in specific brain regions, networks and systems – 2 sessions), then move into a review of methods for measuring biological correlates of mental (2 sessions), then engage the group in a critical discussion around the questions, study approaches and methods, results and interpretations of the data that has emerged from these collaborative investigations (9 sessions). Work from The Center For Mindfulness at University of Massachusetts (MBSR, John Kabat-Zinn), The Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin (Richard Davidson & Mattieau Ricard), the Shamatha project at UC Davis (Cliff Saron & Alan Wallace), The Emory Mind-Body Program (Charles Raison & Lobsang Negi) and Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (Dr. James Doty & Thupten Jinpa) will be presented in a chronological structure. Ideas for novel approaches to scientific inquiry into the effects of Buddhist contemplative practices on psychological phenomena will be sought from the course participants.
Astronomy to Cosmology
Interactive investigation of the day and night sky will provide rich scientific experiences that deepen understanding of the solar system. Investigations into the formation of the planets, the evolution of life, and limits of life within our solar system provide a rich context for discussion. Interactive lectures and hands-on activities will immerse leaders in dialogues about the history and evolution of our universe. We have found that learning cosmology and astronomy allows the monastics to better contextualize their tradition within the modern scientific paradigm and understand the limits of the scientific processes and knowledge. As a result, monastics have drastically evolved their thinking on the size, structure, and history of the universe. It was not uncommon for monastics who began a workshop holding firmly in their mind a geo-centric model of the universe to end the course intellectually pushing on the frontiers of the Big Bang and theories of multiple universes. The monastics are masterful at debating abstract philosophical concepts, and this vibrant perspective is inspiring and enriching to cosmologists who are also searching for new ways of thinking about the frontiers of time and space.
Brain & Mind
An introductory course on the fundamentals of neuroscience will provide a foundation to explore sensory perception, emotion, memory, and consciousness. Based on our experience from prior institutes, monastics will gain a rich understanding of how to engage scientists about the brain and consciousness. Neuroscience has salient points of overlap with Buddhism, and we have found that courses in neuroscience lead to rich dialogue between the traditions. Monastics have understood the limitations of scientific methods at probing deep questions of consciousness and human potential, and have also understood the important role that the emerging field of neuroscience can play in encouraging self-reflection and compassion-driven investigation, as well as the enormous opportunity for new spiritual information to be developed and shared in a scientifically robust way.
The Fabric of the Universe
Observation is an important part of science and yet it is seldom taught in science courses. Many examples of poor science arise because people honestly report what they see, and yet their reports are flawed because they do not understand how their visual system can be fooled. Understanding perception is necessary to help us understand how there can be so many incorrect pseudoscientific reports in the media. This course will explore the nature of science and human perception, examine particles and forces that make up the universe, and probe the boundaries to scientific knowledge. The field of quantum physics has extremely salient intersections with the Buddhist theory of Interdependent Origination, a profound teaching in Buddhism on the causality of perception and phenomena. Interactive lectures and activities will explore connections between the two traditions. Monastics have deep questions about the atomic world and will have an increased capacity to discuss the profound findings of quantum physics as a result of the course.
All observations occur in the context of our perception. Understanding how we perceive the world around us helps us become better inquirers and investigators. Perception also provides a superb meeting ground for scholars whose backgrounds and content expertise vary. This will provide a hands-on immersive introduction to our sense perceptions.
Monastic graduates will have formal time to discuss amongst themselves, share notes, answer each others questions, formulate questions to ask faculty, reflect and digest. Discussion of the classes taught that day will be encouraged.
Writing Assignments! Writing is essential to the activities of the program, and regular written exercises will be integrated into all the topics in the course. We have discovered that regular journaling and multiple writing exercises provide reflection, solidify content learned, and provide structure to formulate new questions. The monastic graduates will use writing to explore their thinking on the intersection of Buddhism and science and develop dialogue between traditions. Written products that result from the course will be published by the Tibetan Library so as to disseminate the experience and reflections on the participating leaders.
Introduction to Science
The course will provide an introduction to what is science (how does science work?) and why might Tibetan monastics study science and engage scientist in discussion and dialogue. The short course will provide an introduction to the history of scientific communities from the first groups of scientific knowledge seekers (e.g. the Royal Society) to modern scientific communities. We will also address the phenomena of paradigm shifts in science, and outline elements of the historic relationship between science and western religions.
Buddhism & Science
Introduction to science from the Buddhist perspective. What are the core ideas and philosophies of Buddhism that allows for meaningful engagement with scientist. How does the Nalanda tradition provide an example for Buddhist and scientist to work together. The course will provide an orientation to the ongoing dialogue His Holiness the Dalai Lama has held with science. What are the lessons learned in engaging science from the Buddhist perspective.
Translation Primer – Science in Translation
This short course will help the monastic graduates understand some of the challenges of translating between science and Buddhism, and engaging scientist through an interpreter. In the last 10 years (especially) numerous new scientific words have been coined in Tibetan and entered the Tibetan lexicon. This course will help the monastic graduates develop skills and strategies for effectively communicating with scientists, focusing on principles of English language as they relate to the translation between Tibetan and English.