Dawn and the Dialogue

Mind and Life’s President Arthur Zajonc’s latest dispatch as the 27th Dialogue begins.

It is before dawn on the morning of the 27th dialogue with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, 26 years after Francisco Varela, Adam Engle, His Holiness, and a handful of scientists began to speak about the mind and the nature of reality around us. This morning we will take up the theme of craving, desire, and addiction, exploring it from the diverse perspectives of neuroscience, from the experience of the addict himself, from the viewpoint of Buddhist philosophy and Christian mysticism, and from the understanding of craving as a social and cultural phenomenon.

With the addition of each new vantage point, it is as if we are moving around the object of study, getting to know it from a new vantage point, illuminating it from a new side. With each new position we adopt, another dimension of craving and addiction is revealed. If the Buddha was right, and the root source of suffering is ignorance, then perhaps by sharing knowledge across disciplines, cultures, and even between science and contemplative spirituality, we will gain the insight that will, at least partially, dispel the ignorance that causes craving and addiction.

Looking back over the last week, there are many highlights from our trip so far: Mind and Life’s European Symposium in Berlin; our time in Japan, where we worked with our partners there in preparation for the April visit of His Holiness to Japan’s Kokoro Research Center at Kyoto University; the journey to Bhutan where we met with old friends at the Center for Gross National Happiness and new colleagues from the Royal University of Bhutan—all these intersections have been deeply gratifying. By the close of our visit in Bhutan, we were speaking about Mind and Life’s upcoming contemplative leadership program and the inclusion of our ethics, mindfulness, and compassion curriculum into Bhutan’s teacher training. A few days later, along with Thupten Jinpa, Richard Davidson, and Jacqui DeFelice, I made a visit to the good people of the IIMT group of colleges in Meerut outside Delhi. Their remarkable commitment to their 20,000 students, and to the education of the child that addresses the heart and mind together, was palpable. We invited them to send representatives to our February meeting on ethics and education, and to work with us toward becoming a possible pilot site for our new curriculum. They expressed interest in having a stronger connection to Mind & Life for the long term, a sentiment we are grateful to hear echoed wherever we go.

As Mind and Life broadens its programs and extends its reach, the deep question remains: How? How can we best embrace the hopes and aspirations of so many fine colleagues who share our ideals and goals? Reflecting on that, my mind returns to the prospect of the next few days—when we will join together around the Dalai Lama’s coffee (and tea) table as we have for the last 26 years, to share what we know in the service of others.

You may join us, too, via the live web-streamed broadcast direct from the Dalai Lama’s residence.

With best wishes from Dharamsala, India.