Mind and Life XXII: Session 5

The final session of Mind and Life XXII was moderated by Viji Ravindranath, who recapped much of the previous discussion.  She went on to praise His Holiness for the efforts and vision needed to put this dialogue together.  She lastly recognized the Mind and Life Summer Research Institute and the networking and collaboration it produces annually; she hoped that one day a similar program can take hold in India.

Kapila Vatsyayan, of the Indian Parliament, professed to be ignorant in many topics that had been brought up over the course of the conference, claiming that the discussions have been on planes with which she has little expertise.  However, she noted that empirical and philosophical questions have always been a part of being human.  Vatsyayan stated that science should really be a holistic endeavor.  Lastly, she posited that ‘secular ethics,’ a subject His Holiness loves to share with audiences, is in reality a culturally and historically framed idea, not merely a universal truth.  The word ‘secular’ is definitely used in a way that presents problems for an Indian context.  She asked His Holiness to reflect on this notion.

His Holiness responded that Dr. Vatsyayan had created ‘shakiness’ in his belief of what the word ‘secular’ means.  He would think more about this idea in the future, but he promised he would never abandon his campaign to promote secular ethics.  As Kapila-ji lastly asked His Holiness to explain his own Nalenda tradition, the Dalai Lama then took some time to explain where the beliefs and history of Buddhism.

His Holiness began by stressing the importance of personal investigation, rather than just accepting the words of one’s own teacher or even the Buddha himself.  All achievements, from the most immediate to the ultimate attainment of nirvana, come from clear knowledge.  Liberation comes from refraining from non-virtuous actions, from grasping at a notion of ‘self,’ and from holding any distorted views.  In terms of the virtuous actions, the secular ethics, although they will produce a good rebirth in the Buddhist sense, the dialogues with scientists should not be concerned with such notions.  Instead, they should focus on how they produce happiness in this life.

Practices are aimed at creating states of heightened concentration, of transcending pleasure and pain as dominating forces in one’s life.  The methods are partly single-pointed focus and partly analytical.  An appreciation of the interdependence of all things is vital to attaining both immediate happiness and long-term spiritual freedom.

Wolf Singer remarked on the importance of using different perspectives to create the most complete picture possible.  The must be some synthesis of perspectives from around the globe which could point to a common denominator, a way for all of us to communicate.  We should look for ‘translators’ who can bridge the scientific views and terminology of the West with the philosophical perspectives of the East.

Richard Davidson, in thinking of the importance of this Mind and Life dialogue in India, congratulated His Holiness on His efforts to bring science into the monastaries.  He mused whether something comparable could be possible in institutions of higher learning in India, in Europe, in the United States.  He reminded the audience of the attempts to teach contemplative practices in schools in India but noted that there is a dearth of research into their efficacy.  He also looked forward to a day when mental training is regarded in the same way as physical training.  “Well-being is something more than just the absence of disease.”  Davidson thanked His Holiness for His leadership in the promotion of secular mental training.

VS Ramamurthy joined the conversation and noted that, in the past, traditional scholars have looked inwards to discover knowledge.  Modern science has been looking outwards.  “It is unfortunate that the two systems have not been complementing each other, but actually have been looking at each other with a little distrust.”  This is changing, however.  Partly due to the development of neuroscience, we are beginning to think of the human brain as more than just a supercomputer, and that it is also more than just a collection of elements and molecules.  While it is important that gurus of each tradition talk with each other about similarities, it is also necessary to disseminate the knowledge to the younger generation.  He stated that meetings like this should continue to happen and in different places.  Another idea that he had to help spread the word is via social networks, to take advantage of modern technology.  One problem he saw in garnering interest and funding from governments was that there is no quantifiable measure of happiness, that happiness is not a component of GDP.  A better understanding of the human mind does not immediately translate into financial gain.  We should attempt to figure out how to quantify human well-being.

His Holiness concluded the meeting by thanking the organizers and the host country of India.  He believed that there is great potential here – the cultural atmosphere is ripe for working in this realm of Contemplative Science.  He admitted that His role in these meetings is largely to support the great work being done by all the scientists, and that He continually appreciates the efforts and involvement of everyone who becomes active in the Mind and Life family.

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