In India, there exists a highly-trained and largely isolated tradition that is practiced by more than 20,000 Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns who undertake 10-20 years of rigorous academic and contemplative study. The fewer than 5 percent who choose to undertake the highest level of study are typically awarded the title “Geshe.” The highest degree of Tibetan Buddhism and equivalent to a doctorate in divinity, the term Geshe means “spiritual friend,” someone who is capable of guiding individuals on a spiritual path. It is a position and a degree that qualifies individuals to teach within the community and abroad. Geshes and other monastic graduates serve as teachers and religious leaders, inspiring individuals to think more deeply about the world and how they live in the world, guiding them towards and on a virtuous path. What is unique in this learning culture is a vibrant curiosity about mental phenomena that is based in a rich tradition of ethics and philosophy. Monastics have embraced Western science as it has opened up new areas of contemplation and increased Buddhism’s relevance in a modern world. This project is important because monastic graduates have the greatest capacity within the Tibetan Buddhist community to enrich Western modes of inquiry, expanding scientific exploration in areas such as neuroscience, and promoting investigations that are guided by ethics.
We seek to engage these monastic graduates. These religious leaders are the stewards of the Buddhist traditions and can serve as influential models for engaging science. They are also well positioned to bring to Western science Buddhist values that promote compassion, patience, forgiveness, tolerance, social benefit, religious harmony, self-discipline, spiritual progress, open-mindedness, and humility. Tibetan monastics are deeply concerned about questions of ethics, the potential for misuse of scientific discoveries, and the ethics of conducting beneficial scientific investigations. The monastic graduates are currently not served by existing programs, are significantly more senior than monastics trained through previous and ongoing efforts, and thus are in a better position to provide leadership.
The project will immerse monastic graduates in 150 hours of science training and discourse. Monastic graduates will learn from Western scientists about biology, neuroscience, physics, astronomy, and cosmology. Results of the workshop will be presented in a 3-day public conference and dialogue among Tibetan Buddhist scholars, and Indian and U.S. scientists. Monastic graduates writings and conference proceedings will be published by the Library of Tibetan Works and shared on online. Other outcomes will include an increased openness among participating monastics and scientists toward future professional interaction and an increased capacity of partner agencies to facilitate ethically-grounded discourse in areas such as neuroscience and cosmology.
The partners in organizing this project include the Exploratorium and the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives and has been made possible by grant from the John Templeton Foundation, and the ongoing generous support of the Sager Family Foundation.