Tibetan Scholars Meet with His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Review Buddhist Science Textbook

September 26th 2013

Theckchen Chöling, Dharamsala, India 25 September 2013 - His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s interest in science is well-known. Conversations he began with modern scientists almost thirty years ago have spawned such thriving collaborations as the Mind & Life Institute a non-profit organization dedicated to building a scientific understanding of the mind to reduce suffering and promote well-being.

In recent years, scientific interest has grown in what ancient Indian thought, and Buddhist literature in particular, has to say about such phenomena as the mind and emotions for example. At the same time, His Holiness has begun to speak of a new way of thinking of the great body of literature translated largely from Indian sources into Tibetan, the more than 300 volumes of the Kangyur (translations of the Buddha’s words) and Tengyur (translations of commentaries by subsequent Buddhist masters). He has recommended classifying some content as Buddhist science, some as Buddhist philosophy and the remainder as concerned with spiritual practice. His view is that while interest in material dealing with spiritual practice might be limited to Buddhists, material related to Buddhist science and philosophy could have a much wider academic and intellectual appeal.

During teachings he was giving at TCV School in 2010 His Holiness asked Abbot of Namgyal Monastery, Thamthog Rinpoche to organize a project to collect material regarding Buddhist science and philosophy and present it in introductory volumes. To begin with almost 70 scholars were recruited to read the Kangyur and Tengyur and collect references. A smaller group of 10 scholars were selected to compile these findings. Thamthog Rinpoche assisted by Yangten Rinpoche and Geshe Thubten Pelsang supervised the work. Geshe Thubten Jinpa Ph.D., Chairman of the Mind & Life Institute, read the preliminary draft and reorganized the contents.

On Monday, 23rd September, a group of eight scholars with Thamthog Rinpoche and Yangten Rinpoche met His Holiness to review with him their presentation of  Buddhist science. At present the manuscript, in Tibetan, consists of ten chapters spread over two volumes, the first of which deals with objects of knowledge, while the second deals with the mind and the way it engages with objects. Chapter headings include a General Outline, Objects of Knowledge, Time, Subtle Particles, and the Evolution and Destruction of the Universe and its Inhabitants. Chapters in the second volume include a General Presentation of the Mind, Mental Factors, How the Mind Engages with its Objects, Training the Mind and Training in Single-pointed Concentration and Analytical Meditation.

Over four days His Holiness and the group of eminent scholars from the Three Seats, engaged in lively discussions ranging from whether to include textual quotations from the Kangyur and Tengyur in the body of the text, or whether to consign them to end-notes, what emphasis to give to certain points in the presentation and the pros and cons of different technical terms. On the second and third days they were joined by Prof Samdhong Rinpoche who contributed his expert knowledge of Indian sources to the proceedings. Geshe Thutop, former abbot of Gyume Tantric College attended at His Holiness’s personal invitation, while teachers from Namgyal Monastery attended as observers.

Once a review of the science material was completed, an outline of the proposed book on Buddhist philosophy was also discussed. His Holiness seeming well pleased by the progress made so far said:

“We are talking about how to understand reality when we talk about the mind and its objects. Whatever goals we have, they are achieved by employing valid cognition. The mind has the potential to understand reality and this is a realistic presentation.”

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