His Holiness the Dalai Lama Discusses the Mind and Brain with Noted Neuroscientist

November 9th 2010

Niihama, Japan, 9 November 2010 - "After the Second World War, many of your big cities were really destroyed. But than you built a new world from the ashes. The same as with Germany. While modernizing, you also kept your traditions." His Holiness greeted his Japanese audience with these hopeful and complimentary words, as a crowd of 300 or so filled a hall in the picturesque town of Niihama, on the Inland Sea island of Shikoku, on the third full day of his autumn tour.


His Holiness the Dalai Lama arrives in Niihama, Japan, on November 9th, 2010. Photo/Taikan Usui
He had flown up to Niihama by helicopter, on a windy, chilly morning, and then held a press conference on his arrival in his hotel. Now he was embarking on a discussion with the noted Japanese brain scientist, Kenichiro Mogi, on the mind and the brain.

His Holiness began their conversation by distinguishing between what we take in with our senses, and what we take in with our mind, describing how "even physical pain can be subdued by a mental state of satisfaction. So therefore mental, inner experiences are more important than the physical, sensory plane." Then he started to ask Professor Mogi one searching question after another, about whether neurologists can compare anger in a waking state with anger while dreaming, and whether to some extent consciousness can affect the brain, as well as the other way round.

Often, he explained, when conducting discussions with scientists, "some people use the words, `Dialogue between science and Buddhism.' That, I feel, is the wrong phrase. Buddhism is a religion, and we have nothing to do with science. But since Buddhist teaching is about how to train, how to improve our basic human qualities--warm-heartedness, compassion--so, ultimately, we need a lot of explanation about the mental system and about the emotions." Buddhism, he said, can be divided into three parts: science, psychology and Buddhist religion. "So really I suggest that the phrasing should be, "A dialogue between natural science and Buddhist science.' "


His Holiness the Dalai Lama and nueroscientist Dr Kenichiro Mogi discuss the mind and brain in Niihama, Japan, on November 9th, 2010. Photo/Taikan Usui
His Holiness then spoke about the Buddhist practitioners who had had their brains tested, and who had been found to be "unusually calm. But when we talk about compassion, a tear comes in these people. Many people believe that consciousness comes from the brain, from the neurons. So when the neurons stop, consciousness stops. But," he added, "some scientists believe that the consciousness can affect the brain. This is not a question of other lives, something like that. But, at another level, a more subtle kind of consciousness could affect the brain." There were many cases, His Holiness said, in which expert monks were found to have signs of consciousness one week, two weeks, three weeks after death, "their bodies very fresh."

Clearly delighting in having an expert scientist to talk to, who could share his expertise in fluent English, His Holiness then asked Professor Mogi "if we can develop a kind of surgery whereby we can remove that part of the brain that brings attachment, anger. So we can remove these problems, without training the mind." (Professor Mogi mentioned lobotomy, and how such surgery might perhaps be possible, though so far a special part of the brain associated with these afflictive emotions had yet to be isolated).


Yours Coop Hall in Niihama, Japan, venue for His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Dr Kenichiro Mogi's discussion on mind and brain on November 9th, 2010. Photo/Taikan Usui
As people from the audience rose to ask him questions--on how, say, his study of science had changed his understanding of Buddhism--His Holiness recalled how he used to look at the night skies with a telescope, even when he was in Lhasa, and see how, when the sun set over the earth, the light left the moon. "The moon has no light," he realized. "Its light comes only from the sun. That my naked eye confirmed." And, reading up on astronomy in the 1960s, he decided he could no longer believe in Mount Meru ("at least on this planet").

That was no problem, he explained. "Buddha didn't come to this planet to make a map of the universe. His main concern was how to reduce our suffering. That will remain the same, for the next thousand years. Even after another Big Bang, the truth of this will remain the same. Some emotions, maybe after 10,000, or 100,000 years, may change, when the shape of the brain changes. But today's emotions and emotions at the time of the Buddha are the same."

Warming to his theme, and speaking--in English--with more and more conviction and power, His Holiness recalled how, when he began his discussions with scientists, some American Buddhists had warned him, `Science is a killer of religion. Be careful!' Then I thought and thought. In Buddhism in general, particularly in the Nalanda tradition, the key instrument is investigation, not belief. Because the ultimate source of suffering is ignorance, having a wrong view. So, in order to reverse a wrong view, you must develop a right view. In order to develop a right view, you should know the reality. In order to know the reality, you should practice investigation." Even to the point of investigating Buddha's own teachings.

Finally he stated that, in his thinking and his practice, he wanted to go "to the root of the Buddhist tradition. To scholars like Nagarjuna. Because the root of the tradition is the same, even if there are different branches. The roots are very solid. These great classical texts fit everyone." He ended by reminding his audience that man, alone among the animals, had been given "the special gift of a brain. We must utilize this great instrument--for construction, not destruction. Education is simply a way to open our eyes, and to see the world in a holistic way."
 
 

Latest News

His Holiness the Dalai Lama Meets Indians, Chinese and Sotoshu Monks in Tokyo
April 16th 2014
Tokyo, Japan, 16 April 2014 - Having arrived in Tokyo yesterday evening, His Holiness the Dalai Lama had meetings with several quite different groups of people today. The first was a group of business people from India. He began by telling them how he praises India all over the world for its religious harmony, the way different faiths, some originating in India and others coming from abroad live peacefully side by side. He suggested Indian communities overseas should make more of this wherever they are.

Public Talk in Koyasan before Departure for Tokyo
April 15th 2014

Vairochana-abhisambodhi Empowerment in Koyasan
April 14th 2014

Pilgrimage to Koyasan, Headquarters of the Shingon Tradition of Japanese Buddhism
April 13th 2014

Mapping the Mind - Day 2
April 12th 2014

Explore