APJ Abdul Kalam: Contemplative Science Complements Modern Science

November 22nd 2010

New Delhi, India, 20 November 2010 - Former President of India Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam spoke about the relationship between modern science and contemplative science in a dialogue with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Prof. Wolf Singer, eminent neuroscientist and director of Max Planck Institute for Brain Research (Frankfurt) on the importance of scientific findings and the secular benefits of contemplative practices especially those that have originated and developed in India.

Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam speaking at the dialogue on contemplative practice and modern science in New Delhi, India, on November 20th, 2010. Photo/Tenzin Choejor
Dr. Kalam who is also a highly-respected nuclear scientist and engineer said modern science and contemplative science complement each other. Contemplative science, he explained, practiced through meditation allows one to understand oneself revealing a  creative, curious, and contemplative mind that brings calmness, positivity and deeper thoughts in the consciousness. In such a state, Dr. Kalam said, “preset mind vanishes, imagination blossoms, creativity blossoms, activating neurons in the brain, and problem solving capacity of the neurons increases which brings optimal wisdom leading to innovative discoveries.”

The former president said all disciplines and traditions whether modern sciences or contemplative practices can co-exist together if great enlightened souls converge together for the benefit of the whole humanity. He recalled how over four decades ago Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, the great visionary of Indian space research programme convinced Rev. Dr. Peter Pereira, the bishop of Trivandrum in south India to dedicate the land where his church and a big community of fishermen lived to establish India’s first space research center for the benefit of the whole country.

Talking about his own father who was a Muslim Imam and his physics teacher from childhood, Dr. Kalam said he learnt to separate the theological and spiritual aspects of religion. He suggested introducing moral science class in the education system so that children from early on could make the distinction between the spiritual and theological side of religion and gain individual benefits as well as contribute to the society. “Spirituality is common to all religions,” he said.

The panel for the dialogue on contemplative practices and modern science held in New Delhi, India, on November 20th, 2010. Photo/Tenzin Choejor/OHHDL
He recalled his first visit as the president of India to a 300-yr-old Buddhist monastery at Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh and said he was struck by the pervading sense of happiness and joy among the villagers and the monks living in harsh climatic conditions and remote mountainous locales. At an evening religious discourse given by the chief monk at the monastery, Dr. Kalam said he learnt about the Buddhist way of achieving happiness and how the mind of a monk worked. “Remove I and me, and the ego vanishes,” he said quoting the Buddhist priest, “hatred melts, then violence in the mind also vanishes and finally peace comes.”   

His Holiness the Dalai Lama in his presentation expressed his admiration and respect to Dr. Kalam who he has met and held discussions with mainly on spiritual and philosophical matters.

His Holiness said compared to major world civilizations such as Egyptian and Chinese civilizations, the Indus Valley civilization which originated in India has made maximum contribution in the philosophical field.

His Holiness said his personal curiosity to learn about science particularly on such subjects as cosmology, neurology, quantum physics, and psychology has brought him into engaging dialogues with scientists over the years. Some aspects of Buddhism, he said, share common grounds with science adding the ‘mind science’ as is explained in some Buddhist texts is now attracting more attention from the scientific community.

Dr. Singer who is one the key speakers at the ongoing Mind and Life Dialogue in New Delhi said as a neuroscientist interested in contemplative science, he was trying to engage in a dialogue between different traditions of the East and the West to understand the nature of reality in reducing suffering and promote well-being among the whole humanty.

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