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A Landmark Undertaking for the Convergence of Science and Spirituality


In February 2006, the Emory-Tibet Partnership invited Geshe Lhakdor, Director of the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, to visit Emory University as a Halle Distinguished Fellow in order to explore the feasibility of collaboration between the two institutions to design and implement a comprehensive science program for Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns. Chairing a meeting of Emory faculty and administrators exploring the Dalai Lama’s invitation to collaborate with the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dr. Robert Paul, dean of Emory College, stated, “The Emory-Tibet Partnership was established with the intention that it be a two-way exchange of people and ideas. Emory's potential involvement in the science education project will help us to fully realize that idea. This is an exciting initiative, possibly one of the most exciting initiatives that the University could be part of.”

The idea for a modern science education initiative for Tibetan monastics met with an enthusiastic response from both the university's administration and science faculty. Since the initial formation of the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative under the umbrella of the Emory-Tibet Partnership, Emory has committed fully to creating an ongoing and sustainable program. The concrete progress already made towards realizing the Dalai Lama's vision of incorporating comprehensive science education into the monastic curriculum is evidence of Emory University's full commitment. The ETSI furthers Emory’s mission of collaborative inquiry and is supported at the highest levels of the Emory University administration, including President James Wagner, Vice President Gary Hauk, and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Robin Forman.

The ultimate goal of the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative is to build a bridge between two complementary systems of knowledge by educating future scientific collaborators who can contribute to new discoveries in the science of mind and body. ETSI is designed to give Tibetan monastics new tools for understanding the world, while also providing them with fresh perspectives on how to employ and adapt time-tested, Buddhist, contemplative methodologies for the relief of suffering in the contemporary world.

"I deeply appreciate that Emory University has accepted my invitation, and has made a commitment to fully collaborate with the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives to develop and implement a comprehensive and sustainable science education program for Tibetan monastics. I have long believed in and advocated a dialogue and cross-fertilization between science and spirituality, as both are essential for enriching human life and alleviating suffering on both individual and global levels. The Emory-Tibet Science Initiative has a unique opportunity to fulfill this need, and thus make a contribution not only to the Emory and Tibetan communities, but to the world at large, by expanding the horizons of human knowledge and wisdom." - H.H. the Dalai Lama

By accepting this invitation, Emory has embarked on an historic initiative to expand the horizons of knowledge for Tibetan monks and nuns. The vision of His Holiness the Dalai Lama is not only to give Tibetan monastics new tools for understanding the world, but also to give those monastics tools to contribute to the effort of translating time-tested Buddhist contemplative knowledge in a practical way that can help relieve suffering around the world.

Dr. Robert A. Paul

When Robert A. Paul completed his term as dean of Emory College in spring 2010, the University honored him for his visionary leadership by renaming the initiative the “Robert A. Paul Emory-Tibet Science Initiative.”

Please click here to see the acceptance letter of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, in which he describes the importance of the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative, and President Wagner's letter to His Holiness.

Click here to watch a short video about the ETSI.

The Emory-Tibet Science Initiative: An Overview

The Development Phase

Beginning in 2006, science faculty at Emory University began work on the development of a science education curriculum that would be appropriate for Tibetan monastics. To facilitate this effort, the Emory-Tibet Partnership invited a number of scholars with incredible background knowledge of the intersection of science and Tibetan Buddhism, including Dr. Georges Dreyfus, Dr. Thupten Jinpa, Dr. Alan Wallace, and Geshe Lhakdor to consult on the development of the curriculum. This constituted the first, “planning phase,” of ETSI, the outcome of which was a plan for a five-year curriculum.

During the development phase, a team of science faculty from Emory, and other leading academic institutions, traveled to Dharamsala, India each summer for six years to offer intensive science education over the course of a six-week session. Ninety-one Tibetan monks and nuns interested in advancing the convergence of science and spirituality were selected to participate with the idea that these individuals would become future science leaders within their home monastic institutions. Divided into two pilot classes or “cohorts,” one group began the ETSI pilot program in 2008, and the other in 2009. The two cohorts were drawn from twenty-two monastic institutions representing the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism—Gelug, Sakya, Nyingma, and Kagyu —as well as the Bon tradition . The first class of monastics completed the full five-year curriculum and graduated from the program in the summer of 2012, and the second cohort graduated in the summer of 2013.

Throughout the six-year development phase, ETSI has fostered encouraging progress in many of the objectives outlined above and has provided powerful momentum to catalyze the next phase of the program. We are confident that the progress observed thus far will continue, and that the program will continue to flourish.

The Implementation Phase

2014 marks the start of the most far-reaching phase of ETSI. The implementation phase will see the introduction of the ETSI curriculum into three major Tibetan monastic universities in exile: Gaden, Sera, and Drepung, all located in southern India. The implementation phase is comprised of summer intensives taught by Emory faculty, year-round study, materials for long-distance instruction, and curriculum development.

The annual summer intensives take place over the course of four weeks each year, during which time monastics receive instruction in the philosophy of science, physics, neuroscience, and biology.  Courses are taught by faculty members from Emory and other distinguished universities with assistance from the Tenzin Gyatso Science Scholars. Students are in class for six hours per day, and are tested on the last day of each course. Classes are comprised of lectures, discussion, demonstrations, and hands-on experiments.

The monks and nuns at academic monastic institutions other than Drepung, Sera, and Gaden will participate in the ETSI program via distance learning.  Through the use of ETSI-produced materials and video lectures, 100% of academic monastic institutions interested in participating in ETSI will have the opportunity to do so. These monastic institutions may be located not only in India, but in countries throughout Asia.

Under the leadership of Geshe Lobsang Negi, director of the Emory- Tibet Partnership, and through the efforts of the ETSI faculty and staff translators, six billingual science texts have already been published with more in various stages of production. A total of ten textbooks and fifteen primers will be published and distributed over the next six years. To complement the main course books, supplementary materials such as the book Brain Facts by the Society of Neuroscience have also been translated into Tibetan. Additional supplementary materials are being translated to create a rich body of Tibetan-language science materials for use in the curriculum.

To help in the translation process (e.g., introducing words such as 'electromagnetism' and 'cloning' into the Tibetan lexicon), Emory has organized and hosted the International Conference on Science Translation into Tibetan for the past four years.

Emory University takes great pride in being able to help fulfill one of His Holiness’s most cherished dreams of implementing comprehensive science education in the core Tibetan monastic curriculum. The Dalai Lama has guided the process at every step of the way and even personally contributed funds toward the creation of an ETSI endowment. In the message accompanying his first gift, he wrote, “In just the last three years, the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative has made notable progress. However, it is a large and far-sighted project that will require significant resources to ensure its success and sustainability. I am therefore happy to make a contribution of $50,000 toward this important work at Emory and urge others also to lend their support to this unique and meaningful undertaking.” His Holiness followed up this initial gift with a further gift of $50,000 in May 2010, and then in the spring of 2014, The Dalai Lama Trust donated $1million to ETSI.



Emory-Tibet Science Initiative department of religion CIPA Asian Studies Emory College Emory University Drepung Loseling Monastery