A Landmark Undertaking for the Convergence of Science and Spirituality
In February 2006, Geshe Lhakdor, Director of the Library of Tibetan Works and
Archives, visited Emory University as a Halle Distinguished Fellow. During
his visit, Dean Robert Paul convened a meeting in which Geshe Lhakdor invited
the university to collaborate on the design and implementation of a comprehensive
science program for Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns. In this meeting, Dean
Paul 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 invitation met with an enthusiastic response from both the university's
administration and science faculty. As stated by President James Wagner, Emory's
complete commitment toward creating an ongoing and sustainable program, thereby
realizing His Holiness the Dalai Lama's vision of comprehensive science education
within the monastic curriculum, is evidence of Emory's courageous leadership
and bold vision of transformation through knowledge.
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.
"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
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
Click here to watch a short video about the ETSI.
The Emory-Tibet Science Initiative: An Overview
Now in its sixth year, ETSI rapidly has expanded the horizons of knowledge for both monastics and Western scholars. Emory’s commitment to creating an ongoing and sustainable program realizes His Holiness’s vision of a comprehensive science education within the monastic curriculum. It is also evidence of Emory’s courageous leadership and bold vision of transformation through knowledge. By bringing together the tools of modern science with time-tested Buddhist contemplative knowledge, more can be done to help relieve suffering around the world.
Under the joint direction of Preetha Ram, associate dean for science at Emory College, and Geshe Lobsang Negi, director of the Emory- Tibet Partnership, ETSI involves more than two dozen Emory faculty from various scientific disciplines and seven full-time translators— three at Emory and four at the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala, India. The initiative already has led to six completed science textbooks in Tibetan and English, with two more textbooks in various stages of completion. In addition, three bilingual science primers have been completed and, after six years, a total of ten textbooks and fifteen primers will have been published and distributed. To complement the main course books, supplementary materials such as the book Brain Facts by the Society of Neuroscience have been translated into Tibetan. Further supplementary materials also will be translated in the future to create a rich body of Tibetan-language science materials for 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 first and second International Conference on Science Translation into Tibetan.
Currently the program draws from native Tibetan instructors to develop and teach mathematics to the monastic students, a necessary prerequisite for their study of science. The aim is that eventually indigenous science teachers will be cultivated from within the Tibetan monasteries and nunneries so that the program becomes self-sustaining and reaches more than 20,000 monks and nuns throughout India and Nepal.
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. (Click here to read more about this gift.)
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.”
Our pedagogical approach is grounded in the principles of problem based learning, collaborative learning, active learning, and experiential learning. Our science curriculum includes many opportunities for dialogue and discussion, demonstrations, experiments, and field work. Each year, a four week session led initially by Emory science faculty is augmented throughout the remainder of the year with an onsite science educator, thereby ensuring continuity.
The Science Curriculum for Tibetan Monastics is integrated across all of the scientific disciplines and will focus on building foundational skills and conceptual understanding as well as introducing advanced level concepts and discoveries of modern science. In accordance with His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s recommendations, the three overarching topics are: Cosmology, Life Sciences, and Neuro/Cognitive Science. Each topic will be initiated through compelling questions and problems or discoveries that will be of direct interest to the students. This strategy will anchor subsequent discussions and maintain interest levels. In all the topics, mathematics will be introduced when needed and in an appropriate scientific contexts. Historical accounts will provide a developmental perspective when appropriate.
ETSI’s goals are aligned with The Dalai Lama’s articulation of two levels of competency. A novice level graduate of the program would have a general conceptual understanding of science and an expert level graduate would be able to participate and contribute to scientific experimentation and discourse.
Emory-Tibet Science Initiative’s comprehensive science curriculum officially commenced in 2008. A brief outline of the curriculum is presented below.
A: Philosophy of Science
We explore the similarities and differences between Ancient Greek philosophy and Buddhism that are relevant to science. We then introduce ideas of probability and reasoning about probabilistic phenomena. To build mathematical skills, we discuss mathematical formalization, representation of values by variables, quantitative relationships, and measurements. Early sessions demonstrate the scientific method and the rules of scientific debate. We also consider the nature of Experimentation and how the best explanation is chosen.
The Cosmology unit begins with a description of the Universe, the development of ancient astronomy, the solar system and talk about the formation of the earth. Leading into the laws of electromagnetism and the contributions of Coulomb-Ampére-Faraday-Maxwell electromagnetism, we then explore astrospectroscopy and move into the current century. Quantum physics, polarization, and Einstein’s contributions are some of the topics that we will visit towards the end of the unit. The unit concludes with a discussion of the Big Bang Theory and a debate about Buddhist and scientific world views.
C: Life Sciences
Biology faculty initiate this unit with the notion of time to lead into Darwin, Lyell and a discussion of geological time. The unit includes a discussion Darwin’s contributions, adaptation, survival of the fittest, natural selection, diversity and conservation. A closer look at the evolution of humans considers social tension, Leakey’s contributions, discovery of human ancestors, the evolution of the brain, the nature of behaviors and a discussion of genes and genetics as well as Darwin's Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals.
D: Neuro/Cognitive Sciences
The neuro/cognitive sciences unit introduces the brain as the locus of the mind, as the center of mental life, its architecture, the functional specificity of the cortex and subcortical areas, and discusses the cooperative brain and its relation to complex mental functions. In the next section, this unit discusses affective and social neuroscience and memory. Topics include fear, aggression, addiction, memory etc. In the last section of this unit, faculty introduce concepts of perception and action and mind-body interactions, sensory transduction, volitional movements and reflexes, brain maps, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and stress.
The ETSI Team
The ETSI Is led by Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi, Director of the Emory-Tibet Partnership and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Religion, and Preetha Ram, Associate Dean of Science at Emory College. The Initiative partners with the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala, India, directed by Geshe Lhakdor.
Philosophy of Science
Mark Risjord (Philosophy) and Stephen (Pii) Dominick contributed to courses on Philosophy of Science.
These courses are developed and taught by Physics faculty from Emory College including John Malko, PV Rao, Jed Brody, Paul Wallace, Tad Day and Richard Williamon.
The Life Sciences courses are developed and taught by Biology faculty from Emory College including Arri Eisen, Alex Escobar, Rustom Antia, Todd Schlenke, Chris Beck, Anna Edlund, and Karla Passalaqua.
Neuroscience courses are developed and taught by faculty, post-docs and graduate students from various departments at Emory including Carol Worthman (Anthropology), Dieter Jageer (Biology), Mike Kuhar (Yerkes), Gaelle Desbordes (GA Tech/Boston University), Lena Ting (School of Medicine), Mike Iuvone (School of Medicine), Gillian Hue (Science and Society), Chuck Raison (Psychiatry), Nicole Taylor (Anthropology), Jim Rilling (Anthropology), Amanda Freeman (Biology), Jennifer Mascaro (Anthropology), Wendy Hasenkamp (Psychology), Leah Roesch (SIRE Program), Christine Wilson (Psychology), Larry Barsalou (Psychology), Todd Preuss (Yerkes), Christy Wilson-Mendenhall (Psychology), Larry Young (Yerkes), and Susan Bauer-Wu (Nursing).
Course materials, including the Tibetan-English science textbooks, primers and other presentations, have been diligently prepared by translators from the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, including Tenzin Paldon, Tenzin Sonam, Karma Tenzin, and Nyima, as well as Tsondue Samphel, Geshe Damdul, and Sangey Tashi of the Emory translation team.
Jim Wynn of the ETP Partnership helps coordinate the ETSI summer sessions. Ajay Pillarisetti has provided tremendous A/V support for the Initiative.
Tenzin Gyatso Science Scholars
In the fall of 2010, Emory welcomed the first six Tenzin Gyatso Science Scholars. These six scholars have participated in the last five ETSI summer sessions as well as other science training and leadership programs and graduated from the ETSI program in the summer of 2012. They are currently enrolled in courses in Biology, Chemistry and Physics. Click here to view "Footsteps", a documentary about our first class of Tenzin Gyatso Scholars at Emory, and here to watch a video "Inside the Lives of Tibetan Monks at Emory."
Tenzin Gyatso Scholars Program
Along with developing a comprehensive science curriculum, offering it to a select group of monks and nuns in Dharamsala, and publishing texts and other science education materials, the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative has also taken steps to train indigenous Tibetan monastics, the Tenzin Gyatso Science Scholars, to become the future teachers of modern science within the monastic community, ensuring the long-term self-sufficiency of the program. The Tenzin Gyatso Science Scholars' Program, made possible with generous support from the Dalai Lama Trust, brings some of the best and brightest scholars from Tibetan monastic institutions to Emory University, where theyenroll in applied and social science courses. Our initiative has been prompted by Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, who has stressed the importance of infusing the Tibetan practices of compassion and altruism, with a thorough understanding how western thought and inquiry has developed.
As a result of his many travels and encounters, the Dalai Lama has seen how urgently the wisdom and compassion of the Buddhist tradition is needed in the world today. Because of his ability to bridge east and west, he has been able to shape his message and refine his presentation of the teachings of Buddha to be steadily more attuned to the reality of his listeners’ lives and their world-view.
A great Buddhist scholar and practitioner, the Dalai Lama has experienced first-hand the benefits of a wider and in-depth exposure to other disciplines and traditions, and has participated eagerly in ground breaking dialogues with scientists, philosophers, religious figures and world leaders, always with the common theme of helping humanity. He believes strongly that the inclusion of modern fields of learning in the monastic curriculum is of the greatest importance, and entirely in keeping with the rigorous and rational search for truth that lies at the heart of the teaching of Buddha. It is this vision of a Tibetan Buddhism that is thoroughly in step with modern knowledge and research that has inspired the Dalai Lama Trust to support the Tenzin Gyatso Scholars Program.