advancing the convergence of science and spirituality
ETSI was founded with a vision to create a comprehensive and sustainable science education program for the Tibetan Buddhist monastic universities. Since its inception in 2006, ETSI has worked to develop a comprehensive curriculum that spans various scientific disciplines, including physics, biology, and neuroscience, and implement it across six years of study. Philosophy of science was included in the first year curriculum partly because the pursuit of knowledge in science requires understanding of the nature of knowledge, reasoning and evidence and partly because philosophy provides an important conceptual bridge for the monastics to understand and explore two well-established traditions.
The fulfillment of the vision has proceeded in four phases: planning, development, implementation and sustainability.
Planning and Development (Pilot Program 2008 - 2013)
Beginning in 2006, for almost two years, a group of faculty at Emory University met regularly to develop a plan, which was presented to His Holiness the Dalai Lama for his approval when he visited Emory in Fall, 2007. To facilitate the planning efforts, in addition to the science education experts at Emory, a number of scholars with expertise in the intersection of science and Tibetan Buddhism, including Dr. Georges Dreyfus, Dr. Thupten Jinpa, Dr. Alan Wallace, and Geshe Lhakdor were invited to consult on the project. This constituted the "planning phase," of ETSI, the outcome of which was an initial curricular plan.
With the approval of the plans, a pilot program was started, in collaboration with the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives (LTWA) in the summer of 2008 in Dharamsala, India where a select group of monastic students were provided science education based on the newly developed pilot curriculum. Science faculty from Emory and other institutions traveled to College of Higher Tibetan Studies (popularly known as Sarah College) in Dharamsala each summer, from 2008 to 2013, to offer month-long intensive sessions to ninety-one Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns that comprised two cohorts, one year apart. The monastic students were drawn from twenty-two monastic institutions representing all the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism–Gelug, Sakya, Nyingma, and Kagyu–as well as Bon. The first cohort completed the five-year curriculum and graduated from the program in the summer of 2012, and the second cohort graduated in the summer of 2013.
Implementation (2014 - 2019)
Summer 2014 marked the beginning of ETSI’s next phase—the implementation phase which until now has been the most extensive and challenging phase. The ETSI curriculum that was developed and modified during the pilot phase was introduced at the 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, distance-learning materials and tools, and further curriculum refinement.
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.
Monks and nuns at other academic monastic institutions can 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.
One major component of the ETSI’s implementation phase will complete in 2019, with the full development of the science curriculum, publication of the 19 bilingual primers, unpacking of the contents, and the production of a complete set of lecture videos. In that year, the first group of monastic students, numbering over 150, will graduate from the 6-year ETSI science curriculum, many of whom would hopefully participate in ETSI’s next phase—the Sustainability Phase. ETSI will then focus on making the science education program at the monasteries sustainable by providing intense courses to select group of monastics to deepen the understanding of the 6-year curriculum, by organizing workshops on research and pedagogy, and by creating teaching materials. The sustainability phase is projected to go from 2020 to 2026, with creation of two cohorts of monastic science teachers, one year apart, who will undergo training every summer for five years each.
ETSI has published 13 primers with six more in various stages of production. A total of 19 primers and textbooks will be published and distributed by the summer of 2019. Complementing the main course books will be supplementary materials such as Brain Facts by the Society of Neuroscience and Philosophy of Science: A Very Short Introduction by Samir Okasha, and whole sets of lecture slides that have been translated into Tibetan and are being used as teaching and learning materials. Additional supplementary materials are being translated to create a rich body of Tibetan-language science materials for use in the curriculum.
Another important project that the ETSI’s translation team is working on is the creation of a science dictionary that would include the scientific lexicons that the team has developed and standardized, through the process of regular discussions amongst the ETSI’s translators and rigorous deliberations at ETSI’s International Conference on Standardizing Scientific Terms, held annually at Emory University since March, 2009. In March 2018, the 10th annual conference was held at Emory with participation from the ETSI translators, linguistic experts, educators, and a Tibetan medical doctor. Thus far more than 5000 scientific terms have been created and finalized.