November 2023 - 18 Years of Bridging Science and Spirituality

This past November, Emory University’s campus hosted the annual Tibet Week, a collection of enlightening symposiums, conferences, and meetings, while also showcasing traditional Tibetan Arts which date back to Tibet Week’s inauguration in 2001. The cultural week was centered on renewing the partnership made between Emory University and the Drepung Loseling Monastery in 1998, an anniversary reignited by the joint meeting of Emory President Gregory L. Fenves, Emory College Dean, Barbara Krauthamer, Executive Director of CCSCBE, Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi, and the Abbot of Drepung Loseling Monastery, Geshe Konchok Pasang as they re-signed the Memorandum of Understanding, originally penned in 1998 with His Holiness, the Dalai Lama.

This year’s Tibet Week coincide with the Compassion Center’s 25th year anniversary, and the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative’s 18 years of bridging science and spirituality. A truly reflective time for some that have supported the program from the start.

During Tibet Week, ETSI played an active role on campus, as staff, administrators, translators and instructors escorted esteemed international guests, assisted in setting up event spaces and participated in immersive dialogues.

The ETSI’s 7th Cohort of Tenzin Gyatso Science Scholars were also integral to the festivities as the scholars were active figures in nearly every step of Tibet Week, appearing as representatives of Tibet, of their monasteries, and imbibing the program’s core principles and values. The scholars could be spotted across Emory’s quad in their traditional red robes, greeting guests, and assisting at seminars, even in one instance, participating in a live panel discussion.

On Tuesday night, November 7th, guests gathered in Carlos C. Museum’s Ackerman Hall, for the 2nd panel of Tibet Week, a distinguished collection which included the former Wise Chancellor of the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, Geshe Ngawang Samten, Associate Professor of Physics from Arizona University, Dr. Chris Impey, and Dr. Arri Eisen, Professor of Pedagogy and Biology at Emory College. They were joined by Venerable Stanzin Wangdan, a 4th Cohort Tenzin Gyatso Science Scholar and scholar of the 2nd Cohort of Research Interns at Northwestern University, as well as Venerable Rinchen Lhamo Gurung from the 7th Cohort of Tenzin Gyatso Science Scholars.

The talk was introduced by Associate Director of ETSI, Dr. Tsetan Dolkar and moderated by ETSI Senior Translator and Assistant Director of SEE Learning, Tsondue Samphel. A full room attended the panel in Ackerman Hall with many more joining via Zoom for the talk titled: Bridging Science and Spirituality: ETSI’s 18-Year Journey. Dr. Arri Eisen kicked things off with a brief history of ETSI and shared some inspiring experiences working with the program:

“As ETSI heads well into its second decade, as someone who’s been honored to be there from the beginning, it is always enlightening and rewarding to take a moment during Tibet Week to look back and forward, to see how many lives the project has changed and in how many ways.” 

As a founding member of ETSI, alongside Professor Geshe Lobsang Tenzin, Dr. Eisen has been integral to the progress and expansion of the program and its many scholars over the years. Eisen has been Director of Emory’s Science and Society program since its inception in 1999, as well as a dedicated mentor to countless students in his role as Professor of Pedagogy.d“Like with any good teaching experience, you learn a lot more from the students than they learn from you. They think that you’re great and wise…but actually, you’re learning everything from them. This was especially true in my case.”

“I especially enjoyed hearing from Rinchen, a nun and current Tenzin Gyatso scholar,” Dr. Eisen said of his student and fellow panelist. “Her humility, insight and intelligence—around science, Buddhism and life in general-- exemplify what I believe the Dalai Lama envisioned could most beautifully come together within and through ETSI, and indeed has.”

- Dr. Arri Eisen, Nat C Robinson Distinguished Teaching Professor in Science & Society and Professor of Pedagogy in Biology, the Institute of Liberal Arts, and the Center for Ethics, Emory University

Rinchen Lhamo Gurung joined the cohort on the heels of rapid expansion of the Compassion Center in the last decade. Her thoughts were an important addition, speaking on behalf of her cohort, her monastery, as well as on the future of the program.

“It was my first-time attending Tibet Week here in Atlanta,” Rinchen Lhamo Gurung said of the panel. “It was a great opportunity for me to participate and share some of my thoughts. I was a little nervous and also happy to share the stage with wonderful people…”

“It was my first time speaking in front of so many people,” Rinchen said. “Enrollment with the program gave me the sense of more responsibility of His Holiness’s vision and I am very grateful to be part of this.”

- Rinchen Lhamo Gurung, 7th Cohort of Tenzin Gyatso Science Scholars, 2023 

ETSI’s 7th Cohort of Tenzin Gyatso Science Scholars represents the latest incarnation of a 14-year effort to initiate, develop and sustain a science education program in the monasteries, an effort centered on furthering the studies of visiting monastics as they grow to become teachers and researchers. ETSI’s Science Research Internship Program at Northwestern provides an opportunity for select monastics to use state of the art technology to advance their studies and put their training into practice in a real lab setting.

After joining the panel, astrophysicist and ETSI Advisory Board member Dr. Chris Impey shared his thoughts:

“The ‘Bridging Science and Spirituality’ panel showed how profoundly the experience of teaching science to monks and nuns has affected the teachers as well as the monastics themselves. In my case, their insatiable curiosity and playfulness helped me look at my subject of cosmology with fresh eyes.”

 - Dr. Christopher D. Impey, Distinguished Professor, Department of Astronomy University of Arizona, and Faculty Leader with ETSI

Another monastic scholar on the panel was Ven. Stanzin Wangdan, a former Tenzin Gyatso Science Scholar himself, who recently completed the two-month Science Research Internship at Northwestern University. Stanzin and three other interns had spent many nights toiling away in the advanced labs at Northwestern, often playing their own research subjects on studies in deep sleep in the fields of neuroscience and psychology.

“Through this program,” Stanzin said, “I realized that significant developments have occurred since the introduction of scientific education in monasteries. I touched upon how the monastic approach toward science has evolved and highlighted some milestones in realizing the vision of H.H. Dalai Lama.”

As new members of the Emory-Tibet Initiative, Rinchen and Stanzin’s dialogue during the panel reflected this year’s theme of “Compassion in Action,” as they join in the mission of bridging science and spirituality. This program in the simple terms aims to create a greater understanding of the world around us.

“Being a part of this program made me more aware of actively and strongly engaging in the process of fulfilling his Holiness’s vision of bridging science and spirituality.”

- Stanzin Wangdan, 4th Cohort of Tenzin Gyatso Science Scholars and 2nd Cohort of Science Research Interns at Northwestern University 2023