Buddhists and Scientists Discuss Neuroplasticity
International Campaign for Tibet, October 19, 2004
India -- The 12th conference on Mind and Life, an ongoing dialogue between scientists
and Buddhist scholars, began in Dharamsala on October 18, 2004 with participation
by the Dalai Lama. The topic of this conference is Neuroplasticity: The Neuronal
Substrates of Learning and Transformation.
The first Mind and Life Conference
was held in Dharamsala from October 23-29, 1987 and was called Dialogues between
Buddhism & the Cognitive Sciences. Since then subsequent meetings have touched
upon subjects from Dialogues between Buddhism & the Neurosciences (1989 conference),
to Epistemological Questions in Quantum Physics and Eastern Contemplative Sciences
(1998), to Transformations of Mind, Brain & Emotion (2001).
The Dalai Lama
has always shown a strong mechanical aptitude and a keen personal interest in
the sciences. The Mind & Life Institute gives a background to the conference
saying that over the years the Dalai Lama "has enjoyed relationships with
many scientists, including long friendships with the late renowned philosopher
of science Sir Karl Popper, and physicists Carl von Weizsäcker and the late
David Bohm. He has participated in many conferences on science and spirituality.
was at one such conference, the Alpbach Symposia on Consciousness in 1983, that
His Holiness met Dr. Francisco Varela who, in partnership with Adam Engle, later
created the unique form of in-depth dialogue between Buddhism and science that
has grown into the Mind and Life Institute. Since the first Mind and Life meeting
in 1987, His Holiness has regularly dedicated a full week of his busy schedule
to these biennial meetings." The Dharamsala meeting will be from October
18 to 22, 2004.
The Dalai Lama has been encouraging Buddhist practitioners
to blend their spiritual knowledge with modern scientific knowledge. Mind and
Life Institute says, "Along with his vigorous interest in learning about
the newest developments in science, His Holiness brings to bear both a voice for
the humanistic implications of the findings, and a high degree of intuitive methodological
As well as engaging personally in dialogue with Western scientists
and promoting scientific research into Buddhist meditative practices, he has led
a campaign to introduce basic science education in Tibetan Buddhist monastic colleges
and academic centers, and has encouraged Tibetan scholars to engage with science
as a way of revitalizing the Tibetan philosophical tradition. His Holiness believes
that science and Buddhism share a common objective: to serve humanity and create
a better understanding of the world. He feels that science offers powerful tools
for understanding the interconnectedness of all life, and that such understanding
provides an essential rationale for ethical behavior and the protection of the
Similarly, he has urged scientists to look into the inner
mind even as they study the material world. At the 11th Mind and Life Conference
at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States in 2003, the
Dalai Lama said, "If we don't pay enough attention to the inner world, all
these new technologies will be used to negative effect ... You scientists have
emotions. If you try to balance your mind, your science will be more meaningful."
and Life Institute says, "This ground-breaking meeting was inspired by a
shared interest in opening a dialogue between Buddhist thought and cognitive science
to mutually inform and enrich these two distinct modes of exploring mind and life.
It established a general forum for a continuing exchange between Western science
and Tibetan Buddhism that has continued for over a decade and moved into more
specialized areas of exploration."