His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama is the leader of Tibetan Buddhism, the head of the Tibetan government-in-exile, and a spiritual leader revered worldwide. He was born on July 6, 1935 in a small village called Taktser in northeastern Tibet. Born to a peasant family, His Holiness was recognized at the age of two, in accordance with Tibetan tradition, as the reincarnation of his predecessor, the XIIIth Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lamas are manifestations of the Buddha of Compassion, who choose to reincarnate for the purpose of serving human beings. Winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1989, he is universally respected as a spokesman for the compassionate and peaceful resolution of human conflict. His Holiness has traveled extensively, speaking on subjects including universal responsibility, love, compassion, and kindness.
The Dalai Lama's Interest in Science
Less well known is his intense personal interest in the sciences. His Holiness has said that if he were not a monk, he would have liked to have been an engineer. As a youth in Lhasa it was he who was called on to fix broken machinery in the Potala Palace, be it a clock or a car. A highlight of his first trip to the west in 1973 was a visit to the astronomy observatory at Cambridge University.
Over the years he has enjoyed connections with many scientists, including long friendships with Sir Karl Raimund Popper, the renowned philosopher of science, and physicists Von Weisacker and David Bohm. He has accepted invitations to participate in many conferences on science and spirituality. It was at one such conference, the Alpbach Symposia on Consciousness in 1983, that His Holiness met Dr. Francisco Varela. Their discussions on brain science and Buddhism continued informally for a few years, and eventually, with the facilitation of Adam Engle, led to more extensive, planned meetings with a formal agenda for a dialogue between Buddhism and science, and the formation of the Mind and Life Institute. Since the first Mind and Life Conference in 1987, His Holiness has regularly dedicated a full week of his busy schedule to the biennial meetings.
An Ongoing Dialogue with Western Science
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 sophistication. As well as engaging personally in dialogue with Western scientists and encouraging 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 environment. His Holiness summarized these ideas in his Nobel prize acceptance speech:
"With the ever growing impact of science on our lives, religion and spirituality have a greater role to play reminding us of our humanity. There is no contradiction between the two. Each gives us valuable insights into the other. Both science and the teachings of the Buddha tell us of the fundamental unity of all things. This understanding is crucial if we are to take positive and decisive action on the pressing global concern with the environment."
A complete biography of His Holiness the Dalai Lama is available on the website of the Tibetan government-in-exile.