Buddhism's dialogue with science

DHARAMSALA -- Even as the Indian media could not keep its eyes off Hollywood celebrities Goldie Hawn and Richard Gere attending Mind and Life X, the crucial exchange between modern science and Buddhism, concluded at the Dalai Lama's residence in Dharamsala.
Over five days, Nobel laureate physicist Steven Chu, leader of the human genome project Eric Lander, chemist Luigi Luisi, geneticist Ursula Goodenough, physicist Arthur Zajonc and biophysicist Michel Bitbol discussed the nature of matter and life with Buddhist monks led by the Dalai Lama.
Most scientists knew little or nothing about Buddhism, but felt it was important to have a dialogue. Explained Chu, who was jointly awarded the Nobel in 1997 for his work with bio-molecules: ''As scientists, I think our sight often becomes too narrow and we are unable to touch the broader humanistic issues that concern us all. This is what brought me here.'' Agreed Lander: '' Science is posing ethical questions today that need to be answered urgently... For me, this conference is really about posing those questions to Buddhism and looking at the reactions."
Each day began with a scientist's presentation, followed by an afternoon discussion with the Dalai Lama and other monks, including the young Karmapa. The origin of life, the testing of fetuses for genetic abnormalities, and the use of animals in research were among the topics discussed.
While refusing to give absolute answers, the Dalai Lama was willing to examine each case individually. It is the motivation at the core of every choice that makes it ethical or unethical, he said. This gave scientists another point to ponder. As Zajonc said, their research was often supported by companies whose motives might not be pure.
There are two levels of reality, said the Dalai Lama, referring to Buddhism's ordinarily perceived reality and the Ultimate Reality, where the mind stills to such a degree that everything appears in its true nature. Nothing is intrinsically real, he said. Things that appear to be real are so because of our perception, which solidifies them.
Lander had the last word on the conference: ''I have a lot of respect for the thoughtful dialogue that happened. No one was trying to convince the other. They were trying to open perspectives, which can always do with a bit of opening.''