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Buddhists and Scientists Discuss Neuroplasticity in Dharamsala

International Campaign for Tibet, October 19, 2004

Dharmasala, 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.

It 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 sophistication.

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 environment.?

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."

Mind 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.?



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