His Holiness the Dalai Lama welcomed a delegation of noted academics, scientists, and Buddhist scholars to his official residence in Dharamsala on 12 October for an anniversary dialogue with the Mind & Life Institute. Co-organized by the Mind & Life Institute, Mind & Life Europe, and the Dalai Lama Trust, India, this meeting of minds and traditions of enquiry was focused on the theme “Interdependence, Ethics and Social Networks.”
About 180 people attended the gathering, 101 of whom were members or friends of the Mind & Life Institute, along with around 80 Tibetan monastics who have participated in science programs at Emory University, students of science from Men-tsee-khang (also known as Tibetan Medical and Astro Institute) and the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, as well as lamas and abbots from great monasteries in India.
“Good to see you again! On behalf of all of your Mind & Life friends, we are really happy to be here,” Mind & Life Institute president Susan Bauer-Wu said in her welcome address to the Dalai Lama on the first day of the gathering. “It has been three years since we’ve seen you in person because of the COVID pandemic, and this makes it extra special. It’s really good to see you looking so well. And what else makes it special is this is a collaboration between Mind & Life Institute and Mind & Life Europe together. And the other thing I want to note is that exactly 35 years ago, in October of 1987, was the first Mind & Life dialogue. And here was are seeing you in good health 35 years later. So we’re so happy to be back. Thank you.” (YouTube)
His Holiness offered a warm response, his opening words emphasizing the foundational importance of peace, compassion, interdependence, and education upon which the dialogues have been conducted.
“We’ve held a lot of Mind & Life dialogues,” His Holiness replied. “And I feel they’ve been really important. In the world at large, a great deal of attention has been paid to understanding the physical world, the material world. But when it comes to exploring the nature of mind and what is inside our mind, there seems to be much less attention. And yet, when we talk about the human experience of happiness and suffering, we are actually talking about inner, mental experiences. Therefore, given the importance of the role of mind in our experience, irrespective of the fantastic material facilities we may have around us, if there is no peace of mind, no settledness within, we won’t be happy.
“Many of the conflicts we see in the world are about physical things, material resources, and power. Therefore, we need to look at what went on in the past and learn from it so that we can construct a future based on peace, happiness, and togetherness.
“The root of peace of mind is compassion. As soon as most of us are born, our mothers take care of us and give us our first lessons in compassion. Without this we would not survive. This is how our life begins. As children we grow up in an atmosphere of compassion. We unhesitatingly play with our neighbors’ children. When I was small, I played with Muslim and Chinese children from nearby without giving it another thought. We all smiled and readily played together. The key factor to such good relations is warmheartedness.
“It seems to me we neglect something in our education. Experience shows us that the more compassionate we are, the more we achieve inner peace and with it inner strength. Although in our lives we depend on so many other people, there’s little place for such human values in modern education.” (YouTube, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet)
Over the next two days, the dialogue explored a multitude of areas of scientific research that overlap with Buddhist wisdom and understanding of the mind. Topics included how culture is transmitted over generations and defines how humans thrive and survive as a species; the far-reaching and expansive significance of human compassion and shared identity; and history, tradition, and storytelling as ways to understand contemplative wisdom and modern cognitive science.
Discussions also centered on understanding the brain, the mind, and human cognition; intersubjectivity in human interactions and its relationship with interdependence; as well as some of the ethical and social considerations behind artificial intelligence.
“The brain is part of our body, and consciousness depends on the brain but is still separate from it. Consciousness and the body are two different things,” the Dalai Lama explained on the second day of the dialogue. “We experience peace on a mental level and by comparison physical comfort is not that important. In the modern world we have neglected to explore how to find peace of mind.
“We have five sense organs that give rise to sensory consciousness, but we also have mental consciousness. Meditation, for example, is a function of mental consciousness—and it’s worth learning about.
“When we seek the source of consciousness, we find that it is a continuity. As I said before, today’s consciousness is a continuation of yesterday’s consciousness. Recognizing that continuity prompts questions about previous lives since there are young children who have clear memories of them.
“The idea that the mind, consciousness, is a continuity also contributes to a sense that we can cultivate the mind’s qualities. At the same time, the mind is not a monolithic thing. There are levels of consciousness of varying subtlety. Vajrayana literature describes these levels in detail as well as the way coarse levels of consciousness dissolve into subtler levels. . . .
“Practitioners of meditation familiarize themselves with the dissolution of different states of consciousness at the time of death, which enables them to recognize without effort when the innate clear light, the subtlest level of consciousness, manifests.” (His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet)
As the two-day gathering concluded, His Holiness expressed his happiness at the sense of joy, connection, and friendship the dialogue and sharing of minds had generated.
“Our friendship hasn’t come about as a result of one or two meetings. We’ve been friends for a long time. We share a genuine friendship based on trust,” The Dalai Lama observed. “I became a refugee here in India. I lost my country. But then I met people from so many other places and felt happy to be part of this world. I also want you to know that for the Tibetans in Tibet, friends of the Dalai Lama are friends of Tibet. In my homeland there is a deep appreciation of our good relations—and in the end we believe truth will prevail.” (His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet)
Based in Charlottesville, Virginia, the Mind & Life Institute was formed following a 1987 meeting between the Dalai Lama, lawyer and entrepreneur Adam Engle, and neuroscientist Francisco Varela, with the aim of bridging the divide between the empirical, materialist approach of modern science in investigating the nature of reality and improving the lives of human beings and the planet, and the advantages and insights offered by ancient contemplative and wisdom practices refined over centuries. Its mission, the institute states, is to “bring science and contemplative wisdom together to better understand the mind and create positive change in the world . . . to alleviate suffering and promote human flourishing worldwide as part of the vision of founders His Holiness the Dalai Lama, neuroscientist Francisco Varela, and businessman Adam Engle.” (Mind & Life Institute)
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet
Mind & Life Institute
Mind and Life Europe
Meeting with Mind & Life – Interdependence, Ethics and Social Networks – Day One (His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet)
Meeting with Mind & Life – Interdependence, Ethics and Social Networks – Day Two (His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet)
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