Emory Report
February 20, 2006
Volume 58, Number 20


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February 20, 2006
Tibetan monk Lhakdor talks of balancing science, spirituality

by Michael Terrazas

Geshe Lhakdor, one the Dalai Lama’s closest assistants for the last 15 years, spoke to a capacity lunchtime crowd, Feb. 13 in Winship Ballroom, and his central message was one that likely appealed to everyone in the room, from neuroscientist to Buddhist scholar: Science and spirituality represent two of the most vital facets of existence, and each must serve and inform the other to achieve balance.

Visiting campus as a Halle Institute for Global Learning Distinguished Fellow, Lhakdor used his appearance to stress how important scientific research and learning is to the Dalai Lama, both as a human endeavor and in his own personal life.

“Even as a little child, His Holiness had an interest in what makes toys work, not just in playing with them,” Lhakdor said. “It is the fundamental, inborn nature within the minds of all children to explore their reality and [try to] understand it.”

The Dalai Lama’s interest in things scientific gained some notoriety last November when hundreds of scientists attending the Society of Neuroscience’s annual meeting signed a petition protesting his selection as the event’s keynote speaker. The spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism addressed the comparative strengths of Eastern and Western traditions—both spiritual and medical—in building good mental health, and Lhakdor reiterated this connection in his remarks at Emory.

Buddhism and Buddhist meditation techniques have nourished their practitioners’ mental health for centuries, he said, and lately scientific research has provided some empirical data to back up what has long been known in Tibetan monasteries.

Indeed, in his introduction of Lhakdor, Emory College Dean Bobby Paul suggested those monasteries are as akin to institutions of higher learning as they are to religious centers.

“Of all the places in Asia, Tibet became the repository for centuries, even millennia of wisdom from both the Chinese and Indian traditions,” Paul said.

A scholar of Tibetan Buddhism himself, Paul reminded the crowd that the next day—Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day—would be the one-year anniversary of the signing of the Emory-Tibet Partnership, in which the University and the Drepung Loseling Institute in Dharamsala, India, pledged cooperation in an exchange of knowledge and scholars. “[That agreement gives Emory] access to a tradition of thought that is much older than ours,” Paul said.

“It seems you need a monk to celebrate Valentine’s Day,” Lhakdor quipped upon taking the podium.
In praising the partnership, Lhakdor said “an urgency of exchange” exists between science and spirituality (and he stressed that “spirituality” is distinct from “religion”). While science may light the path to truth, it may not provide guidance on how best to walk along that path, he said.

“The purpose is not just to find reality,” Lhakdor said, “but to adopt a way of thinking [that enables one] to live a peaceful, stable, happy life.”