January 23, 2006
monk visit to spark talk of Buddhism, science
mendelson is public relations manager for the Office of international
In November, controversy erupted on the eve of the annual meeting of the Society of Neuroscience in Washington, when hundreds of scientists signed a petition objecting to the scheduled keynote speaker: His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who had come to discuss Tibetan meditation techniques and recent studies that have shown how they may improve brain function and health.
From Feb. 10–15, Emory will have a unique chance to hear the Dalai Lama’s views on these subjects when Geshe Lhakdor, one of his closest assistants, visits as a Distinguished Fellow of the Halle Institute for Global Learning.
Lhakdor is director of the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala, India. He has served as the Dalai Lama’s religious assistant and translator for 15 years and represents His Holiness’ vision and work at various national and international conferences and forums. His visit, co-sponsored by the Emory-Tibet Partnership, includes a Feb. 13 Halle Institute lunch lecture on “His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Views on Science and Spirituality” (call 404-727-7504 by Feb. 8 for an invitation) and a public lecture at the Drepung Loseling Institute from 2–4 p.m., Feb. 11, on “The Art of Forgiveness: Buddhist Meditations for Transforming Anger and Hostility” (visit www.drepung.org for more information).
Possible relationships of science and Buddhism is a topic of particular interest at Emory, whose Emory-Tibet Partnership was inspired by the Dalai Lama’s vision of bringing together the best of the Tibetan wisdom and Western academic traditions. The partnership supports a range of projects, including a study on the impact of Tibetan Buddhist meditation techniques on the mental health of Emory College freshmen, and last year’s conference, “Mind-Body Medicine at the Interface of Mood and Health: Tibetan Buddhist Perspectives on Depression in the Medically Ill.”
“His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been interested in science for many years,” said Geshe Lobsang Negi, chair of the Emory-Tibet Partnership and senior lecturer in the religion department. “Geshe Lhakdor has worked closely with His Holiness for more than 15 years, so he is very familiar with his interest in bringing together the diverse scientific and religious communities. Geshe Lhakdor’s visit to Emory is the closest thing to having His Holiness here himself to speak on this topic.”
Lhakdor was born in Yakra, Western Tibet, in 1956. He left Tibet in 1962 following the Chinese invasion and received his monk ordination in 1964. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from Panjab University, Chandigarh. From 1976–86 he studied philosophy at the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics, a private institute for advanced studies established by the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, receiving first a master of prajnaparamita (perfection of wisdom) degree and then a master’s of madhyamika (middle way philosophy), earning distinction in both. In 1989 he also received his master of philosophy degree from the University of Delhi, and six years later he received his geshe degree (doctor of divinity), the highest degree of learning in Tibetan Buddhism, from the Drepung Loseling Monastic University in South India.
According to Lobsang, Lhakdor’s visit to Emory offers a unique opportunity. “If an intentional mental exercise like meditation can enhance the functions of the brain that are associated with positive health or emotions,” Lobsang said, “that holds enormous potential for humanity.”
Emory’s Helen Mayberg, professor of psychiatry and behavioral science, agreed. Mayberg was an invited speaker at a November conference at Stanford University’s School of Medicine, which hosted a dialogue between neuroscientists and Buddhists and where she discussed her research on the brain and the treatment of depression.
“I found it to be an extremely interesting intellectual exercise,” Mayberg said. “As scientists, we are usually focused on communicating our latest research findings to our peers. In this forum, we had the unique opportunity to meet with experts from a very different perspective, the goal being to identify points of intersection that might lead to new opportunities for future discussions or even collaborative research. These are the kind of dialogues that we, as members of an academic community, should welcome.”