The Dalai Lama gave his lecture, “Secular Ethics 101,” during a visit to Emory University as part of his partnership with the school. In his latest book, “Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World,” the exiled Tibetan leader writes of too much attention focused on material things while neglecting moral ethics and values.
The Dalai Lama said religions can play a role in addressing the moral crisis but religions are not as universally accepted as schools.
“We have to think seriously, deeply, how to change these negative states of mind,” he told a crowd of several hundred gathered in a campus auditorium. “Ultimately, the educational institution has the important work to do, to introduce new ways to approach education in a more complete way.”
He added schools have the responsibility to “take care of both the brain and the heart.” Among key universal values that schools can instill are compassion, patience, honesty, self-discipline and generosity.
“If you look more realistically and holistically, the differences between us do not matter. God created us,” he said. “We must appreciate that. We must respect that.”
The Dalai Lama, who resides in India, holds the title of presidential distinguished professor and has visited the campus five other times. The Emory-Tibet Partnership began in the 1990s after a Buddhist monastery was established near campus.
During a private luncheon, the Dalai Lama also received an update on the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative, an ongoing partnership focused on incorporating modern science into the monastic education of Tibetan monks and nuns. Each summer, Emory science faculty travel to India to offer intensive course work as part of a broad effort to establish a science curriculum for all Tibetan Buddhist monastaries.
“Through this process we will have the monks and nuns who will be deeply immersed in their own spiritual training but also be prepared to fully collaborate with modern science,” said Lobsang Tenzin Negi, director of the Emory Tibet Partnership.
The science project, launched in 2007 at the Dalai Lama’s request, has reached several key milestones in recent months. Last spring, a group of six monks completed an intensive three-year program at Emory focused on science instruction. Those monks have returned to India where they will be leading efforts to teach science at three major monastic universities.
So far, 91 monks and nuns studying at the three universities have participated in the science program, which has expanded to a six-year course of study.
“Our goal is to facilitate such a very meaningful close collaboration between the monastics and the Western scientists, where they can lead our knowledge to new heights, clearly when it comes to understanding the human condition,” Tenzin Negi said.
Project leaders are also nearing completion on efforts to write and translate several science textbooks to be used at those universities beginning next year. In addition, the group of monks that recently completed studies at Emory has written a group of introductory texts that will introduce major scientific concepts to their fellow monks and nuns during their first year of study.
“The goal of this project is that one day we leave,” said Arri Eisen, an Emory professor of pedagogy who has been involved in the project since it began. “They are already helping to teach science in the monasteries.”
Eisen added he’s also been learning more about himself through the process.
“The monks are not here to become scientists, but to learn how science can make them better,” Eisen said. “In this country, science and religion are often portrayed as in conflict with each other, and that’s always bothered me. You realize it’s not a conflict. It’s part of your story, how does it fit or doesn’t fit into your story.”
Sonam Choephel, a 35-year-old born in Tibet, is among the second group of monks to travel to Emory University for two years of intensive science education. He said his dream is to eventually translate science books into the Tibetan language so others can learn.
“One of my goals, the biggest one is to learn some science here and go back to my monastery and help them learn about science,” he said.