Science, Ethics and Education – First Day
Aprile 3rd, 2015 by admin

Professor Gananath Obeyesekere delivering his presentation at the international conference on Science, Ethics and Education at the University of Delhi in Delhi, India on March 24, 2015. Photo/Tenzin Choejor/OHHDL

Professor Gananath Obeyesekere delivering his presentation at the international conference on Science, Ethics and Education at the University of Delhi in Delhi, India on March 24, 2015. Photo/Tenzin Choejor/OHHDL

Science, Ethics and Education – First Day

Delhi, India, 24 March 2015 – A two day international conference opened today at the University of Delhi. Scholars and teachers with roots in the ancient knowledge traditions of India considered how they might contribute to a fuller more rounded education that includes ethical values in addition to more materialistic aims. The meeting attended by Delhi University students took place in the DS Kothari Centre for Science, Ethics and Education. Prof Meenakshi Thapan, moderator of the first session explained that DS Kothari was an outstanding teacher and a great educationist, who worked relentlessly to achieve a synthesis of science, education and moral values. Amongst his important contributions was the Kothari Commission on Secondary Education. His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who has also articulated a vision to include secular ethics in the common education system, was invited to give the inaugural address.

Elder brothers and sisters, professors, and younger brothers and sisters. Delhi University has organized this meeting on this occasion with some support from Mongolian sources. Everybody knows that science gives us an important method for exploring reality. And coming to an understanding of reality is important if your approach to what you are doing is to be realistic. If it isn’t it’s not likely to succeed.

I’ve been interested in science since I was a child. I was always curious to know how and why things worked. When I was given mechanical and clockwork toys I played with them for a while and then took them to bits to see how they worked.  Some of the time I was able to put them together again.”

His Holiness’s interest in science prompted him, more than 30 years ago, to defy a friend’s advice that ‘Science is the killer of religion’ and engage in dialogue with scientists. This in due course led to the setting up of the Mind & Life Institute, which has co-sponsored this meeting. He explained:
“Many scientists are now interested to know more about the ancient Indian science of mind. To begin with they assumed that the mind was the product of or entirely dependent on the brain, so if the brain stopped the mind stopped. Nowadays however, there are clear findings that mind training can affect the brain.”
His Holiness pointed out that many of the problems we face today relate to an imbalance in the way we develop our brains and hearts. Too often the emphasis is on developing a powerful brain despite the fact that as human beings we have the potential to develop warm-heartedness. Any human being who has experienced a mother’s affection has the potential in turn to show affection to others. Scientists have found that infants shown images of people helping each other or hindering each other clearly show a preference for the helpful. This suggests that it is basic human nature to be generous and helpful. His Holiness suggested that common sense tells us that we can be happy even if we are poor if we are also warm-hearted, whereas being wealthy and self-centred leaves us miserable.
Of the 7 billion human beings alive today, 1 billion declare themselves uninterested in religion. His Holiness asked how they can benefit from notions that inner values, which are often associated with religious ideas, are a real source of human values. He suggests the need to employ a secular approach to ethics, secular in the Indian interpretation of respecting all religious traditions and even the views of non-believers in an unbiased way. Secular ethics rooted in scientific findings, common experience andcommon sense can easily be introduced into the secular education system. If that can be done there is a real prospect, he said, of making this 21st century an era of peace and compassion.
The Pro Vice Chancellor, Professor Sudhish Pachauri, who is a professor of Hindi, gave a brief speech of welcome to His Holiness and the conference delegates in Hindi.
Prof Thapan, moderator of the first session, introduced Professor Gananath Obeyesekere, who, born and brought up in Sri Lanka, eventually became Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Princeton University. He spoke of the dry presentation of Buddhist teachings in abstract intellectual terms that he remembers from his youth. These were in contrast to the experience of going to pilgrimage places where pilgrims and their teachers told stories based on vernacular texts.
He summarized one such story in which a man married a woman who turned out to be barren. When he married another to have children the barren one poisoned her. As she died the poisoned wife swore vengeance and so began a series of births in which the two were cat and hen, tiger and deer, one preying on the other. Eventually at the time of the Buddha one of them had a child while the other was a ‘demoness’. The Buddha put an end to their conflict by asking the mother to let the angry demoness hold the child. When she did so, the resentful demoness broke down and wept. Prof Obeyesekere suggested that story-telling has a powerful role in teaching.
In his response, His Holiness acknowledged the different dispositions found among the Buddha’s followers. He accepted this and taught them accordingly. Because of diversity, humanity benefits from such differences of approach. He reiterated that it is also important to see such differences in the context of all religions sharing the common goal of developing love and compassion. If, instead, we over-emphasise such differences we risk dividing into ‘us’ and ‘them’, with the attendant risks of conflict and violence.
After lunch, which His Holiness, delegates and students ate together in the congenial dining room, session one resumed. Dr Radhika Herzberger, who is Director of the Rishi Valley Education Centre established by Jiddu Krishnamurthy, presented her paper. Echoing Krishnamurthy she asked if knowledge has any place in human transformation. At a time and in a context in which most education theories were based on rationality, he suggested that learning consists not so much of rational ideas but of ideas that are infused with thought-feeling, powerfully influenced by the social environment. She also quoted the neuroscientist Antonio Damazio as saying that learning, attention, memory, decision-making, and social functions are profoundly affected by the processes of emotion. Moderator of the second session, Manabu Honda, a leading Japanese neuroscientist introduced Dr Bataa Mishigish who undertook a monastic education in Ulaanbaatar and continued his academic education in Hawaii and Japan. He examined challenging issues that have appeared in the social relations of Buddhist institutions in Mongolia, where democracy emerged and freedom was restored in 1990. He examined how the public, cultural and educational relations of restored and reinvigorated Buddhist institutions are being worked out in a modern society.
His Holiness remarked that he first visited Mongolia via Moscow in 1979 at a time when there was a little freedom inside Ganden Monastery, but almost none outside it. Since freedom has been restored more widely, modernization has taken place.
“Modernization, however, tends to be about external trappings rather than inner values.” he suggested, “and it’s the inner values that are the most important. Buddhism is part of Mongolia’s national identity, and the proper way to preserve it is not by building temples and statues, but by preserving knowledge of the tradition and putting it into practice.”
Second presenter of the second session was Ha Vinh Tho who shared his experience of implementing a compassion based curriculum in Bhutan and Vietnam. In an attempt to redefine the goals of education four pillars have been mooted:
Learning to learn,
Learning to do,
Learning to be,
Learning to live together.
The last two indicate the importance of children developing social and emotional skills. Recent scientific research has shown that compassion, altruism and loving kindness can be cultivated and trained. Ha Vinh Tho spoke of the heartening experience he has had of this in implementing the Call to Care program that is being developed in conjunction with the Mind & Life Institute and piloted in Israel, Bhutan and Vietnam. Important in this hands-on, practical effort is the three kinds of care – receiving care, which involves gratitude; self care, which involves self-management and extending care, which involves engaging compassion for others.
His Holiness followed the presentation and watched the video clips and said how much he appreciated what is being done. In response to a sceptical remark from the floor, Ha Vinh Tho replied that it is all about educating the next generation.
Tomorrow will see a second day of presentations under the theme Science, Ethics and Education.—first-day

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