His Holiness the Dalai Lama: First Day of Mind & Life XXX
Dicembre 17th, 2015 by admin

First Day of Mind & Life XXX, Perceptions, Concepts and Self

Bylakuppe, Karnataka, India, 14 December 2015 – When His Holiness the Dalai Lama entered the Sera Lachi Temple again this morning, he found chairs arranged for the Mind & Life presenters and other members of the Institute in the centre. Surrounding them were Senior Lamas, some of whom he greeted as he came through, many hundreds of other monks and nuns and interested lay people. Considerable efforts had been made to cater to both English and Tibetan speakers, with provision of readily visible screens displaying presenters’ materials in the two languages and simultaneous translation via FM radio. His Holiness warmly greeted several old friends before taking his seat.

Roshi Joan Halifax moderating the first session expressed deep thanks for the invitation to Sera Monastery for Mind & Life’s 30th dialogue between modern science and Buddhist science. She said it was an appropriate gathering immediately following the COP 21 climate change conference in Paris which has confirmed the need to seek a more sustainable future. She acknowledged the influence of Francisco Varela, one of the pioneers of the Mind & Life meetings.

Mind & Life Institute President Susan Bauer-Wu speaking at the start of the Mind & Life XXX conference at Sera Monastery in Bylakuppe, Karnataka, India on December 14, 2015. Photo/Tenzin Choejor/OHHDL

Susan Bauer-Wu, the new President of the Mind & Life Institute spoke next of the partnership of Buddhist science with modern science working together to relieve suffering. She said it was amazing to be meeting in this great monastery and that it was beautiful to be surrounded by so many clad in the robes of monks and nuns. She mentioned that five years ago she had been part of the Emory Science Initiative teaching Sera monks in Dharamsala. She thanked co-sponsors the Dalai Lama Trust and its Secretary Jampel Lhundrup for bringing the idea of the meeting to fruition.

Joan Halifax introduced the first two presenters, Richie Davidson and Jay Garfield who would discuss the main theme of this conference, perception, concepts and what we designate as self. But before they spoke she invited His Holiness to open the session.

“Since many of you monks are new to this, let me tell you about how the Mind & Life Institute came about and evolved,” he began. “30 years ago I had a wish to have in-depth discussions with scientists. I’d been interested in science since I was a child in Tibet. I thought it would be good if I were able to meet with scientists in person. And when I did, I was struck by how unbiased they were. Our subsequent discussions were mutually beneficial. I discovered that those of us who come from the Nalanda tradition were able to learn from them about matter and the material world, but that they too could learn from us about the mind.
“I realised that not only could modern scientists and Buddhist scientists profitably work together, but that it would be good to introduce the study of science into our monasteries. This we have done and science is now a part of the final exams.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama delivering his opening remarks at the start of the first session of the Mind & Life XXX conference at Sera Monastery in Bylakuppe, Karnataka, India on December 14, 2015. Photo/Tenzin Choejor/OHHDL

“Two years ago we held a Mind & Life meeting at Drepung Monastery and one of the questions that arose then was whether Buddhist logic and debate could be applied to other topics. Since then its use has grown in Tibetan schools and across the Himalayan region. It is used to examine and explore science without any religious connotation. Nevertheless, we are looking for ways to help the 7 billion human beings in the world.
“Most of our problems are self-created. We will not solve them by simply praying. Since we made them, we have a responsibility to find solutions ourselves. What we lack is a sense of ethics, of a place for human values in our affairs that will benefit everyone. Ancient Indian knowledge of the workings of the mind and emotions is available in Tibetan as a result of the great effort to translate Buddhist literature in the past.
“This is our 30th meeting and although some of us here today may not see the 40th, I am confident the momentum of these meetings will go on into the later 21st century without us. None of us wants pain, we all seek happiness. We are all the same as human beings. We grow up in an atmosphere of affection and compassion. It’s because our basic nature is compassionate that we have something to build on. As children we don’t discriminate between each other on the basis of secondary differences. This is a habit that develops as we grow up. Right now there are people killing each other in other parts of the world apparently in the name of religion. It’s very sad. Therefore, it’s urgent that we find human solutions to our human problems.”
Richie Davidson thanked His Holiness for what he’d just said, but also for having been an inspiration to a whole generation of scientists. He cited developments in science that have followed from the Mind & Life meetings, such as knowledge of the plasticity of the brain and genome. He said that there is also an important connection between behavioural science and Buddhist science.

Richie Davidson speaking about perception, concepts and self from the point of view of western science and philosophy during the first presentation of the Mind & Life XXX conference at Sera Monastery in Bylakuppe, Karnataka, India on December 14, 2015. Photo/Tenzin Choejor/OHHDL

Opening the presentations, Richie Davidson and Jay Garfield spoke about Perception, Concepts and Self from the point of view of Western Science and Philosophy. They introduced key questions from the study of perception, concepts and self: the constructive nature of cognition, the possibility and possible nature of preconceptual cognition and different concepts of self. They mentioned the idea of top down perception where the brain predominates and bottom up where sensory input, such as from the eye or ear, predominates. His Holiness remarked that one of the difficulties of analyzing the constituent parts of perception is that it takes place so fast.
Talking about self, Jay Garfield clarified the peculiarly human idea of a narrative self, the story we tell ourselves about who we are. The audience was moved and amused by a short video of an experiment to test an elephant’s sense of self. It showed an elephant that had a large X marked on its face and its response to its image in a large mirror. It sought to touch the mark with its trunk, revealing a clear sense that the image in the mirror was of its own face not another elephant.
Thupten Jinpa opened the second presentation paying his respects to His Holiness and the several other Senior Lamas, such as the Ganden Throneholder, present. Speaking about theories of perception in Buddhist epistemology under the title, ‘Does our Perception Mirror Reality?’ he mentioned the historical background. Examination of Buddhist epistemology dates back the Abhidharma period 3rd-1st century BCE, but really comes into its own with the work of Dignaga (5th century CE) who was a disciple of Vasubhandu. His disciple Dharmakirti (7th century) composed seven definitive works on the subject.

Thupten Jinpa explaining his presentation on theories of perception in Buddhist epistemology to His Holiness the Dalai Lama during the Mind & Life XXX conference at Sera Monastery in Bylakuppe, Karnataka, India on December 14, 2015. Photo/Tenzin Choejor/OHHDL

Jinpa explained that Dignaga defined perception as arising from a convergence of object, sense faculty and awareness and in terms of an absence of conceptuality such as associating names and kinds with the object. Dharmakirti developed on this and defined perception as ‘cognition free of conceptuality and undistorted’. Both of them considered perception as relating to unique particulars that constitute the real world, while conceptual cognition relates to general characteristics that are constructs of our own thought. He went on to outline three phases of the development of epistemology in Tibet: that starting with Ngok Loden Sherab, a second phase in which Sakya Pandita looked back to Dharmakirti and third and final phase involving the Geluk School and the works of Gyaltsab-je and Khedrup-je.
Mind & Life delegates and Abbots had lunch with His Holiness.
The meeting resumed in the afternoon with Pawan Sinha describing a project in which both a scientific quest and an urgent humanitarian need have been met. He began by explaining how, in order to investigate perception, scientists are interested to plot how visual awareness develops in the brain. Ideal subjects would be new-born children but they are too young to be of help. Sinha revealed that India is home to the world’s largest population of blind children. Much of this blindness can be avoided or treated.
Ten years ago Project Prakash was established to reach out, locate blind children who could be treated and bring them to Delhi for treatment. Because they had not seen before, children who had been given sight could also be examined to learn about how the brain adapts and learns to see. Sinha showed several moving videos that revealed the joy that sight brought so many of these children.

Some of the over 800 monks and nuns attending the first day of the four day Mind & Life XXX conference at Sera Monastery in Bylakuppe, Karnataka, India on December 14, 2015. Photo/Tenzin Choejor/OHHDL

Giving an example of the scientific value of this work, Sinha explained how he and his students had been able to investigate cross-modal mapping and found an answer to the Molyneux problem. This question was posed in the 17th century when an Irishman called Molyneux’s wife went blind. He was prompted to ask whether a blind person who had learned to distinguish a sphere and a cube by touch, would, on having her sight restored, be able to judge which was which just by looking at them. In other words, could knowledge gained through one sense faculty be transferred to the other without learning from experience? Sinha’s patients have demonstrated that it cannot.
Project Prakash is a prototype of compassionate science. The merging of the scientific quest and humanitarian need, the merging of the interests of the heart and mind, has resulted in bringing self-reliance to many of its patients. Pawan Sinha asked His Holiness how to further enhance compassionate science. He replied:
“In this beautiful project you saw both a scientific opportunity and an opportunity to help these children. This is what compassion is about, bringing help here and now in this life. It’s about trying to build a happier world. Compassion is about bringing enthusiasm to effecting change by relying on common sense, common experience and scientific findings.”

Pawan Sinha giving his presentation describing Project Prakash where both a scientific quest and an urgent humanitarian need are being met during the Mind & Life XXX conference at Sera Monastery in Bylakuppe, Karnataka, India on December 14, 2015. Photo/Tenzin Choejor/OHHDL

When Sinha added that Project Prakash had concluded that a third element was necessary in addition to scientific quest and humanitarian need and that was education, His Holiness agreed saying that it is through education that we will change the world. He told him how moved he’d been by his presentation and compared it to his feeling when he visited Baba Amte’s ashram Anandwan, where he had encouraged the rehabilitation of lepers. His Holiness was very struck by the joy and self-confidence of the members of the community. He had recently been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and he promised them a donation.
“Now,” His Holiness said, “I would like to contribute a donation to your wonderful project too.”
As the Mind & Life session came to an end, participants were invited to come out to the temple veranda to witness Sera monks debating about science on the forecourt. They sat around His Holiness at the top of the steps, watching and listening to the monks discussing in Tibetan the qualities of particles and waves. The interchange was translated into English and broadcast over FM radio. Presentations and discussions will continue tomorrow.–life-xxx-perceptions-concepts-and-self

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