Connections between Buddhism and Science, specifically within monastic education is the focus of a new book, The Enlightened Gene, which comes out of the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative.
Arri Eisen, an Emory College professor of pedagogy in biology and the Institute for Liberal Arts, co-wrote the book along with Geshe Yungdrung Konchok, a Buddhist monk in the program.
Back in 2010, the Dalai Lama visited Emory and said that the practical outcome of a partnership program with Emory University is the creation of textbooks on science translated into Tibetan.
The three-day visit to Emory began with a press conference where the Dalai Lama accepted four new English/Tibetan science textbooks that were authored as part of initiative. The project brought together Western science and Tibetan Buddhist intellectual traditions to create new knowledge for the benefit of humanity, according to Emory. Emory faculty worked with Tibetan Buddhist scholars in creating a science curriculum specifically for Tibetan monastics.
Monks learned Western sciences such as biology, physics and neuroscience as part of the project.
The science and religion integration was the brainchild of the Dalai Lama, who wants the monks and nuns of Tibet to become modernized. The coursework with the monks and nuns began in 2008, and for those involved in Emory, the openness to learning science has been refreshing in that religious faith is not seen as an obstacle to science.
The first two cohorts of 77 monks and nuns completed their five years of summer education in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
“When we studied evolution, we learn from a scientific point of view, we all share a common ancestor,” said Geshe Dadul Namgyal, a Tibetan monk who serves as an ETSI translator and interpreter, in a news release. “That is very powerful to us, because it is a scientific concept that goes deep into our belief that all sentient beings are connected.”
The book reveals the community of neuroscientists and monastics connected by their interest in the mind and body, whose points of view can affirm and challenge each other.
For instance, the growing understanding of the “gut microbiome” — the cluster of intestinal microbes thought to help regulate the immune and nervous systems — can also be viewed as an illustration of the spiritual concept of coexisting, sentient life, according to the announcement on the book.