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Lions Roar : March 2012
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2012 56 Adam Engle, a financial planner, entrepreneur, and Buddhist practitioner, heard a rumor in 1983 that His Holiness the Dalai Lama was interested in meeting with Western scientists. Intrigued, he decided to see whether he could make it happen and began inquiring through channels in the Buddhist community. Earlier that year, Francisco Varela, a renowned neuroscientist deeply versed in Buddhist philosophy and meditation, had met the Dalai Lama at a conference in Austria. They’d discussed the parallels between Buddhist psychology and what neuroscience research was discovering about the nature of the mind. When Varela learned of Engle’s efforts, he called and suggested they work together to create a forum where the Dalai Lama could exchange ideas with leading scientists. What came to be known as the Mind and Life dialogues, now in their twenty-fifth year, have been the most important catalyst for the growing collabo- ration between scientists and contemplatives. The first dialogue was held on October of 1987 at the Dalai Lama’s residence in Dharamsala, a remote village in the Indian Himalayas that is home to the Tibetan government-in-exile. Varela had invited fellow cognitive scientists with an interest in Buddhism, and according to B. Alan Wallace, a frequent inter- preter for the Dalai Lama who has himself written extensively on Buddhism and science, His Holiness was intrigued by the scien- tists’ presentations. “He didn’t have an agenda,” says Wallace. The Dalai Lama listened carefully, asked good questions, and shared his own Buddhist perspective when asked. He was open to hearing what the scientists had to share, and the dialogue was meaningful for those present. “It was a meeting of minds,” Wallace says. The meeting was small, private, and intimate. Varela wanted to create an atmosphere in which participants would feel safe to exchange ideas freely. “The idea was that the participants could be bold and daring,” says Wallace, “without having the demand for orthodoxy placed upon them by their scientific backgrounds and without the worry of peer review.” Newcomb Greenleaf, a mathematician then teaching in the computer science department at Columbia University and now a professor at Goddard College, made a presentation to the Dalai Lama about artificial intelligence, which led to an interesting exchange about the future of robotics and its possible relation- ship to reincarnation. Greenleaf had been involved in previ- ous meetings between Buddhists and scientists at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado, but found them frustrating. “There seemed to be a great gulf of understanding between the scientists and the Buddhists at those meetings,” says Greenleaf. The talks would break down, he says, with each side unwilling to budge in its views. After attending the meeting in Dharamsala, he saw hope for fruitful collaboration. Participants in the third Mind and Life dialogue, Dharamsala, India, 1990 (front row, left to right): interpreter Geshe Thupten Jinpa, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Daniel Brown, Sharon Salzberg, scientific coordinator Daniel Goleman, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Adam Engle, Lee Yearley, Francisco Varela, Clifford Saron, and interpreter B. Alan Wallace. PHOTOSCOURTESYOFMINDANDLIFEINSTITUTE