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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

First-ever public meeting of Mind and Life Dialogue opens in India

November 23, 2010

23 November 2010

New Delhi: The Mind and Life Dialogues that began in 1987 as a joint quest between scientists, philosophers and contemplative practitioners to understand the human mind and the benefits of contemplative practices is holding its first public meeting in Asia.   

Previous Mind and Life dialogues have predominantly explored the benefits of Buddhist-based contemplative practices. This 22nd edition of dialogue now being held at India Habitat Center in New Delhi from 20 - 23 November is the outcome of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s wish to hold Mind and Life Dialogue in Asia particularly India where a rich array of philosophical and contemplative traditions have originated and developed since ancient times.

The dialogue in New Delhi seeks to broaden the contemplative science research by examining practices from the Indian philosophical and cultural heritage including Vendanta, Jain and Yoga.

Dr Vijaylakshmi Ravindranath, chairman of the Center for Neuroscience of the Indian Institute of Sciences (Bangalore) and founder-director of the National Brain Research Center, said holding such dialogues for the first time India, a land rich in contemplative science tradition would help neuroscientists find answers to critical questions in understanding the brain. Addressing His Holiness, she said Indian scientists are already showing enormous interests in the dialogue asking for workshops.

In his presentation during the first session of the Mind and Life dialogue, His Holiness the Dalai Lama dismissed the notion that science is a killer of religion adding Indian philosophical traditions including the Nalanda tradition of Buddhism emphasise the importance of investigation and reasoning in understanding the nature of reality. Such an approach like modern science requires one to be skeptical and adopt investigation to gain awareness or understanding of what benefits human beings in the long-term perspectives. “There’s no concept of right or wrong,” he said, “Investigate the reality and there’s no danger to religion.”

The purpose of Mind and Life Dialogue, according to His Holiness, is to simply expand knowledge not only on external matters but also internal matters such as mind. The knowledge gained through this approach will be used not only for individual benefit but for the well-being of the whole humanity. Sometimes remarkable scientific and technological knowledge, His Holiness said, are used for destructive purposes like nuclear weapons; when used for constructive purposes, it could promote a sense of individual well-being as well as concern for others. Religious methods alone cannot bring a compassionate and peaceful world.

In the first session, Swami Atmapriyananda, the vice-chancellor of Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda University who is also a physicist and a contemplative practitioner of Advaita Vendata tradition and Thupten Jinpa, the principal English translator to His Holiness and a Tibetan Buddhist scholar provided an overview of the philosophical perspectives from Hinduism and Buddhism. In their presentations, Swamiji and Mr Jinpa discussed the ways their traditions articulated the wider understanding of reality that is the context for contemplative practices. They emphasised similarities and differences in addressing such questions as the nature of the mind and body, and techniques to achieve personal transformation. Mr Jinpa said the primary sources of Tibetan Buddhism are the texts authored by Nalanda masters like Nagarjuna, Dhignath, Dharmakirti, Asanga, Vasobandhu, Shantideva, etc.

Dr Richard Davidson, Director of Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at University of Wisconsin-Madison, in his presentation of scientific findings on the nature of contemplative practices reported benefits of compassion on brain for long-term practitioners including increase in mindfulness and attention. He said anxiety at anticipation of pain or suffering intensified in novice practitioners compared to expert practitioners. In his study of Attentional Blink Task, dramatic changes were cited among subjects who underwent three months training in meditation practices.

The third session on 22 November focussed on the understanding Vedanta practice and its intersection with science with Swami Atmapriyananda making his presentation on the nature of the Advaita Vedanta practitioner. He discussed the number of stages of purification process that leads dehypnotising the mind from false realities leading to ananda or pure bliss.

Commenting on Swamiji’s presentation on the ‘small self’ or ego merging into the ‘greater self’ as if understood in Vedanta tradition, His Holiness said the act of merging itself in a way indicates the deconstruction of the self. He drew the same analogy with the Christian practice of total submission of oneself to the creator or God. Another more secular way, he said, is to reduce self-centered arrogance. He said the methods are different in different traditions but the effect is same.

His Holiness then discussed some cases of Tibetan practitioners who were clinically declared dead but their body remained fresh for 2-3 weeks indicating the existence of a subtler form of consciousness long after heart beating and blood circulation had stopped functioning. Three such cases were reported recently in south India where large Tibetan monasteries are located.  

Dr Singer said science have yet to find answers for such phenomena although they do occur.

His Holiness said until now science has focussed more attention on understanding the external things or outer realities in contrast to eastern traditions which have been around for centuries studying and investigating internal things. He said there needs to be a closer co-ordination among scientists and contemplative practitioners so science will become more complete by carrying out more research work on internal phenomena.

Dr Matthieu Ricard, Buddhist practitioner and the French interpreter to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, said the dehypnotising process explained by Swamiji was similar to Buddhist practice of undiluting a mind filled with distorted perceptions; the act of deconstructing misconceptional reality leading to pure awareness.    

In session four of the Mind and Life Dialogue, His Holiness discussed the central practices in yoga and Jain traditions with Muni Mahendra Kumar, a multi-linguist versatile Jain scholar in physics, Mathematics, bioscience, philosophy, psychology, parapsychology, ancient history, and meditation and Dr Shirley Telles, director of research at Patanjali Yogpeeth in Haridwarand head of Indian Council of Medical Research Center for Advanced Research in Yoga and Neurophysiology at Bangalore.

In addition to explaining the contemplative practices in Jainism, Muni Mahendra Kumar presented some empirical evidences of the overall benefits of emotional, mental and physical developments through Preksha (science of living) meditation carried out in over 10,000 schools in India. He called for a global education system where education is not only focussed on providing livelihood and career but also on how to live a life, a social life, as a human being. He said reversal of coronary heart diseases among 20,000 patients were also reported. There were cases where immunity to cancer, AIDS, and drug addiction increased. Studies are also being carried out in areas such as juvenile delinquency. There are also efforts to bring non-violent socio-economic changes in Naxalite-hit areas of Jharkhand where efforts are on to bring non-violence training to poor people. Muni Mahendra Kumar emphasised the need for a systematic research design to help Indian scientists in implementing contemplative practices in everyday life.

Dr Telles speaking on the physiology of meditation presented some findings from a series of studies carried out in the last 17 years to examine the application of yoga in clinical contexts for mental and physical health. Using five meditation traditions - four from yoga and one from Vipassana - the study found all five reduced signs of arousals in body such as blood pressure, reduced heart rate and metabolism. She also discussed the effects of meditation on attention and memory using the Dhyana and Dharana meditative states as practiced in the Patanjali Yoga Sutra. Studies were also carried out among schizophrenic patients using the Dharana meditation in understanding distorted perceptions.

In his presentation on expansion and contraction approaches in Vedanta contemplative practice, clinical scientist HR Nagendra explained the Samadhi, that level of consciousness when the meditator, the meditated, and the process of meditation merge together and become one.

His Holiness commenting on Dr Nagendra’s presentation referred to descriptions of the nine stages of mental development in Samadhi process in Buddhist meditation manuals.

Dr Rajesh Kasturirangan, associate professor at National Institute of Advanced Studies (Bangalore) who completed his doctorate in cognitive science at MIT in his comments suggested the integration of both philosophical and theoretical knowledge base of eastern and western traditions to explore grounds for unity. He said there could be avenues for the emergence of a new discipline of what he called “science of human nature” or study of well-being. Dr Kasturirangan said benefits of well-being can be applied to many pressing contemporary issues such as education and climate change. This could be achieved by culling together best of theoretical ideas with latest advanced scientific developments. Citing Bertrand Russell’s quote on the incompatibility of Plato and Mathematics, he said it is possible for Nagarjuna and Neuroscience to be compatible.
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