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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."

Monks enter the modern age

January 5, 2011

* Dorie Turner, Atlanta

* From:The Advertiser Adelaide Now

* January 01, 2011 1:13am

Some of the newest students at Emory University's student body may act
like typical college kids but there's a key difference: They're Tibetan
monks sent by the Dalai Lama to the United States to learn science.

Wearing the traditional crimson robes and closely shorn heads of Tibetan
monastics, the six men - most in their 30s - are taking physics, biology
and chemistry classes with hopes of returning to Tibetan monasteries in
India to teach science to other monks and nuns.

It's the first established program for Tibetan monks from India to train
at a Western university, said Geshe Lhakdor, director of the Library of
Tibetan Works and Archives in India.

"They are pioneers," he said in a recent interview while visiting Atlanta.

The program is the newest evolution of the Emory-Tibet Science
Initiative, which is helping the Dalai Lama with his goal of training
monastics for the 21st century. Monks and nuns are masters of the mind
through the practice of ancient traditions but they must also master
modern concepts of science and technology, the exiled Tibetan spiritual
leader said in a recent visit to Emory University.

"The monastic institution is traditionally the learning center, so we
must put science in this institution," the Dalai Lama said.

"Even Buddha himself said 'All my followers shouldn't accept my
teachings out of faith, but out of constant investigation'."

For the monks, the year spent at Emory in Atlanta means long hours
sitting in classes conducted in a language they struggle with and terms
they've never studied before.

Try explaining the concept of photosynthesis - a process where plants
turn carbon dioxide into oxygen with the help of sunlight - to someone
who has never even heard of a chemical compound.

"My mother wasn't happy about my coming here," said Ngawang Norbu, 36,
who is from Bylakuppe, the largest Tibetan settlement in India. "But
when I told her it was part of His Holiness's vision, she was very
happy. I'm taking a small step toward fulfilling his wishes."

Each morning the monks wake up early to meditate in their bedrooms
before heading to classes, meetings with professors or English tutoring
sessions. They cook meals at their off-campus apartment to save money
and shop together at Indian food markets and the dollar store.

In their free time, the monks pore over their lessons, revise homework,
watch science teachings in English on YouTube and play sports with Emory
classmates. Some of the monks listen to the Dalai Lama's teachings on
mp3 players on the way to class or watch videos of the spiritual leader

Dylan Kady, 18, an Emory freshman from Holland, Pennsylvania, invited
the monks to play tennis a few times during the semester and took a
freshman seminar class with two of them.

"I asked if they had shorts and shirts to wear," said Kady, who is on
the Emory tennis team. "The only time they would take their robes off
was on the tennis court. They would wear them on to the court and then
take them off, play in shorts and shirts, and then put their robes right
back on."

The monks use Facebook as a way to connect with classmates at Emory and
keep up with their fellow monks and nuns back home. Some of the monks
had to take a crash course in using a computer when they got to campus
because they don't have much access to technology at the monasteries.

"In the monastery, we don't use the Internet that much," said monk Kunjo
Baiji, 30, adding that the connection is slow and undependable in India.

The Emory-Tibet Partnership hopes to bring a handful of monks and nuns
to campus each year to take science classes. The relationship between
Emory and Tibet began in 1991 when former Tibetan monk Geshe Lobsang
Negi moved to Atlanta with the blessing of the Dalai Lama to establish
the Drepung Loseling Institute, a Buddhist monastery and learning center
near campus. Slowly a partnership began to evolve and, in 1998, the
university formally launched the Emory-Tibet Partnership.

Three years ago, Emory professors published a general science textbook
translated into Tibetan.

They travel each year to Dharamsala, India, home of the Dalai Lama's
headquarters, to teach science to monks and nuns.

And dozens of Emory students go to Dharamsala annually to study at the
Institute of Buddhist Dialectics, where the Dalai Lama is the founder
and a top teacher.

"I'm constantly amazed it's got as far as it has," said Arri Eisen, an
Emory professor who teaches in Dharamsala each year and has monks in his
biology classes in Atlanta. "A lot of it is the sheer energy or power of
His Holiness."

The close ties with Emory led the Dalai Lama to accept a five-year
appointment as a distinguished professor at the private university in
2007 - with regular visits to campus to give lectures and work with
faculty and students.
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