Author Topic: Why are Tibetans now embracing modernity?  (Read 7895 times)


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Why are Tibetans now embracing modernity?
« on: July 09, 2012, 01:20:14 PM »
I am reposting this topic here because well it is better off here then in the General Discussion section. It is rather interesting to see this challenge and change instructed by His Holiness... just what exactly is His Holiness trying to achieve in all this? Why is He asking monks and nun to learn about science?  Is it because His Holiness is afraid that the Buddhism/Tibetan culture and heritage will not last if the people do not start learning new modern studies such as Science? Isn't Buddhism science of the mind? Why the sudden urgency in this field of knowledge? Hmmm... What do you think?

Tibetan monks tackle science in the Indian hills

In the Indian hills, Tibetan monks study science in order to tie their culture to the modern world. The move reflects a dramatic change in Tibet, where technology and modernity were often feared and education was limited to monastic schools.

The shouts of more than a dozen Tibetan monks echo through the small classroom. Fingers are pointed. Voices collide. When an important point is made, the men smack their hands together and stomp the floor, their robes billowing around them.

It's the way Tibetan Buddhist scholars have traded ideas for centuries. Among them, the debate-as-shouting match is a discipline and a joy.

But this is something different.

Evolutionary theory is mentioned — loudly. One monk invokes Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. Another shouts about the subatomic nature of neutrinos.

In an educational complex perched on the edge of a small river valley, in a place where the Himalayan foothills descend into the Indian plains, a group of about 65 Tibetan monks and nuns are working with American scientists to tie their ancient culture to the modern world.

"I'd like to go back to my monastery ... to pass on my knowledge to other monks so that they might bring the (scientific) process to others," said Tenzin Choegyal, a 29-year-old monk born in exile in India.

If that seems a modest goal, it reflects an immense change in Tibetan culture, where change has traditionally come at a glacial pace.

Isolated for centuries atop the high Himalayan plateau, and refusing entry to nearly all outsiders, Tibet long saw little of value in modernity.

Education was almost completely limited to monastic schools. Magic and mysticism were — and are — important parts of life to many people. New technologies were something to be feared: Eyeglasses were largely forbidden until well into the 20th century.

No longer. Pushed by the Dalai Lama, a fierce proponent of modern schooling, a series of programs were created in exile to teach scientific education to monks, the traditional core of Tibetan culture.

At the forefront is an intensive summer program, stretched over five years, that brings professors from Emory University in Atlanta. For six days a week, six hours a day, the professors teach everything from basic math to advanced neuroscience.

"The Buddhist religion has a deep concept of the mind that goes back thousands of years," said Larry Young, an Emory psychiatry professor and prominent neuroscientist. "Now they're learning something different about the mind: the mind-body interface, how the brain controls the body."

But why are Tibetans now embracing modernity?

Many of the roots can be traced to 1959, when Chinese soldiers invaded Tibet amid an aborted uprising. The Dalai Lama and thousands of his followers fled across the Himalayas and into India, creating an exile community that now numbers an estimated 150,000 people around the world.

Beijing says Tibet is an integral part of China. And while the Dalai Lama insists he only wants autonomy for his homeland, Beijing disparages him as a quasi-terrorist intent on wresting control away from China.

The Tibetan culture, meanwhile, is increasingly imperiled. Ethnic Han Chinese, encouraged by generous government subsidies, now outnumber Tibetans in much of Tibet. The traditional Tibetan herding culture is dying out as people move to cities. Many young Tibetans now speak a tangle of Chinese and Tibetan.

The shifting cultural landscape has torn at Tibet, sparking violent uprisings every decade or so. In the most recent wave, some three dozen people have burned themselves alive over the past year in ethnic Tibetan areas of China, protesting Beijing's policies.

Amid such tumult, the Dalai Lama — a man raised to live in regal isolation as a near-deity — has instead spent much of his life seeking ways that Tibetans can hold onto their traditions even as they find their way in the modern world.

He has encouraged modern schooling for exile children, and a democratic system to choose the Tibetan political leader (he renounced his political powers in 2011). There are job programs for the armies of unemployed young people.

And, for a few dozen monks and nuns, there is science.

The first group from the Emory program — 26 monks and two nuns — have just finished their five years of summer classes. While they earned no degrees, they are expected to help introduce a science curriculum into the monastic academies, and will take with them Tibetan-language science textbooks the program has developed.

The Dalai Lama realizes that "preservation of the culture will occur through change," said Carol Worthman, a professor of anthropology in Emory's Laboratory for Comparative Human Biology. "You have to change to stay in place."

But change is a complicated thing. Particularly with a culture like this one.

The monks and nuns in the Emory program are "the best and the brightest," Worthman said, brought to the Sarah complex from monasteries and convents across India and Nepal. While most are in their 20s or 30s, some are far older and long ago earned high-level degrees in Buddhist philosophy.

Still, few learned anything but basic math before the Emory program. Because of the way they study — focusing on debates and the memorization of long written passages, but doing comparatively little writing — few are able to take notes during classroom lectures. Many were raised to see magic as an integral part of the world around them.

To watch them in class, though, is astonishing.

No one yawns. No one dozes. Since almost no one takes notes, it's easy to think they're not paying attention.

But then a monk or a nun in a red robe calls out a question about brain chemistry — or cell biology, or logic — that can leave their teachers stunned.

Though most studied only religious subjects after eighth grade, they regularly traverse highly complex concepts: "They really understand how neurocircuits work at a level that's comparable to what we see at a senior (undergraduate) neuroscience classroom in the United States," said Young, the neuroscientist.

For most of the monastics, though, the challenges are not in the academic rigor. They see nothing astonishing about their ability to process vast amounts of information without taking notes, or to remain attentive for hours on end. It is how they have been trained.

For them, the challenges lie in weaving modern science with traditional beliefs.

The science program "was sort of like a culture shock for me," said Choegyal, who is based at a monastery in southern India. While Tibetan Buddhism puts a high value on skepticism, conclusions are reached through philosophical analysis — not through clinical research and reams of scientific data.

So it was difficult, at first, for many of the students. And the questions ranged across science and philosophy: Are bacteria sentient beings? How does science know that brain chemistry affects emotions? Are Tibetan beliefs in mysticism provable through science?

At times, the program can seem incongruous, given the widespread belief in magic. Such beliefs go all the way to the top: The Dalai Lama still consults the official state oracle, a monk who divines the future from a temple complex not far from here.

But after five years, Choegyal says he has managed to hold onto his core beliefs while delving deeply into science.

"Buddhism basically talks about truth, or reality, and science really supports that," he said. Questions that science cannot address, like the belief in reincarnation, he brushes aside as "subtle issues."

Instead, he mostly finds echoes across the two cultures.

He points to karma, the ancient Buddhist belief in a cycle of cause and effect, and how it plays into reincarnation. Then he points to the similarities with evolutionary theory.

"Everything evolves, or it changes," he said, whether in evolution or in reincarnation. "So it's pretty similar, except some sort of reasoning."

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Re: Why are Tibetans now embracing modernity?
« Reply #1 on: July 10, 2012, 06:50:56 AM »
Buddhism is the only religion that has not been proven wrong by science. If anything science has proven Buddhism to be correct.
2600 years ago, Buddha Shakyamuni has already mentioned other worlds and universes and implied that the earth is round. He did not exclaimed, "I discover that the earth is round". He merely assume the truth is the truth and mentioned in passing in the sutras. These facts were not considered a discovery by the Buddha. It is like an intelligent alien race visiting earth or if modern man visit a lost tribe, the truth or "scientific" truth is nothing great to these people. They already know. But to the "blind" and ignorant it is a "discovery". Something great. them.

For Tibetan to "embrace" modernity is to learn (not something greater) another perspective or another view. Modern science approach the world from an empirical point of view. All things needs to be measured and proven.

Heisenberg's "Uncertainty Principle" and other theories of physics especially of quantum mechanics can only be explained if we assume that there is a consciousness involved. That means it points to only one possible conclusion. That the world as it is; is created by us. However, no mainstream scientist are willing to admit this. Only so call "new-age" scientist are willing to make this conclusion.

This is the teaching of Buddhism. That is world is created by our karma.

Also, learning modernity like IT, internet and economics has many advantages. These Tibetan monks can use these knowledge to "improve" their methods to spread Dharma understand the thinking of the modern world and perhaps one day "prove" the Dharma.


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Re: Why are Tibetans now embracing modernity?
« Reply #2 on: July 11, 2012, 06:23:57 PM »
Also, learning modernity like IT, internet and economics has many advantages. These Tibetan monks can use these knowledge to "improve" their methods to spread Dharma understand the thinking of the modern world and perhaps one day "prove" the Dharma.

Monks cannot continue the 'Old Tibet' of sipping butter tea and reciting scriptures and text from Tibetan paper made of bark fiber. They have to move on, equip themselves with knowledge and skills to become great teachers and promoters of Buddhadharma who are suitable for global community.

Speaking of scriptures and IT, I just read that 14 staffs have spent 5 years  (since the year 2007) in a small canon editing office in Sera Monastery in Tibet, devoting themselves to the perseveration of precious and endangered handwritten Buddhist cannons.

This project was funded by Sera Monastery and the Jokhang Monastery, two major Buddhist temples in Lhasa, who co-raised 1.5 million yuan to found the Sera monastic ancient canon editing office. The work done by the staff include repairing the spoiled pages first, getting the dust or dirt away, scaning the pages, print extra copies, and store the scanned images in computer. After editing and proofreading, a modern version of ancient book would be printed and compiled.

The office has so far collected over 3000 valuable religious canons, from various monastic museums including that of Norbu Lingka, Sera Moanstery, Drepung Monastery, Potala Palace, Tibet Library, and Guge in Ngari Prefecture.

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Re: Why are Tibetans now embracing modernity?
« Reply #3 on: July 11, 2012, 08:18:38 PM »
Buddhism is like any other religion. It has its fair share of detractors as well as its believers. It doesn't hold any monopoly unless it finds particular relevance to people today. I think everyone will eventually have to get up-to-date with the latest version of anything. Even the Tibetans will be using or are already using he handphones that we are using right now.

With the advent of information technology, it is the Internet and those who have access to knowledge and better still, the power to shape the news and information that is relevant. Hence, even the monks are studying up on science because information is power and the right sort of information that can make a world of difference. People who have access to the right sort of information and know what to do, can make a world of a difference these days due to the Internet.

I think there's a particular connection between Buddhism and science that will spark a new sort of collaboration that will help the spread and acceptance of Buddhism. I think this healthy collaboration will authenticate Buddhism in the eyes of many skeptical modern spiritual seekers, which I think is the intention of the Dalai Lama.


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Re: Why are Tibetans now embracing modernity?
« Reply #4 on: July 12, 2012, 04:20:19 AM »
Why not? Everyone should not left out in this modern world especially in modern technology and science. "Keep Walking" from one of the most famous and valuable brands in the world which they tapped into universally appealing human values. By doing so, they built such a profound connection with consumers that they enjoyed considerable success across a wide range of markets. See back in 1999, the brand was on red alert. In the preceding three years, volume sales had fallen by 14 per cent, while market share was also in steady decline.

As a result of "Keep walking", the brand has indeed become an expression of progress, used by many to signal their identification with those values. After the 2005 assassination of their Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, the people of Lebanon took to the streets. To proclaim their resolve to the world, they carried homemade banners emblazoned with the words "Keep walking" and carrying a local pun on the name Red Label.

At a March 2008 party conference in Greece, George Papandreou, the opposition leader, proclaimed to party members "We need to continue our pursuit until we achieve our goal", then exhorted, in English: "Keep walking."

Over the course of the campaign, "Keep walking" executions have elicited remarkable reactions. It's not uncommon in creative development research for young men to hold profound conversations about what it means to be a man. We even found instances of people in Brazil tattooing the Striding Man on their bodies.

"We have to take advantage of everything we have, to enjoy everything and to give our maximum so we have no regrets when we die. We have to think we are on this earth to do something; (Keep walking) motivates me to be a better human being..

Therefore why shouldn't monks and nuns is just confined to traditional way of studies.

Everyone (Keep Walking)


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Re: Why are Tibetans now embracing modernity?
« Reply #5 on: July 13, 2012, 05:02:06 PM »
It's a good move from Dalai Lama to spread Dharma to the world.

In the common world, the general education system nowadays is having people to learn science first then religious, religious is kind of a add-on subject due to the system respect students to have different religious. But studying science is a must, it trains people to think in scientific way since young.

It's very beneficial for Tibetan monks and nuns to relate their study to science, so it makes more sense when they are spreading Dharma to the modern world as they can speak their language. Just like a tour guide doesn't speak the language of the tourist can't explain well the information of the places.

I like what yontenjamyang said that one day we can "prove" Dharma.


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Re: Why are Tibetans now embracing modernity?
« Reply #6 on: August 03, 2012, 02:11:10 PM »
 When the modern civilization meets the pre-modern one, the people in the former society would always be curious about the latter. Pasang Norbu, the former director of the Commission for Legislative Affairs of the Standing Committee of the People's Congress of the Tibet Autonomous Region, has argued that when some Westerners get tired of the modern civilization, they want underdeveloped areas to be museums, living fossils, for their appreciation.

I quite agree with that. Some want Tibet to be always primitive, without industry or modernization. Such thoughts show no respects to the wishes and interest of Tibetan people, who have the right to choose modern civilization.

Tradition has been organically combined with modernization. Every person has his own choices. Why do we have to force Tibetan parents to send children to temples? Tradition is not protected or inherited this way. With social progress and cultural prosperity, their concepts and horizons change as well. They will naturally compare the traditional customs with the emerging new things, and make their own choices. We should respect their willingness. For example, more and more farming families send children to college, who then become civil servants, enjoying higher salaries. Their neighbors will follow them. The Tibet government has pledged a zero unemployment rate for Tibetan college students, which also promotes enthusiasm for further study.


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Re: Why are Tibetans now embracing modernity?
« Reply #7 on: August 05, 2012, 08:16:44 PM »
This topic is similar to the forum posting under "Monks is Modern Western Universities???".

I found this video clip on HHDL being interviewed at Emory University regarding Science curriculum for Buddhist monks. A representative of Emory University asked HHDL the following 2 questions:

1. Do you have any concerns that Science education could have a negative impact on the tradition of monastic education?
2. What impact would such a program have on humanity?

Watch the video and you'll see how skillful HHDL is. HH wants Universities to have Buddhist Science as part of their curriculum. HH said that Buddhist Science is not about Buddhism but about the science of the human mind. HH noticed that even a learned person like the Chancellor of a University was very unhappy. So HH feels that there is an urgent need for Buddhist Science to be taught in all Universities as it addresses human emotions.

HHDL is so skillful in relieving people's suffering using Buddhist methods. Many a time, "labels" can be an obstacle for some wanting to help and others, receiving help.
Science Curriculum for Tibetan Monks 4: Q&A with the Dalai Lama Small | Large