Dalai Lama to lecture on neuroscience amidst protests

dalai_lama.jpgTibetan Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, is to give a lecture to an international neuroscience conference, despite protests from some of the delegates.

His lecture on the neuroscience of meditation, and participation in a discussion on the ‘Science and Clinical Applications of Meditation’, is planned for the prestigious annual conference of the Society for Neuroscience, to be held in Washington DC in November.

The Dali Lama has a longstanding interest in neuroscience, having founded the Mind and Life Institute, to promote dialogue between science and buddhism.

The Institute has regular meetings between the Buddhist leader and leading neuroscientists, which has resulted in research collaborations and a number of books that have included transcripts and analyses of the gatherings.

His talk also comes at a time when therapies based on Buddhist ‘mindfulness’ techniques are being found to be increasingly effective for treating physical and mental distress in well-controlled scientific studies.

Some potential delegates are protesting his appearance, however, suggesting science and religion should not be mixed and declaring his views to be in ‘poor scientific taste’. Neuroscientist Jianguo G. Gu has reportedly started a petition against the Dalai Lama’s lecture.

The Society for Neuroscience have defended their decision and noted that the Dalai Lama will not be talking about ‘religion or politics’.

Link to Guardian article ‘Plan for Dalai Lama lecture angers neuroscientists’
PDF (5.5Mb) of programme for Society for Neuroscience Annual conference. Details of Dalai Lama’s participation on p8 and p27.
Link to Mind and Life Institute.
Link to scientific paper ‘Long-term meditators self-induce high-amplitude gamma synchrony during mental practice’.
Link to information on mindfulness therapy from Cambridge University’s Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit.

6 Comments

  1. mikeytwice
    Posted July 27, 2005 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    This petition seems in worst taste than the Dali Lama’s upcoming appearance at the conference. If what the Dali Lama is talking about – including Buddhist mindfulness practice – has legitimate scientific import, isn’t that enough reason for accepting the Dali Lama as a valid speaker?
    Shirking away from something simply because it has the word “religion” attached to it in some way shows the fanatically dogmatic bent that scientists can have. I mean, isn’t this sort of unsavoury reaction the sort of thing about religion that most of us want to avoid in the first place? Why perpetuate it in science?

  2. Posted July 31, 2005 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    If it’s true that Jianguo G. Gu has started the petition and that the main reason is that “science and religion should not be mixed” then its pretty odd that his Journal, Molecular Pain has Yin-Yang’s all over it. See: http://www.molecularpain.com/
    I’m suddenly feeling this fuss may have more to do with politics than religion or science.

  3. sbaran
    Posted August 10, 2005 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    I am a member of the Society for Neuroscience and will be gladly attending this year’s convention. I plan on attending the Dalai Lama’a talk. I received an email 2 days ago asking me to sign the petition mentioned here. I read through the signatures and a number of those signing do not support it. Here is the link: http://www.petitiononline.com/sfn2005/petition.html
    I was made to believe the talk was created to bridge cultural and scientific venues. Studies into the process of meditation seem to have strong value to me. Moreover, people are protesting because neuroscience and religion shouldn’t mix. Religion is a part of life. We neuroscientists study life. Religion is also a very ingrained process controlled by the brain. It is present in every culture on the planet. I think a scientific understanding of how religion works in the brain is highly pertinent to today’s society.

  4. SasQuatch9585
    Posted October 24, 2005 at 1:43 am | Permalink

    I myself am a man of science and an atheist. Personally, I do not believe in any kind of mystic energy or presence that guides or influences our lives. However, I meditate on a regular basis.
    Meditation is real and requires no faith to perform. At least, not faith in anything supernatural. I believe meditation works by both electrical and biochemical means. Essentially, I think it is learning to voluntarily release chemicals into our systems such as adrenaline, endorphins and a host of other chemicals of which I am ignorant. I refer to the chemicals that are our emotions. This, combined with the breathing techniques which saturate the blood with oxygen, is what I believe I feel when opening chakras, which I have learned to perform without the guidance of a teacher.
    Whatever the source or nature of this phenomenon, it should be studied at length and must be taken seriously. I say again, the experience of meditation for me is absolutely devoid of faith or religion.
    I absolutely support and eagerly await the Dalai Lama’s input on this matter.

  5. Torquil
    Posted October 10, 2006 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    It does seem rather suspicious, though not surprising, that a doctor educated at Nantong Medical College in the PRC would offer such a petition against a prominent Tibetan exile,

  6. mashudu
    Posted November 7, 2011 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    only the less self esteem scincists can deny this lecture by the dalai lama,they dont see this as advancement to their profession,they see this as a threat of dominance.they think they own science and their possession will be endangered.if the dalai lama has neuro system,then he has the right to associate with any organisation which will be discussng or highlighting the facts about neurosystem,wheather it be meditaion effects of neuro system etc.


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