His Holiness flew to Niihama by helicopter on a chilly, windy morning, then held a press conference at his hotel. He then embarked on a discussion with the noted Japanese neuroscientist, Kenichiro Mogi, on the mind and the brain.
His Holiness began their conversation by distinguishing between what we take in with our senses and what we take in with our mind, describing how "even physical pain can be subdued by a mental state of satisfaction, so therefore mental, inner experiences are more important than the physical, sensory plane". He then asked Professor Mogi one searching question after another, about whether neurologists can compare anger in a waking state with anger while dreaming, and whether to some extent consciousness can affect the brain, as well as the other way round. Often, he explained, when conducting discussions with scientists, "Some people use the words, `Dialogue between science and Buddhism.' That, I feel, is the wrong phrase. Buddhism is a religion and we have nothing to do with science. But since Buddhist teaching is about how to train, how to improve our basic human qualities - warm-heartedness, compassion - so, ultimately, we need a lot of explanation about the mental system and about the emotions." Buddhism, he said, can be divided into three parts: science, psychology and Buddhist religion. "So really I suggest that the phrasing should be, 'A dialogue between natural science and Buddhist science'."
His Holiness then spoke about Buddhist practitioners who have had their brains tested and been found to be "unusually calm". He said, "But when we talk about compassion, a tear comes in these people. Many people believe that consciousness comes from the brain, from the neurons. So when the neurons stop, consciousness stops. But some scientists believe that the consciousness can affect the brain. This is not a question of other lives, something like that. But, at another level, a more subtle kind of consciousness could affect the brain." There were many cases, His Holiness said, in which expert monks were found to have signs of consciousness one week, two weeks, three weeks after death - "Their bodies very fresh."
Clearly delighting in having an expert scientist to talk to, who could share his expertise in fluent English, His Holiness then asked Professor Mogi if it would be possible to "develop a kind of surgery whereby we can remove that part of the brain that brings attachment, anger - so we can remove these problems without training the mind". Professor Mogi responded by mentioning lobotomy and how such surgery might perhaps be possible, but added that, so far, a special part of the brain associated with these afflictive emotions had yet to be isolated.
In response to questions from the audience on how his study of science had changed his understanding of Buddhism, His Holiness recalled how he used to look at the night skies with a telescope, even when he was in Lhasa, and see how when the sun set over the earth the light left the moon. "The moon has no light," he remembered realising. "Its light comes only from the sun. That my naked eye confirmed." Subsequently, after reading up on astronomy in the 1960s, His Holiness said he could no longer believe in Mount Meru - "at least on this planet".
That was no problem, he explained: "Buddha didn't come to this planet to make a map of the universe. His main concern was how to reduce our suffering. That will remain the same, for the next thousand years. Even after another Big Bang, the truth of this will remain the same. Some emotions, maybe after 10,000, or 100,000 years, may change, when the shape of the brain changes. But today's emotions and emotions at the time of the Buddha are the same."
Warming to his theme, and speaking in English with increasing conviction and power, His Holiness recalled how, when he began his discussions with scientists, some American Buddhists had warned him, "'Science is a killer of religion. Be careful!' Then I thought and thought. In Buddhism in general, particularly in the Nalanda tradition, the key instrument is investigation, not belief. Because the ultimate source of suffering is ignorance, having a wrong view. So, in order to reverse a wrong view, you must develop a right view. In order to develop a right view, you should know the reality. In order to know the reality, you should practice investigation, even to the point of investigating Buddha's own teachings."
His Holiness stated that, in his thinking and his practice, he wants to go "to the root of the Buddhist tradition - to scholars like Nagarjuna." He concluded that, "The root of the tradition is the same, even if there are different branches. The roots are very solid. These great classical texts fit everyone." Finally, His Holiness reminded the audience that man, alone among the animals, had been given "the special gift of a brain". He added, "We must utilize this great instrument - for construction, not destruction. Education is simply a way to open our eyes, and to see the world in a holistic way."