Strasbourg — The spiritual leader of Tibet, His Holiness the Dalai Lama participated in a dialogue revolving around science and meditation at University of Strasbourg in France, where he was greeted by Michel Deneken, the University's new President.
His direct communication was with the 140 staff members who were seated in the audience. Another 1300 people, including both staff and students watched the event unfold via a live webcast in the same building, on September 16, 2016.
After a brief introduction and exchange of pleasantries, the first session moderated by Michel de Mathlin took place. His Holiness the Dalai Lama was asked about how mediation influences the mind and how one’s intuition has an effect on the brain by Wolf Singer, an eminent neuroscientist.
In response to Singer’s question, Dalai Lama referred to ancient India’s practice of shamatha mediation where the mind’s center of attention is one single object. While elucidating further, Dalai Lama said that, “Ordinary mental consciousness is quite coarse but during sleep, when the senses are shut down, consciousness is a little subtler.
When there is no dreaming it’s subtler still and when we faint even subtler. My friend Richie Davidson is now investigating the subtlest consciousness that manifests at the time of death. There are cases, and there have been maybe 40 since 1959, when the heart has stopped, the brain has died, but the body remains fresh. My own tutor remained in this state for 13 days after clinical death.”
Cornelius Weiller was the moderator in the second session and under his moderation, Jean-Gérard Bloch put a question to the Tibet leader about the differentiation between suffering and pain, to which the latter replied by saying that pain is connected to physical experience while suffering is less about physical experience and more about mental character. As regards to meditation, he threw light on the difference between analytical and concentrative meditation.
Elaborating further, he said, “the difference lies in how the mind engages with the object. From a traditional point of view the four mindfulnesses are understood as follows. Mindfulness of the body relates to understanding the nature of suffering; mindfulness of feelings relates to understanding the origin of suffering; mindfulness of the mind relates to cessation; while mindfulness of the way things are corresponds to understanding the path.”
The third session was moderated by Michel Deneken and the speakers, Tania Singer and Ven Matthieu Ricard talked about empathy and compassion. Tania Singer’s investigation dealt with the outcome that steady training in meditation on empathy and fellow feeling has on the brain and it also strived towards perfectly counterbalancing the inflow of empathy often found in professions like medicine.
During this session, His Holiness made a distinction between the fundamental sense of compassion that has a habit of being somewhat prejudiced and a sincere compassion founded on the belief that people want to lead a life devoid of unhappiness and want to avoid suffering, just the way he does. The other speaker, Ricard specified that a great deal of courage is required to cultivate considerable compassion.
The fourth session which also happened to be the last was moderated by B Alan Wallace and the speakers who spoke during this session were Steven Laureys, a neurologist whose research circles around coma and Michel Bitbol who apart from being a polymath also performs the role of a philosopher. Laureys, who had brought along with him a brain to the talk asked His Holiness about what happens when matter turns into mind.
To this, he responded by saying that, ““I really doubt that it does.” Laureys came back with another question and asked him whether one can be conscious without one’s brain. His Holiness answered, “It’s difficult to explain consciousness if you only take a materialist approach. What we can do is to employ shamatha or concentration focused on our own consciousness. This reveals its clarity of awareness and knowing.” Additionally, he said that although Hindu and Buddhist tantras have common features, what separates them from each other is the Buddhist belief in emptiness of natural existence.
As the session was about to end, Michel Deneken expressed his gratitude towards the Tibetan leader for attending the talk. In response to that, His Holiness the Dalai Lama said, ““I came because you invited me.” The following day, somewhere else in Strasbourg, His Holiness will teach Nagarjuna’s ‘Commentary on Bodhichitta’.