Dharamshala — The spiritual leader of Tibet, His Holiness the Dalai Lama attended a two day conference on Quantum Physics and Madhyamaka Philosophical View held at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, India on November 12th 2015.
Before the conference, the Vice-Chancellor of the University, Professor S.K. Sopory, presented His Holiness with a medallion bearing the University logo which represents international academic exchange and the search for knowledge for the betterment of human beings. The Vice- Chancellor also thanked His Holiness for suggesting both the convening of a conference on this issue.
During his introduction outlining the purpose of the gathering, Professor Prasenjit Sen explained that what was about to begin was unique- a discussion between experts in Quantum Physics and Madhyamaka Philosophy. Sen said the hope was to create a confluence of two different streams of thought, which was why the presence of reputed experts was important. He then drew everyone's attention to a line of upturned clay dishes. Students had arranged them to suggest the traditional shape of the Indian Buddhist stupa.
There were eight in number, representing the eight auspicious symbols (ashtamangala). After some preliminary introductions, His Holiness spoke to the assembly, among which were Tibetan students. The text of His Holiness' speech is as follows:
"Respected elder and younger brothers and sisters, firstly I want to tell you I consider myself to be a normal human being. Nothing special. I am a normal human being who began to study by memorizing texts at the age of seven or eight. Even today, at the age of 80, I still read and reflect every day on the thoughts of the masters of Nalanda University. This I find is really useful for keeping an open mind. And I remain mindful of the Buddha's advice not to accept what he said on trust or out of devotion to him, but only after examining, exploring and experimenting with it.
"When I was about 19 or 20 I developed a curiosity about science that had begun with an interest in mechanical things and how they worked. In China in 1954/5 I met Mao Zedong several times. Once he commended me for having a scientific mind, adding that religion was poison, perhaps presuming that this would appeal so someone who was 'scientific minded'. After coming to India as a refugee I had many opportunities to meet people from many different walks of life, scientists among them. 30 years ago I began a series of dialogues focusing on cosmology, neurobiology, physics, including Quantum Physics, and psychology. These discussions have been largely of mutual benefit. Scientists have learned more about the mind and emotions, while we have gained a subtler explanation of matter. A casualty has been my belief in Mt.Meru, described in ancient India as the axis of the universe.
"Due to the kindness of the 8th century scholar Shantarakshita, among Buddhists today, only Tibetans have preserved the Nalanda tradition through rigorous study and practice.
"About 15-20 years ago at some meeting, the Indian physicist Raja Ramanna told me that he had been reading Nagarjuna and that he'd been amazed to find that much of what he had to say corresponded to what he understood of quantum physics. A year ago at Presidency College in Kolkata the Vice-Chancellor Prof S Bhattacharya mentioned that according to quantum physics nothing exists objectively, which again struck me as corresponding to Chittamatrin and Madhyamaka views, particularly Nagarjuna's contention that things only exist by way of designation.
"I'd like to add that I really appreciate everyone who has contributed to making this conversation here today possible.
"Early in my lifetime, science was employed to further material and economic development. Later in the 20th century, scientists began to see that peace of mind is important for physical health and well-being. Indeed many of the problems we face today are rooted in our mind and emotions. Although we may be inclined to pray to God or Buddha to help us solve such problems, they might reply that since we created these problems it is up to us to solve them. This is why I often advise that it is up to us to work to build a better more compassionate world. We need to take a secular approach to promulgating universal human values.
"I hope conferences like this can address two purposes: extending our knowledge and improving our view of reality so we can better tackle our disturbing emotions. As a result of combining warm-heartedness with intelligence, I hope we'll be better equipped to contribute to humanity's well-being."
Among several of the First day presenters was Geshe Ngawang Samten, the Vice-Chancellor of Central University of Tibetan Studies, Sarnath, India. GesheSamten stated that selflessness is something the Buddha taught that had not been heard before. All four main schools of Buddhist thought propound this ideal, although for the two lower schools it only concerns the selflessness of persons. The two higher schools, the Madhyamaka or Middle Way and the Chittamatrin or Mind Only, also speak of the selflessness of phenomena.
In his paper, 'Concerning the Chittamatrin View of Emptiness', Geshe Ngawang Sangye of Drepung Loseling Monastic University sought to explain the reasoning refuting external existence as a branch of the Chittamatrin final view of reality; the reasoning establishing their final view and other issues that arise from these assertions. He discussed the imprints that Mind Only proponents speak about when they assert that all phenomena are established through the ripening of imprints. He touched on the consciousness involved when they say that all phenomena are of one entity with consciousness. In addition he discussed how multiple individuals can view a single object simultaneously and whether the same object can appear to different individuals.
Among the presentations by the international panel of distinguished scholars were Geshe Lobsang Tenpe Gyaltsen's paper on 'The Buddhist Perspective on the World and its Beings' and Geshe Chisa Drungchen Tulku's paper on 'The Two Truths: a Prasangika Madhyamaka Perspective'.
The second day began with His Holiness the Dali Lama releasing two books. The first contained a compilation of tributes and recollections about AP Ven kateswaran, former Foreign Secretary, who passed away last year.The second book His Holiness was 'Changes on the Roof of the World - Reflections on Tibet', a compilation of research by PhD candidates of Tibetan ethnicity at JNU.
In his remarks about the first book, His Holiness said, "I find it difficult to pronounce his name, but Venkateswaran was a good friend. He was someone I could unburden myself to and he would explain things in a way that gave me encouragement. He was a wonderful person with a very sharp mind. In recent years, whenever I was visiting Bangalore where he lived we would try to meet. As I said the other day about former President APJ Abdul Kalam, even though the person is no longer with us, we must do what we can to keep their spirit alive. This book will enable readers to know more about Ven kates waran and what he achieved in his life."
Mrs Venkates waran and her daughter were both happy about His Holiness releasing the book. She mentioned a story her late husband would reflect first meeting with His Holiness, especially when His Holiness told him ,"I've met you before."
Introducing the second book, former Foreign Secretary Lalit Mansingh said it's publication would enable the world to be more aware of what Tibetans have suffered and continue to suffer. The book will make clearer the denial of human rights in Tibet by the Chinese authorities. He expressed the opinion that India could have done better in supporting the cause of Tibet, but stressed that what the book shows is that the flag will continue to be flown by coming generations who will keep the issue alive until there is a satisfactory solution.
His Holiness then stated that there is no denying Tibet's long existence in the past, nor the meaningful nature of that existence. His Holiness said, "Our culture is non-violent, peaceful and grounded in compassion, all qualities the world needs today. These days there is interest in Tibetan Buddhism all over the world. The Nalanda tradition flourished in Tibet in a way that didn't take place anywhere else. What's more it flourished in our own Tibetan language.
Today, Tibetan is the language in which the Nalanda tradition can be most accurately expressed. This is also related to the rigorous course of study that has been maintained in Tibet for centuries. The purpose is to establish morality and bring about a transformation of the mind.
"In the 1960s we appealed to the UN to take a stand about what was happening in Tibet. Our appeals were ineffective as Nehru had told me they would be. He recommended that the way to secure the Tibetan cause was to educate our children. It was wise advice, "In the 9th century Tibet was independent and held its own alongside the Mongolian and Chinese empires. Today, our struggle still attracts support across the world. I'm 80 years old and I'd like to think that when I go I can do so confident that the younger generation will keep our cause alive."
The substantive portion of the conference resumed with Prof Sundar Sarukkai reading a paper about wave-particle duality in relation to Nagarjuna's 'Fundamental Treatise on the Middle Way'. He noted that Raja Ramanna, who His Holiness had said alerted him to the correspondence between the findings of quantum physics and Nagarjuna's thought, had been his mentor too. He mentioned the application of the classic fourfold reasoning, asking, "Is it a particle? Is it not a particle? Is it both a particle and not a particle? Or is it neither a particle nor not a particle?" He suggested that the wave-particle theme has two parts: one is epistemological and related to problems of measurement, while the other is ontological, which is the context he thinks could relate to what Nagarjuna had to say.
Geshe Jangchub Sangay of Gaden Monastic University read a paper about dependent arising, which he asserted is the basic reality of all things. He explained dependent arising in relation to a phenomenon's cause, in relation to its parts and in relation to its being a mere designation. He concluded that the main thrust of the Prasangika Madhyamaka or Middle Way Consequentialist view is that things do not have the slightest objective existence and that actions and their agents are tenable only on the basis of being merely designated.
Among the many presenters the second day were the following scholars: Mahan Maharaj, a mathematician and swami, gave an intense and animated explanation of the Algebra-Geometry Duality. Prof Arthur Zajonc spoke about Experimental Foundations of Quantum Physics. He quoted Goethe's saying 'every object well contemplated opens a new organ in us'. Professor Arthur Zajonc Experimental Foundations of Quantum Physics. Dr Brijish Kumar reviewed some of what Michel Bitbol, Sundar Sarukkai, Matthew Chandrankunnel, Mahan Maharaj and Arthur Zajonc had contributed on the side of science. Geshe Lhakdor in turn reviewed what the Buddhist scholars had said. He noted that what both science and Buddhist philosophy have in common is that we will be able to better tackle problems we face by improving what we know.
In his concluding remarks His Holiness also repeated the Buddha's advice not to accept what he said at face value but to investigate it. There is a need for doubt and skepticism he said, for questions and the answers they yield.
He stated "The technical progress we have made in the 21st century may have improved our material comfort, but there is no guarantee that it will bring us inner peace. We have to be careful that new forms of knowledge don't just become tools for our anger and fear, that they don't merely increase our destructive power. We need to remind ourselves that our own future depends on the rest of humanity.
"We survive because of the affection we receive. And that is what enables us to be able to show affection for others. Anger and fear damage our health, whereas evidence shows a calm mind contributes to our well-being. It's common sense that without warm-heartedness and without trust a family will not be happy. However, the sense that our basic human nature is positive is a source of hope.
"If we really make an attempt, we can change the world for the better. The proper way to do this is through education. And that will recognise not only our need for physical comfort, but that we require a sense secular ethics, universal human values and what I describe as emotional hygiene.
"May I suggest that next year you convene a conference to focus on the mind and emotions involving neurobiologists and brain specialists?
"Right now when we see the sad things going on in the world, crying and prayer won't achieve very much. Most of these problems were created by human beings, so naturally they require human solutions. That's all I have to say, other than to thank the University, its officials and staff, the organizers and volunteers for providing us with this great opportunity."
Prof Renuka Singh offered formal words of thanks. Speaking in Tibetan, His Holiness offered words of encouragement and appreciation to the Tibetan scholars who had taken part.