Being There


The Dalai Lama gets Buddhism and neuroscience to go face to face

January/February 2006


It was early November in Washington, and the press conference, in Constitution Hall just off The Mall, was crowded with reporters and photographers. His red-robed Holiness the Dalai Lama, flanked by men in classy dark suits, including meditation teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn, University of Wisconsin neuroscientist Richard Davidson, and the president of Georgetown University's Medical School, was pondering my question about science and religion. "Given the American conflict between devotees of evolution and adherents of creationism," I'd asked, "how does Your Holiness reconcile your interest in modern science with the creation myths of Tibetan Buddhism?"

Tenzin Gyatzo—Ocean of Wisdom, embodiment of compassion, the exiled Buddhist monk believed by many Tibetans to be the 14th reincarnation of the first Dalai Lama, born in 1935 in a part of Tibet so medieval that a pocket watch was an advanced machine—gave a rumbling cough and flung a corner of his robe higher over one bare, muscular shoulder. He was vigorous and down-to-earth, and, despite the honorifics, there was nothing self-consciously holy about him. Looking over his glasses at me and 20 or so other reporters from publications ranging from The Washington Post to The Shambhala Sun, he began speaking rapidly in Tibetan.

"The basic understanding of the emergence of cosmos in Buddhism is based on the…

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