Tibetan monks learn about modern science and college life


Mystical Arts of Tibet:

Sacred Music, Sacred Dance

7:30 p.m. Wednesday

Schwartz Center for Performing Arts, Emory University

Tickets: 404-7275050. Box hours 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Online: http://tickets.arts.emory.edu/single/EventDetail.aspx?p=68973

Mystical Arts of Tibet: Mandala Sand Painting

In honor of the Dalai Lama’s visit, the Drepung Loseling monks of The Mystical Arts of Tibet created a Medicine Buddha Mandala. This mandala will be dismantled in a closing ceremony at the end of the Drepung Loseling’s 5th Annual Tibetan Festival at 3:30 p.m. Oct. 20. Viewing is open through Oct. 20

Meditation Hall at Drepung Loseling Monastery

1781 Dresden Dr. N.E.

Free and open to the public

It’s a familiar scene: new students talking science, slang and their new apartment during an early morning gathering at the campus Starbucks.

Instead of the usual attire of jeans and shorts, though, these Emory University students wear deep red, flowing robes.

The six Tibetan monks are the second class of participants in the Tenzin Gyatso Monastic Science Scholars program, which is part of a larger, landmark exchange called the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative.

“I think after two years, I will share my knowledge with my fellow monks, who study the Buddhist philosophy and tradition,” said Lobsang Gonpo, a 3o-year-old monk. “I hope we can share the scientific methods of investigation and the western tradition of research to help build a bridge between the two traditions.”

The initiative will reach a pivotal point next year when modern science is added to curriculum at the largest Tibetan monasteries in southern India.

The Dalai Lama is expected to discuss the initiative Wednesday at Emory. He will also be presented with the newest textbooks that have been translated from English into Tibetan. The Dalai Lama, a Presidential Distinguished Professor at Emory, is in Atlanta this week at a series of events at the university on ethics, responsible citizenship and education. He also spoke during a public program Tuesday in Gwinnett.

He last visited Emory in 2010 for a series of events focused on compassion, science research and meditation, spirituality and interfaith dialogue.

Introducing modern science studies will mark the most significant change in the monastic education program in six centuries, said Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi, director of the Emory-Tibet Partnership and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Religion at Emory. “These monasteries had very full and comprehensive academic programs but they did not include modern science,” he said. “Beginning in 2014, modern science will become part of the core curriculum and in that sense, it’s an historic moment. “

The Dalai Lama himself is the force behind the change.

“It’s been his vision that has guided this initiative,” Negi said. “He’s a firm believer in the importance of the convergence of modern science and spirituality.” A merger of the two, he said, provides an opportunity to complement each other and “create a much more holistic and complete understanding of our human condition, and it will only enhance our humanity.”

For now, however, the program participants are just students. Every Friday they meet informally with Emory professor Arri Eisen, who has traveled to India several times over the years as part of the program, at the Starbucks. Textbooks lay open as Eisen explains such weighty topics as atomic orbitals, inert gases and proteins. He suggests looking at YouTube science videos so they can see how some things work.

In varying degrees of English, the monks question Eisen about the process of diluting coffee to the point where there are no coffee molecules left.

“If you are going to be citizens of the 21st century, you have to have some idea about modern science,” said Eisen. ‘If you put the two together, you can change the world. You can change the world for the better and decrease suffering in the world. These gentlemen can help build those bridges.”

But their education is about more than books. Their mood becomes less serious when the monks, who range in age from 30 to 38, describe the apartment they share near campus. They’ve learned about paying rent on time. And they’re intrigued by the microwave, washing machine and dishwasher.

Their new friends have taught them American slang , some perhaps not so monk-like.

“What’s up, man!,” gushes Sonam Choephel. “I like that!.”

Another student, Lobsang Gonpo , 30, delights in mimicking a New Yorker:

“I’m wawkin’ my dawg … with my cupa kawfee”

Then his face breaks into a wide smile.

College may not be so tough after all.