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1 Prologue When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. buddha n just my short twenty-five-year career, biology has dramatically changed. To keep up with the breadth, depth, and amount of new knowledge generated these days​ —even one small corner of it​ —is nearly impossible . But imagine entering the scene from an entirely different world, one in which you have barely a scrap of previous exposure to science in your six-hundred-year tradition of learning. How would the nature of your learning change? The nature of the teaching? How would the science itself change? This book is about biology and Buddhism. It’s about how an unusual project involving American scientists and Buddhist monks can enlighten us in teaching and learning across worldviews and in general . Two leaders of the project​ —one a scientist and one a monk​ —tell the story. dharamsala: 2011 The Dalai Lama sat before us on a big wooden chair. This was the annual audience to update him on our project teaching science to Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns. In 2005 the Dalai Lama invited Emory University in Atlanta to develop and establish a modern science program to become part of the centuries-old curriculum of his twenty thousand monastics in exile. Through his lifelong interest in science and his recent conversations with neuroscientists, he saw the great potential for alleviating suffering and enriching humanity by integrating I 2 prologue cutting-edge science with ancient wisdom, while at the same time engaging monks and nuns in twenty-first-century knowledge. We were at the Dalai Lama’s home in Dharamsala, India, where he has lived since escaping from China over the Himalayas in 1959. Prior to his escape, he was isolated from the world in a Tibetan palace from the time as a young boy when he was identified as the fourteenth reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. Now, still considered a god by many of his own people, the Dalai Lama is a Nobel Laureate recognized the world over as an icon of peace and compassion. At our meeting, I was to present him with the science textbooks we had written thus far, books translated into Tibetan to catalyze our project as it moved into the monastic universities. When, six years before, my friend Geshe Lobsang Negi asked me if I would help respond to the Dalai Lama’s request to teach modern science to the Tibetan Buddhist monastics in exile, I jumped at the chance. I had been teaching biology, ethics, and science and religion for nearly two decades, and here was something clearly new and different . Little did I know how this project would change me. I grew up Jewish in the Baptist South of the 1970s. Both my parents are teachers​ —my father in science, my mother in English. My dad has been a scientist for more than forty years. When I was a little kid, I would go with him to the lab. He was studying the genetics of obesity in mice. There we were: two very skinny people studying fat mice. I am sure my father’s interest in science encouraged me to become a scientist myself. I remember doing an experiment with him to see how well mice lived on breakfast cereal versus regular mouse food. The answer: not very well. “And now, Your Holiness, Dr. Arri Eisen will present to you some of the texts he has written, which we have translated into Tibetan for the monks and nuns, as our project continues . . .” I snapped out of my reverie. The Dalai Lama accepted the books, wrapped in the white ceremonial scarf, or kata, from me and held them as he reiterated one of his core messages: it is education that we need, it is education that will change the world​ —not meditation, not religion, but education. prologue 3 yungdrung konchok has been involved in the project since nearly the beginning. Konchok grew up three days’ walk from anywhere in Nepal and entered a monastery when he was fourteen; he was twenty-​ five when we first met. Konchok is now in charge of his monastery’s extensive library. He is one of several monks who, in addition to working with us in India in the summers, also studied for three years at Emory University, taking undergraduate science courses. Konchok and I have become especially good friends. Konchok took two of my classes​ —introductory biology and cell biology ​ —at Emory, and every Friday morning for more than...


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