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189 chapter seven Meditation and the “New” Diseases Let’s begin with three full breaths . . . geshe lobsang tenzin negi, cognitive-based compassion training [quoted throughout the chapter] vibrant cheer rises from the twelve hundred graduates, rises past the thick, majestic white oaks, and heads skyward from the quad on this surprisingly cool Atlanta May morning, the day after Mother’s Day 2013. “We honor six Tibetan Buddhist monks for their successful completion of courses in the college over the last three years,” says the dean of Emory College, decked out in the grandly ridiculous formal robes of academe. “These Tenzin Gyatso Scholars are here as leaders in the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative. . . . And they now return to their monasteries in India to become science educators themselves. The monks have become part of the fabric of the Emory intellectual and social community. We honor them today with a special certificate.” For the monks, the university, and our project, it is a landmark day. Konchok and his colleagues, all of whom, in addition to being the first alumni of the five-year science course in Dharamsala, have now also just completed three years of undergraduate classes at Emory in the natural and social sciences. As the college graduation ceremony begins and Konchok and his five monk brethren rise from their front-row seats one by one as I call their names, to receive their certificates, it is that spontaneous cheer from the students that hits me, makes it clear the dean’s comments about the monks’ impact on the community are more than mere words. For not the first time in my years working with this project, and as corny as A 190 the enlightened gene it sounds, I am flooded with that weird warmth that comes with being part of something that might matter. Walking onto the stage, receiving the certificate in front of thousands of graduates and guests, deans, members of the faculty, and the commencement speaker​ —former us poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize–winner Rita Dove​ —was special, exciting, and a great honor. The graduation was one of the most memorable days of my life. Up there onstage, I remembered the first time I had stepped into a classroom at Emory. I was in awe of the atmosphere. The room was buzzing with excitement and expectation, and I felt both nervous and curious at the novelty of the situation. I walked into a big classroom for the first time and felt intimidated. I was not at all ready to sit down in the front row or in the middle, so I just walked gently and bowed down without looking left or right and sat in the last row. Nearly every inch of the Emory University quad has been coated with white chairs​ —fourteen thousand in all, crammed in neat rows, meticulously aligned, tied together by staff volunteers and guarded closely against the elements (or mischief-minded undergrads) for the past forty-​ eight hours. Now the chairs are filled with the graduates, their families, the faculty, and the dignitaries who pepper such events. As I look out over the quad from the stage, I see Geshe Lobsang Negi sitting in the white chair on the far left of the front row, next to Konchok and the other monks. Few would guess, I reflect, that Lobsang, this man wearing a Western-style suit and tie, as always quiet and understated , is the key bridge, the crucial link that allowed our project to happen, sparked its beginning and evolution, drives its twists and turns, embodies its hopes and goals. Few would guess that Lobsang grew up in the farming villages of far northern India​—more than 7,500 miles away and squeezed between Tibet, China, and Pakistan​—dreaming of becoming a monk. A dream that at first seemed impossible because after 1959 the monasteries in Tibet were inaccessible, and new monasteries were yet to be established in the border regions where Lobsang lived. Years before, in the early 1970s, the Dalai Lama sent out emissaries to the far reaches of the Tibetan communities in India to recruit a new meditation and the “new” diseases 191 generation of monks to lead his exiled community. It had not taken one of the Dalai Lama’s emissaries long to recall and then recruit the young boy who often snuck into his teachings to listen from the back of the room. Lobsang, who was fourteen at the time, went on to become part of a group...


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