Dialogues with the Dalai Lama

In 1997, I was invited by the Mind & Life Institute to participate in one of the meetings they organize every couple of years, in which they invite a group of scientists to engage in a dialogue with the Dalai Lama. Starting at a young age, he has been interested in science and technology. An while he has a very busy schedule with his combined duties as the head ot the Tibetan government in exile and as the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, the Dalai Lama has always found time for these dialogues during the last couple decades. As I was told at the time of my invitation: just like others go fishing occasionally, to get away from their normal tasks, similarly the Dalai Lama likes to get away from it all by talking with a bunch of scientists.

The first Mind & Life meeting took place in 1987, when the Dalai Lama met with a group of cognitive scientists. The series has continued since then, with a new scientific discipline being represented every two years.

The Mind & Life VI Conference

In 1997 it was the turn for physicists to be invited. The The Mind & Life VI Conference was held, like most previous meetings, in Dharamsala, the seat of the Tibetan government in exile. It was a great idea to meet on the Dalai Lama's home turf, rather than in the standard academic setting of an auditorium on a campus somewhere. Already the trip to Dharamsala was a special experience. After flying in to Delhi, we took a night train to Patankot, and from there a bus first through the plains and then slowly climbing up in the foot hills of the western part of the Himalayas. If you click on the picture to the right, you can see how I answered some questions about the causal structure of the Big Bang by Barry Hershey, the main sponsor of the meeting. The spacetime drawings in the sand seemed to attract the interest of a passing cow.

The texts of our dialogues were published in 2004, under the title The New Physics and Cosmology. The session in which I gave a presentation is titled Science in search of a Worldview For a quick impression of the meeting, just after its conclusion, see the report by Maclen Marvit for The Tibetan Review.

Also in 2004, I was asked to write a short commentary on these topics for a Dutch journal, which was published as

Reflections on Tibetan Cosmology

Another result of the 1997 meeting was the production of an edited volume containing a collection of papers that addressed connections between Buddhism and science, most of them written from a rather personal perspective. My contribution was:

  • Life as a Laboratory, by Hut, P. 2003, in Buddhism and Science: Breaking New Ground, ed. A. Wallace (Columbia Univ. Pr.), pp. 399-415.

In the spring of 1998, I gave an invited talk at the third Tucson conference on the topic Toward a Science of Consciousness. There I compared the scientific world view with that of the Tibetan Dzog Chen view. In order to make a comparison easier, I found a stepping stone between the two, in the form of the school of phenomenology. My paper was published as