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Science for Monks

By Nancy Touchette

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Tibetan monks learn about genetics in a recent science education workshop.
In the quest for absolute truth and tranquility, Buddhist monks from Tibet receive extensive training in the principles of spirituality and philosophy. Now, for the first time, the monks are incorporating a new discipline into their studies. His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, has added science and math to the monastic curriculum.

Achok Rinpoche, Director of the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, directs the project, which now includes yearly science education workshops, as well as an effort to translate western texts into Tibetan language. The workshops attract teachers and scientists from the United States who travel to India to teach classes in genetics, mathematics, astronomy, and physics to advanced Tibetan scholars.

The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the exiled Tibetan government, now based in Dharamshala, India, had been conducting private meetings with prominent scientists for more than a decade. He concluded that to achieve genuine happiness, it is important to understand both inner consciousness and external phenomena.

Four years ago, the Dalai Lama met with philanthropist Bobby Sager, head of the Sager Family Traveling Foundation and Roadshow. The Dalai Lama told Sager that he would like to put together a science education project for monks and Sager agreed to fund it.

“This is literally the first time in history that Buddhist monks are learning western science as part of their monastic studies,” says Sager. “The whole concept of something the size of an atom, a molecule of DNA, or the edges of the universe is totally new information and perspective.”

The Dalai Lama would like to see some Buddhist monasteries become centers of academic excellence.

“These monks are brilliant scholars, the Ph.D.s of Buddhism,” says Sager. “They will end up being the teachers of other monks. For them to have a background in science is an important element in broadening their world view and making their wisdom more relevant to people in the West.”

The project is expected to benefit not only Buddhist monks, but also western scientists and educators. According to the Dalai Lama, the integration of both science and spirituality is an essential step in the path to ultimate happiness and satisfaction.

For more information about the project visit

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