Monday, November 29, 2010

The Nalanda Renaissance in India

Recently the Dalai Lama declared that ‘he was contemplating retirement within months’. He however quickly added that the ‘final decision will be taken after consultations with the [Tibetan] political leadership and Parliament-in-exile’.
He later explained "I want to inform them about my intention although I briefly mentioned (about it) already." When requested to give a date, he said: "I do not know; may be next few months." The Indian (and foreign media) also immediately titled: “The Dalai Lama to retire soon”.
China immediately reacted. A Communist Party scholar Zhao Gancheng of the South Asia Studies at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies., confided to The Global Times: “the Dalai Lama just wants to manipulate the choosing of the next Dalai Lama so as to find one who he believes could take over his separatist activities."
This is of course pure propaganda. Is it not strange that Communist China which has always considered religion as a poison, now claims skill in locating reincarnations of senior Lamas?
The truth is elsewhere. Spiritually, the Dalai Lamas are the incarnation of Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of compassion and Saint-Patron of Tibet. Ages ago, these beings took the vow:
For as long as space endures
And for as long as living beings remain,
Until then may I too abide
To dispel the misery of the world
If the Tibetan leader is planning to scale down some of his ‘political’ activities, there is another reason.
He once told me that he was constantly hammering his officials: ‘You should carry full responsibility as if there was no Dalai Lama”
He points out, “if the Tibetan people take their responsibility, that way I will have more energy and time to do some other work that you cannot do”.
The Dalai Lama would like to give more time to the exploration of a convergence between science and spirituality.
In an era when religions tend to divide people, with each believer quoting his own dogmas or sacred scripture, the Dalai Lama is a firm believer that all the religious traditions and texts need to be ‘tested’.
“You should not become dogmatic. As the wise test gold by burning, cutting and rubbing it (on a piece of touchstone), so are you to accept my words only after examining them and not merely out of regard for me," thus spoke Gautama Buddha more than 2500 years ago
It is why the Tibetan leader initiated a dialogue between science and spirituality last week in Delhi. The Contemplative Science Conference was organized by the Mind & Life Institute from the United States and the Foundation of Universal Responsibility based in Delhi; The National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore, and the Central Tibetan University, Sarnath also participated. The entire initiative is the brain child the Dalai Lama who has been meeting reputed scientists for the past 25 years to see if the effects of meditative practices can be corroborated by modern science.
The ‘testing’ process may not be important for the practitioners themselves; the Dalai Lama recounted the story of the yogis living in caves who were not at all interested in being covered by electrodes to ‘test’ their siddhis or meditative prowess. He however believes that it is important for the rest of humanity to realize that exercises such as yoga or meditation can bring peace of mind and ultimately a better life for those practicing it. He sees it as a gift from India and Tibet to the world. For skeptical westerners and ‘educated’ Indians, the validation process remains important.
The main theme of the Conference was ‘the emerging field of Contemplative Science which can investigate the effects of contemplative practice on human biology and behaviour’.
But exactly is this Contemplative Science?
While presenting the Conference the organizers explained: “The natural sciences and contemplation are distinct disciplines: the first is devoted to the study of external objective world, the second to the study of internal subjective world. Once we agree that both contemplation and science have special roles in production of knowledge, we can start exploring the ‘why Contemplative Science?’ question in some detail, especially when the science in question of neuroscience or cognitive science.”
The Life and Mind Institute put the Meet in its proper perspective: “Contemplative Science is an exciting new possibility for exploring the human world. The recovery of this ideal in an important steps towards engaging with the problems of the 21st century.”
Apart from world famous scientists such as Richard Davidson, the world famous brain scientist, Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, former President APJ Abdul Kalam and renowned yogacharya B. K. S. Iyengar provided valuable inputs.
This reminded me of the words of the great Indian Rishi Sri Aurobindo, who at the beginning of the 20th century put it so vividly: “Spirituality is the master-key of the Indian mind; the sense of the infinite is native to it. India saw from the beginning, that the physical does not get its full sense until it stands in right relation to the supra-physical; she saw that the complexity of the universe could not be explained in the present terms of man or seen by his superficial sight, that there were other powers behind, other powers within man himself of which he is normally unaware, that he is conscious only of a small part of himself, that the invisible always surrounds the visible, the suprasensible the sensible, even as infinity always surrounds the finite. She saw too that man has the power of exceeding himself, of becoming himself more entirely and profoundly that he is.”
Though modern science is in its infancy compared to the inner sciences of India or Tibet, this is a fascinating process. The fact that the modern religion called ‘science’ has agreed to investigate the powers and complexities of the mind (and the body) is a great step forward for humanity and one should be grateful to the Dalai Lama for instigating this initiative. The Tibetan leader appealed again and again to Indian scientists, philosophers or yogis to take the lead on the old new path.
He mentioned several times the Nalanda tradition. At a time when the Government of India plans to revive the Great Vihara under a political appointee who unfortunately does not have the vision to give a lead to this project, this conference was like the first step towards a new Nalanda, the holistic and ‘secular’ learning center per excellence.
In his opening speech the Dalai Lama explained: “[In Nalanda], there was an emphasis on investigation. Great masters like Nagarjuna, Dharmakirti, Aryadeva, Chandrakirti and others were great teachers of Nalanda monastic [university]. They followed Buddha’s word, they investigated, ‘is the content of this verse acceptable or not’, at the end everything was decided by analysis and reasoning. At the beginning [of each Nalanda text] there are four indications: the purpose of the text, the subject-matter of the text, the benefit of this text and finally the relations between them,” he explained.
These great teachers like the Buddha before them always emphasized “the readers should not accept right away what the text says”. The Tibetan leader affirmed, “you should be sceptical and analyze, investigate. Only after [deep analysis], you can understand the text, then you can really get the benefit”. To conclude he quoted Buddha again “my followers should not accept my teachings out of faith and devotion, but after investigation and experimentation”.
In today’s violent and disturbed world, one can understand the immediate repercussion of these words. At a time when intolerance generates conflict and terrorism all over the planet, the message of Nalanda is all the more crucial. If each religion of the world could be convinced that ‘their’ truth, ‘their’ scripture need to be investigated before starting a war to defend them, the world would be more peaceful.
It was a great privilege for this writer to listen to eminent scientists, monks, scholars and yogis dreaming of a confluence of science and spirituality.
Only the Dalai Lama has today the moral authority to initiate such a fascinating and futuristic process.
Many today in India believe that beating the Chinese at the GDP Game is the ultimate objective of the Nation, but if the Spirit of Nalanda could blow again over Asia and the West a much more radical step in Evolution could be taken.
It is why the Dalai Lama matters and if the Tibetans can relieve him of some of his responsibilities, it is better for humanity.
In 1914, Sri Aurobindo saw for India that: “The recovery of the old spiritual knowledge and experience in all its splendour, depth and fullness is its first, most essential work. The flowing of this spirituality into new forms of philosophy, literature, art, science and critical knowledge is the second.
An original dealing with modern problems in the light of Indian spirit and the endeavour to formulate a greater synthesis of a spiritualised society is the third and most difficult.”
One can just regret the ‘body’ has not been included in the Mind and Life studies. Body has for too long been neglected in India. The Ancient Rishis knew the prowess and importance of the material sheath for spiritual realizations. The presence of Yogacharya Iyengar was however a good step in this direction.

1 comment:

sfauthor said...

Nice posting. Do you know about these yoga books?