[dalailama.com] Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, India, 12 November 2015 – When His Holiness the Dalai Lama reached the leafy campus of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, which spreads over the northern reaches of the Aravalli Hills, this morning, he was received by the Rector, Prof Prasenjit Sen and Vice-Chancellor Prof SK Sopory. Tibetan students also offered a traditional Tibetan welcome.
Before entering the auditorium the Vice-Chancellor presented him with a medallion bearing the University logo which represents international academic exchange and the search for knowledge for the betterment of human beings. He then escorted His Holiness onto the stage, where Prof Prasenjit Sen gave a short introduction to the event.
After formally greeting His Holiness and assembled guests, Prof Sen explained that what was about to begin was unique, a discussion between experts in Quantum Physics and Madhyamaka Philosophy. He said the hope was to create a confluence of two different streams of thought, which was why the presence of reputed experts was important. He drew everyone’s attention to a line of upturned clay dishes, more usually used to make yogurt or feed birds. Students had arranged them thus to suggest the traditional shape of the Indian Buddhist stupa. They were eight in number to suggest the eight auspicious symbols (ashtamangala).
Vice-Chancellor Prof SK Sopory also extended a welcome to His Holiness and other guests. He said he was grateful to His Holiness for suggesting the convening of such a conference and for choosing JNU as the place to hold it. His Holiness responded to his invitation to address the gathering:
“Respected elder and younger brothers and sisters, firstly I want to tell you I consider myself to be a normal human being. Nothing special. I am a normal human being who began to study by memorizing texts at the age of seven or eight. Even today, at the age of 80, I still read and reflect every day on the thoughts of the masters of Nalanda University. This I find is really useful for keeping an open mind. And I remain mindful of the Buddha’s advice not to accept what he said on trust or out of devotion to him, but only after examining, exploring and experimenting with it.
“When I was about 19 or 20 I developed a curiosity about science that had begun with an interest in mechanical things and how they worked. In China in 1954/5 I met Mao Zedong several times. Once he commended me for having a scientific mind, adding that religion was poison, perhaps presuming that this would appeal so someone who was ‘scientific minded’. After coming to India as a refugee I had many opportunities to meet people from many different walks of life, scientists among them. 30 years ago I began a series of dialogues focussing on cosmology, neurobiology, physics, including Quantum Physics, and psychology. These discussions have been largely of mutual benefit. Scientists have learned more about the mind and emotions, while we have gained a subtler explanation of matter. A casualty has been my belief in Mt Meru, described in ancient India as the axis of the universe.
“Due to the kindness of the 8th century scholar Shantarakshita, among Buddhists today, only Tibetans have preserved the Nalanda tradition through rigorous study and practice.
“About 15-20 years ago at some meeting, the Indian physicist Raja Ramanna told me that he had been reading Nagarjuna and that he’d been amazed to find that much of what he had to say corresponded to what he understood of quantum physics. A year ago at Presidency College in Kolkata the Vice-Chancellor Prof S Bhattacharya mentioned that according to quantum physics nothing exists objectively, which again struck me as corresponding to Chittamatrin and Madhyamaka views, particularly Nagarjuna’s contention that things only exist by way of designation.
“I’d like to add that I really appreciate everyone who has contributed to making this conversation here today possible.
“Early in my lifetime, science was employed to further material and economic development. Later in the 20th century, scientists began to see that peace of mind is important for physical health and well-being. Indeed many of the problems we face today are rooted in our mind and emotions. Although we may be inclined to pray to God or Buddha to help us solve such problems, they might reply that since we created these problems it is up to us to solve them. This is why I often advise that it is up to us to work to build a better more compassionate world. We need to take a secular approach to promulgating universal human values.
“I hope conferences like this can address two purposes: extending our knowledge and improving our view of reality so we can better tackle our disturbing emotions. As a result of combining warm-heartedness with intelligence, I hope we’ll be better equipped to contribute to humanity’s well-being.”
The first session, chaired by Prof N Mukunda featured a paper by French researcher into the philosophy of science, Prof Michel Bitbol, entitled ‘Quantum Physics: interdependence and the no-view stance’. In it he sought to compare two of the most radical critiques of metaphysical views and essentialism that have ever been proposed. He suggested that one characteristic feature of quantum physics, ‘entanglement’ or ‘non-separability’, is reminiscent of the Buddhist concept of dependent arising. Just as the ancient texts warn that explanations of emptiness can shock the unprepared, Bitbol quoted Niels Bohr saying that those not shocked by quantum theory have not understood it.
His Holiness intervened to confirm that not only do things appear as if they have independent existence, but we tend to take it for granted that they do exist inherently. He said he was interested to observe how ideas from quantum physics that might challenge this affect those who understand them in day to day life.
Among Prof Mukunda’s observations he reported the English physicist Dirac as refusing to engage in philosophical argument. He also quoted Feynman as suggesting that philosophy was as useful to science as ornithology is to birds.
Questions from the audience touched on a number of concepts related to quantum physics such as ‘singularity’, ‘inseparability’ and ‘entanglement’.
Geshe Ngawang Samten chaired the second session. In his introduction he remarked that selflessness is something the Buddha taught that had not been heard before. All four main schools of Buddhist thought propound this ideal, although for the two lower schools it only concerns the selflessness of persons. The two higher schools, the Madhyamaka or Middle Way and the Chittamatrin or Mind Only, also speak of the selflessness of phenomena.
In his paper, ‘Concerning the Chittamatrin View of Emptiness’, Geshe Ngawang Sangye of Drepung Loseling Monastic University sought to explain the reasoning refuting external existence as a branch of the Chittamatrin final view of reality; the reasoning establishing their final view and other issues that arise from these assertions. He discussed the imprints that Mind Only proponents speak about when they assert that all phenomena are established through the ripening of imprints. He touched on the consciousness involved when they say that all phenomena are of one entity with consciousness. In addition he discussed how multiple individuals can view a single object simultaneously and whether the same object can appear to different individuals.
There were several questions from the audience before the session broke for lunch.
During the first afternoon session chaired by Prof Rajaram Nityananda, Prof Matthew Chandrankunnel read a paper on ‘The Ontology and Epistemology of Reality According to Quantum Mechanics and Madhyamaka Buddhism’. He suggested that classical physics provides an objective and continuous reality independent of the observer. However, in Quantum Mechanics reality exists only when a measurement is made such that the observer is indeed influencing the observation, fusing the observer and the observed. He stated that the completeness-incompleteness of Quantum Mechanics debate and its denial through impossibility theorem delve deep into ontology-epistemology debate about physical reality. This also relates to the possibility of representing reality through mathematical theories.
Prof Chandrankunnel touched on relativity and geometry, as well as the Copenhagen Interpretation, the collapse of wave function and Bohmian mechanics. He also brought Madhyamaka and Yogachara views into his discussion before dealing with questions from the floor.
After His Holiness left in the mid afternoon, there were papers presented by Geshe Lobsang Tenpe Gyaltsen on ‘The Buddhist Perspective on the World and its Beings’ and Geshe Chisa Drungchen Tulku on ‘The Two Truths: a Prasangika Madhyamaka Perspective’. The conference will continue tomorrow.