Monks learn science writing, thanks to the Dalai Lama's commitment to education and the efforts of a host of experts, including an ASU English professor
For Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th and current Dalai Lama, his love of science began in childhood. Curious to know what made a mechanical watch tick, he took it apart and put it back together again. Despite the success of that early endeavor, he didn’t receive any formal scientific education until he was much older, something he considered a disservice when he found that it actually complemented and enhanced his Buddhist training and understanding of the scriptures.
Today, science education is part of the curriculum in Buddhist monasteries, thanks to the Dalai Lama’s resolve to make it so. And while it might seem odd from a Western perspective for a religious figure to embrace the pursuit of empirical study, the Dalai Lama espouses the belief that “all avenues of inquiry — scientific as well as spiritual — must be pursued in order to arrive at a complete picture of the truth.”
Arizona State University Associate Professor of English Jessica Early appreciates what can be gained from the intersection of seemingly disparate practices. As director of the Central Arizona Writing Project, a local offshoot of the National Writing Project, she has taught several workshops on how to write about science.
This past December, Early took that expertise to Dzongkar Choede Monastery in southern India, where she and a diverse group of colleagues participated as instructors in the Sager Science Leadership Institute, which trains monks in how to be leaders of science education and nurturers of their monastic communities’ growing relationship with science.
“I thought this was going to be something totally out of my comfort zone,” Early said. “But one of the things I’ve learned about teaching writing is how it really translates to different disciplines. So I was delighted that it was able to transfer to such a new setting and audience.”