Tibet: Science

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What can we learn from understanding the significance of these differences? The Emory-Tibet Science Initiative, a science education collaboration between Emory University and the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, provides an opportunity to explore multiple perceptions related to these questions and to situate them in the context of teaching and learning science 1 , 2.

Since , dozens of science professors from around the world have traveled to Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in India to teach during intensive summer sessions Fig. Twenty-four of these monastic students have also taken two years of science classes at Emory. These monks and nuns then return to their institutions as science teachers, curriculum developers, and leaders of research projects.

They connect their learning experiences at Emory, their continued relationships with fellow scientists, and science texts written by Emory scientists and translated into Tibetan with the needs and interests they identify at their respective monasteries and nunneries.

The Dalai Lama invited Emory to develop and teach a comprehensive, rigorous science curriculum for Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns. In the preparatory stage of this project, we investigated the cultural and educational background of Tibetan Buddhist monastics as well as their methods for studying and learning 3 , 4. After two years, teams of faculty traveled to Dharamsala in the summer of to initiate the six-year pilot phase of the newly developed curriculum.

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While monks and nuns in these classes were highly educated in logic and Buddhist philosophy, most did not have experience with contemporary science. The incorporation of these disciplines into monastic training is the most significant change to the Tibetan Buddhist curriculum in years 2.

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The next five years of the project were dedicated to teaching the pilot versions of each year of the curriculum to two cohorts of monks and nuns who traveled to Dharmasala each summer from their monasteries located throughout India. In , we moved the revised program into three monastic universities in south India. As of summer , the first five of six years of the curriculum were active, with over 1, monastics engaged.

During the summer science intensive, students are in class four and a half hours per day, six days a week. Seven instructional days and one day for the final exam and review are allotted for each of the topic areas: physics, biology, and neuroscience for all students Table 1.

First-year students have an additional class discussing the philosophy of science to bridge their training in philosophy with their science education. Learning is formatively assessed through group activities, class discussion, debate, and student presentations. Each class is led by a teaching team consisting of two visiting faculty, two translators, and a monastic teaching assistant.

As the monastic science curriculum has been iteratively refined and taught over the past decade, the following driving principles have emerged as priorities for teaching and learning in Tibetan monasteries. We propose these as a model for effective cross-cultural teaching writ large. This partnership can provide a deeper understanding of how the mind works and perhaps new insights and interventions to relieve suffering.

Determine the value of specific knowledge in the context of the community. The Dalai Lama realized that in order for Tibetan culture to survive, it was vital to incorporate modern science into the education systems of monastics and lay Tibetans.

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Thus, it became crucial to evaluate the types of knowledge that are most important for our students to emphasize science as a new and complementary tool for understanding the world. Foster sustainable education practices that allow for a dynamic curriculum. Ultimately, science topics will be fully integrated into the monastic curriculum and knowledge will be assessed as part of earning a monastic Geshe degree equivalent to a PhD.

To accomplish this, we strive for monks and nuns to obtain full ownership of the project. Here we focus on elaborating how putting these principles into action in Tibetan monasteries and nunneries halfway around the world transformed our approaches to the teaching we do in the United States.

Traditionally, diversity and inclusion efforts in science education have focused on bringing underrepresented students into pre-existing frameworks for learning science. Another way to think about inclusivity is to allow for and encourage students to draw from their diverse backgrounds and integrate that knowledge and experience into the ways we make, build, and use knowledge both within and beyond the classroom.

Scientific research is shaped by who is doing it, when it is conducted, and the cultural context in which it takes place. The experiments conducted and the approaches used are constantly evolving. We should encourage student participation in this complex process. The more different our students, the greater the variety of ideas—and the richer our science 5 — 7. How should we best engage all cultural backgrounds in the room?

Horowitz et al. When each of these is considered in relation to one another, instructors may more effectively guide their students in forming personal, meaningful connections to the science. Such connections increase motivation in learning 9. In the United States, a diversity of methods for engaging students from a variety of backgrounds have been implemented and assessed. Examples include writing to learn 10 and innovative approaches to teaching evolution 11 , These teaching techniques have been used in science courses at the monasteries and have been shown to be effective in class through formative and summative assessments.

In describing the distinction between correlation and causation, the monks and nuns have many questions 2. According to Buddhist philosophy, everything at some level causes everything else; so, in a sense, there is no difference between causation and correlation. Backing up and exploring this difference and its implications and possibilities for which questions we ask in science and how we ask them was essential and changed the direction of our teaching and the way we ourselves thought about the science. We now include discussion of different types of causes and causes at different levels of analysis.

For example, in Buddhism there are substantial causes and contributing causes. A substantial cause refers to the actual material substance that composes an object while contributing causes provide the action While we may not typically think of nucleotides as the cause of DNA in Western science, in this case, we may describe the nucleotides as a substantial cause and DNA polymerase as a contributing cause.

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Considering the levels of cause ultimately provides a framework for deepening mechanistic understanding of science for all students Loss of a tumor suppressor gene may cause cancer. Knowing this level of cause does not provide information about how loss of the tumor suppresser gene actually leads to the development of cancer.

We may also want our students to consider the cause that resulted in loss of the tumor suppressor gene in the first place. By encouraging our students to look at events both upstream and downstream of the event of interest, we will cultivate a more holistic view of scientific phenomena Rather than employing linear descriptions, Buddhism more often refers to the cyclical, interdependent nature of events. This cycle-based framework provides a new metaphor for teaching aspects of biology; for example, the actions of the immune system.

Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences

Monastic scholars, who promote nonviolence, do not optimally connect with the traditional description of immune cells attacking and killing invading cells. Thinking about the immune system as a cycle of life, death, and sacrifice, where some cells die to improve the overall wellbeing of an organism, is another way to consider the same scientific information in a different light.

One can see here how rethinking tumor suppression or immune cell action, as just two examples, is not just a matter of semantics or only relevant to monastic students, but in fact could change both the way science educators teach these topics and how scientists ask questions and design experiments in these areas.

Science is not an isolated practice. It is situated in the context of culture as noted above, and in the context of funding opportunities, political climate, the politics of peer-review publication, ethics, and law, to name a few. Removing science from its context limits the potential impact of our teaching. As scientists, we are aware of these factors, yet we often exclude them from our classrooms. We need to identify tensions embedded in scientific content and use them as entry points into teaching moments, rather than ignoring or avoiding them. The Emory-Tibet Science Initiative presents a unique opportunity to teach the basics of science to individuals who are highly educated, with a solid knowledge base to connect with but little experience with modern science.

This inspires the use of teaching strategies that connect fundamental scientific concepts with the pre-existing knowledge and experiences of the monastics. Are bacteria sentient? This question is particularly important in the context of Tibetan Buddhism because any sentient being may be reincarnated as any other sentient being, and if bacteria are sentient, it presents a problem.

We have the monastics explore this question using experiments they design as well as the Tibetan pedagogical technique of debate, while teaching the fundamentals of cell biology and cell communication 2. In this way, we have incorporated culturally responsive teaching in our courses by connecting content knowledge with knowledge of our students and the types of questions that are most important to them.

Furthermore, once the scientific content has been framed in terms of culturally relevant questions, we incorporate debate as a learning method, as this is commonly used by monastics to deepen their understanding of Buddhist texts. This keeps us from an opportunity to meet students halfway and develop their learning skills. The pressure to pack new science into every moment of class can be problematic because it leaves little room for students to consider the material in their own way.

Tibetan translators are key to teaching at the monasteries. Instructors pause after every few sentences while the translator relays the message 2. At first, it seemed as though this process would impede the ability of instructors to teach; having to stop so often would prevent us covering enough material and would interrupt the flow of the class. Exactly the opposite happens—translation creates an opportunity for instructors to reflect on their teaching as it happens and provides a natural space for questions, dialogue, and interaction.

Teaching and learning are enriched through this process.

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As a result of these reflections, we have become more responsive to the dynamic classroom environment. This may mean catching a few more student expressions and providing additional explanation when they are puzzled or more discussion time when they are excited. We have also improved focus on the overarching objectives and goals of the course.

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Community spaces dedicated for exploring scientific knowledge, and engaging in inquiry and discourse with scientists. Enough nuns in India have now been involved with science to establish an all-nuns leadership program. Read the full article on Cal Poly Magazine. For many casual observers, the relationship between faith and science is a tense one at best, and an outright hostile one at worst.

Read the full article on The Times of India. The group discussed how meditation can be used to study various mental processes and how it can also be used as a tool for the betterment of society…. Read the full article on College of Engineering Washington University.