Buddhist leader wins over crowd at D.C. gathering
WASHINGTON — In an unusual marriage of science and spirituality, the Dalai Lama addressed thousands of the world’s top neuroscientists this weekend.
He told them that society is falling behind in its efforts to make sense of their groundbreaking research.
Speaking in Tibetan and halting English on Saturday at the 35th annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, the Tibetan spiritual and political leader said scientists and moral leaders need one another.
“It is all too evident that our moral thinking simply has not been able to keep pace with such rapid progress in our acquisition of knowledge and power,” he said in a prepared text.
The speech at the Washington Convention Center had been opposed by some members of the society. They objected to a religious leader addressing neuroscientists, who study the brain, emotions and human behavior. Nearly 800 people signed an online petition demanding that the Dalai Lama’s invitation be withdrawn.
Many of the petition signers were Chinese Americans, which led to countercharges that they opposed the Dalai Lama on political grounds. Tibet has been under Chinese control for a half-century, and the Dalai Lama is at the center of the dispute.
Except for minor protests Saturday , that conflict was barely visible at the conference. Some attendees stayed away from the Dalai Lama’s talk, and others left early in what a few described as a protest.
For most of the 14,000 who watched in the lecture hall or from overflow rooms, the Dalai Lama’s enthusiastic embrace of science and promotion of meditation were warmly received.
The author of a new book on the convergence of Buddhism and science, the Dalai Lama has met with prominent scientists around the world for almost 20 years and has encouraged an increasingly fruitful collaboration between brain researchers and Tibetan monks.
Because of the controversy over his speech to the neuroscientists in Washington, the Dalai Lama’s aides said he would keep to a prepared text, something unusual for him. But on Saturday he often diverged from the text, despite saying with a smile that he was feeling unusual stress.