MindScience: An East-West Dialogue
Edited by Daniel Goleman and Robert A. F. Thurman. 
Wisdom Publications: Boston, 1991.
126 pp. $12.50 (paperback).

mindscience
Cover of MindScience.

 

In the spring of 1991, East met West in a one-day symposium on the nature of mind. Intended as a first step in promoting dialogue among Buddhist scholars—including His Holiness the Dalai Lama—and Western psychologists, psychiatrists, educators, and neurobiologists, the conference was like most first steps: a bit clumsy but promising. More than saffron robes and dark suits separated the participants, especially as many of the Westerners—all distinguished in their fields—grappled for the first time in a public forum with such concepts as karma and emptiness. This book is an edited version of the symposium, which I attended; it was sponsored jointly by the Mind/Body Medical Institute of Harvard Medical School and New England Deaconess Hospital and Tibet House, New York.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the book is the Dalai Lama’s ability to synthesize scientific materialism and Western psychology with the ancient Buddhist science of mind—without any apparent contradiction. “Buddhist thinkers also find it extremely beneficial to incorporate into their thinking the insights of various scientific fields, such as quantum mechanics and neurobiology, where there are also equally strong elements of uncertainty and essencelessness,” he said. And in describing the line of demarcation where natural law is superceded by karmic law, he explained that “it is only when the existence of external objects causes sentient beings to experience things like pain and pleasure that the karmic force comes into the picture.”

Though not all the Westerners were as familiar with Buddhist inner science as His Holiness is with Western science, the spirit of the day was one of genuine inquiry. A number of provocative questions were raised—which is about the most you can expect when ambassadors of radically different disciplines sit down and talk for the first time.

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