While the Dalai Lama usually answers questions about the nature of life, the tables are turned in Gentle Bridges: Conversations with the Dalai Lama on the Sciences of the Mind, edited by Jeremy Hayward and Francisco Varela (Shambhala Publications, 1992). These provocative discussions about Buddhist dharma and cognitive science were recorded in Dharamsala in 1987; yet nothing about this inquiry is more compelling than these questions asked of Western scientists by the Dalai Lama himself:


topleft♦ On the level of sub-atomic particles, is there really any fundamental distinction between totally inert or inanimate things like rocks as opposed to that which goes into flesh?

♦ A proton may last for seventeen billion years, but on a momentary basis is it not subject to change?topright

♦ Would you consider a one-celled creature like an amoeba a sentient being?

midleft

 

♦ Does a one-celled creature like an amoeba have the whole range of cognitive events, such as desire, sexual desire, feeling, and so on?

♦ In your personal view, is a bacterium a sentient being? The question is important in the Buddhist context, because when you take the life of a sentient being, middlerightthat constitutes a wrong deed. So is it wrong to kill an amoeba? Buddhists would say that if the amoeba feels pleasure and pain, wishes to be happy and free of suffering, then it is wrong to kill it, and otherwise it is not wrong.

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