Transcript of Strasbourg Conversations with the Dalai Lama

Note: the following transcript by our Director is rough and unedited.

Session 1

00:00 Opening and welcome: (speaking to His Holiness): “How should we address you, your Holiness?” HHDL replies, “Best as ‘brother.’”

03:07 Introduction by Alain Beretz, President, University of Strasbourg: “We welcome you as a scientific academic community. This conversation with you will be a first in France, based on four thematic conversations: what are the mutual contributions of neuroscience and mediation? What are the interactions between body, consciousness, and meditation? How is meditation affecting our ability to act? What are the links between body and mind?

Our university is one of the great universities in Europe. Our roots are on both sides of the Rhine. We were born both Protestant and Catholic, both German and French… We are all committed to promoting the values of humanism, plurality, and dialog in an unceasing concert of opinions, debates, even in contradiction, indeed polemics. Academic and scientific freedom allow us to be in a great research of truth. (And you said yesterday to our high school students, “truth can be written on the plural”)…

Taking into account the whole person as builders of the society of tomorrow, our duty to science is to listen, to understand, to open new fields. Our university has a tradition of openness. This is why we invited you to share with the most renowned scientists… we have three Nobel Prize winners in our community. You, dear brother are another among these. You are here as a “visitation” for us and an “enlightenment.”

11:00 Jean Sibilia, Dean, Medical School, University of Strasbourg, “My brother, let me tell you how honored I am able to welcome you here today. I became a physician to help people blossom… Body and mind healthcare. Medicine can only be of the whole person. To be able to marvel, to be enchanted, se marveiller, as we say in French, is the essence of science, and of us. In 2007 I stayed in the room you had slept in the night before – this was a turning point in my life. Thank you! I love you because you love others.”

18:42 First Panel—meditation and neuroscience: Wolf Singer (Max Planck Institute), Antoine Lutz, Tenured Scientist, Lyon Neuroscience Research Center (CNRL), INSERM, Gaël Chételat, Director of Research INSERM UMR-S 1077, INSERM -EPHE, University of Caen.

23:17: Wolf Singer (holding hands with HHDL): “After Power and Care (a conference with HHDL held in Brussels 9/9-11/16) I decided to ask your opinion—trying to find a naturalistic explanation for the spiritual. I’d like to get your opinion about this: much evidence for mental causation. Decisions cause action. Moral convictions guide our behavior: belief can erect a cathedral. How does this occur? We also know that there is causation that goes the other way as well. I heard you saying in Brussels, in reply to the dramatic problems of our time, I heard you call for a secular ethics. We should take responsibility and actions, don’t rely on prayers. Here is what I think could be done without positing a spiritual world that is completely detached from this world. This world is an emergent property of cultural evolution. We know that evolution produced cognitive agents, already different from neuronal networks. We know that things became more and more complex over time. From simple brains to complex brains, more and more cognitive agents arose. Finally we formed networks of cognitive agents. This led to a new dimension of the world—the dimension of social realities: thoughts, concepts, beliefs, and capacity for social interactions. These are immaterial phenomena that are not present in the pre-cultural world. Because they are not material, we associate them and see them as “spiritual” things. Thus, as neurons create cognitive agents, networks of cognitive agents create “spiritual realities.” Thus, I think we can give a naturalistic account of spiritual dimension.” What do you think?”

35:53 HHDL speaking, “Historically, in East, particularly in India, 3-4000 years, some spiritual traditions start. Here began one-pointed meditation and vipassana – investigation. These traditions naturally pay more attention to mind – different forms of mental work. Firstly, sensorial consciousness, then mental. Sensorial consciousness very much related with brain. So, modern scientists can explain eye organ and how it relates to brain – these things.

Mental level, in ancient India, some schools of thought say “eight minds, some say six minds.” The main mind consciousness, or mental level consciousness, that’s a little bit mysterious, but the real decision is taken by that mind, not by sensory level of consciousness. Sensory level consciousness only a channel bringing information needed to make judgments, good or bad, useful or not useful—all that mental level. Now, that mental level consciousness, as a matter of fact, is completely independent from sensorial consciousness. That mental level, you see, there are different levels. Mental level functioning simultaneously with sensorial level, more gross.

Then in sleep or dreaming, no sensorial consciousness working, mental consciousness is a little deeper. Then, without dreaming, further deeper. In faint, further deeper. Richie Davidson is now showing interest in the very subtle level of consciousness at the time of death. Heart beating stops, blood circulation in brain cease, brain then dead. Then, in some cases, over the last fifty years, over thirty or forty cases – body remain very fresh, in the case of my own tutor, Ling Rinpoche, 13 days. Another person, almost three weeks the body remain very fresh. Therefore, there are different levels of mental consciousness.

In the West, the spiritual tradition not much talking about these different kinds of meditation—emphasis: faith. I was told some Jewish tradition some branch, certain kinds of meditation – and Greek Orthodox. Not much try to know about mind function or consciousness. Now, in modern time, scientists, particularly the brain specialists, showing some interest.

So, your investigation is based on the culture you’ve been brought up in. Only sensorial consciousness, not much deeper level. So you call something “spirituality” or something “mysterious.” Yes, it is not easy, not like phenomena that you can make some measurement or see – not like that – invisible. Therefore: in particular, Jain tradition, Buddhist tradition, and part of Samkya tradition, no concept of Creator—we our self creator, “self-created.”

So, naturally, when the emphasis and all responsibility relies on yourself, then action – we call karma – good karma, bad karma – related to motivation. So then motivation is involved, not sensorial level, but deeper level.

So, naturally, there is an explanation of the process of how we see the reality, understand reality as it is, on the base level, and then, based on that, how we proceed along the path, and culminate in the resultant state. So since ourself have the responsibility, we have to know the positive action come from what kind of motivation. And harmful action come from what kind of motivation.

There is then the explanation of the destructive and negative emotions – the Sanskrit word is kleshas. Common word in India, not so common in West. Thus, in these traditions there is a lot of explanation on these things and methods to transform our ¬¬mind. Since now about thirty years, I found this information is something useful but should not remain in the Buddhist tradition. This, should take out of Buddhist and Hindu tradition and consider academic subject. So we already compiled a few books on the world of consciousness or mind and different philosophical views, but not talking about “next life,” “salvation,” or these things—this is private business. But this knowledge is related with seven billion human beings!

Firstly, scientist like you, showing some interest about this mysterious world. So, I really appreciate this kind of meeting. Time come, share certain knowledge from East. Similarly, you share with knowledge of technology, modern science, the Asian, copy from your knowledge. We are same human being. We share this same body and mind, whether we have full knowledge of mind or not. Day by day, awake or sleep, this always working. So, it is important to know more about the system of consciousness.

51:17 Wolf Singer, “I agree.”

(end of partial transcript)

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