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Dalai Lama Appeals for Ethics on Science's Cutting Edge

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 05/11/13; November 13, 2005.]

WASHINGTON, Nov 13 (AFP) - Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, urged top scientists to work to ensure that ethical principles guide the strides they are making in cutting-edge science.

"We must find a way of bringing fundamental humanitarian and ethical considerations to bear upon the direction of scientific development, especially in the life sciences," he told some 8,000 people in an address to the Society for Neuroscience here Saturday.

"I am speaking of ... the key ethical principles, such as compassion, tolerance, a sense of caring, consideration for others and the responsible use of knowledge and power -- principles that transcend the barriers between religious believers and non-believers, and the followers of this religion or that religion," he said, partly in English and through a Tibetan interpreter.

The Dalai Lama said he believes "humanity is at a critical crossroads.

"The radical advances that took place in neuroscience and particularly in genetics towards the end of the 20th century have led to a new era in human history. Our knowledge of the human brain and body at the cellular and genetic level, with the consequent technological possibilities offered for genetic manipulations, has reached such a stage that the ethical challenges of these scientific advances are enormous," he stressed.

"This has resulted in unforeseen technological possibilities of even manipulating the very codes of life, thereby giving rise to the likelihood of creating entirely new realities for humanity as a whole," he said.

The 70-year-old Tibetan leader, who lives in India, also explained his great interest in neurology over the past 20 years, and in the physiological effects of meditation.

"From the methodological perspective, Buddhism and modern science emphasize the role of empiricism," he added.

And "if a surgery of the brain could provide the same benefits as hours of meditation daily, I would do it," the Dalai Lama said.

He argued that "modern cosmology and astronomy must compel us now to modify, or in some cases reject, many of traditional cosmology as found in ancient Buddhist texts."

"The Buddhist contemplative tradition may help to expand this field of scientific inquiry by proposing types of mental training that may also pertain to neuroplasticity. If it turns out, as the Buddhist tradition implies, that mental practice can effect observable synaptic and neural changes in the brain, this could have far reaching implications".

"Similarly, if, as the Buddhist tradition claims, the deliberate cultivation of compassion can lead to a radical shift in the individual's outlook, leading to greater empathy toward others, this could have far-reaching implications for society at large," he said.

The Dalai Lama's address was the first in a series of presentations on the dialogue between neurology and science, organizers said.

The appearance by the Buddhist spiritual leader at this 35th annual conference of the society sparked considerable controversy among its 37,000 members worldwide.

Hundreds signed a petition, released in August on the Internet, against the Dalai Lama's speaking, which they saw as a dangerous and potent mix of religion and science. A counter-petition also received hundreds of signatures arguing that free discussion of the physiology of meditation could take research in promising new directions.

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