His Holiness Dalai Lama speaks with neuroscientists

“Craving, suffering, and choice: Spiritual and scientific explorations of human experience”,  was the  title of one of the 3 events that took place at Stanford University in the fist week of November in 2005. There were also two other events on meditation and nonviolence. Although all of these were broadcast live over the Internet, it seems like only the collaborative meetings between His Holiness and the neuroscientists from Neuroscience Institute were available as video streams at the time, from the Internet Archive, “Craving and Choice” and “Suffering and Choice”, but both of these streams are now irretrievable

This type of collaboration is long overdue and gives me hope in academic research. It was particularly interesting to witness the contrast of approach in the morning session. Dalai Lama seems genuinely ‘confused’ as to how localizing particular ‘cravings’ in the brain and inhibiting them with drugs is considered medicine, since as he points out, this approach does not differentiate between necessary/good desires and afflicted cravings. Given that the same part of the brain can be responsible for different cravings at different times (the brain is highly adaptive), drug therapy of this sort would lead to a chase around the brain resulting in ‘disaster’: comatose patient without any desires whatsoever. The neuroscientist had a real difficult time accepting that he must be able to differentiate between those desires which are necessary (like thirst for water when you need it) and those which are afflicted, whereas the Dalai Lama thought the approach of eliminating ‘desire’ without making such a decision puzzling.

see also:
Thoughts on the mind from the Dalai Lama (Stanford Medicine Magazine)

Mind and Life Institute 

I could not find, among the webcasts available online, a link to videos of the September 2003 conference “Investigating the Mind”. A recent book, The Dalai Lama at MIT, documents the discussions during this 2003 meeting between the Dalai Lama and various scientists and scholars: Ajahn Amaro, Marlene Behrmann, Jonathan Cohen, Richard J. Davidson, Georges Dreyfus, R. Adam Engle, Daniel Gilbert, Tenzin Gyatso, Anne Harrington, Thupten Jinpa, Jerome Kagan, Daniel Kahneman, Nancy Kanwisher, Dacher Keltner, Stephen M. Kosslyn, Eric Lander, David E. Meyer, Daniel Reisberg, Matthieu Ricard, Evan Thompson, Anne Treisman, B. Alan Wallace, Arthur Zajonc. The topics discussed include attention, emotion, imagery and visualization. One of the major ways in which Western science departs from the Buddhist view is that the former characterizes emotions based on valence (positive/negative) and arousal (strength), whereas the latter makes the distinction between destructive/afflictive/nonvirtuous emotions and those that are virtuous or ethically neutral.

[Edited from Photomedia Forum posts from March 26, 2007]