The Dalai Lama wins the Templeton Prize

What more is there to say than that the Head Tibetan Buddhist nabbed 1.7 miliion bucks?

Although he’s not a scientist, his Templeton Award blurb cites his science-friendly attitudes:

For decades, Tenzin Gyatso, 76, the 14th Dalai Lama – a lineage believed by followers to be the reincarnation of an ancient Buddhist leader who epitomized compassion – has vigorously focused on the connections between the investigative traditions of science and Buddhism as a way to better understand and advance what both disciplines might offer the world.

Specifically, he encourages serious scientific investigative reviews of the power of compassion and its broad potential to address the world’s fundamental problems – a theme at the core of his teachings and a cornerstone of his immense popularity.

That’s stretching real science to the breaking point.  Why not spend time mustering compassion to address the world’s problems rather than “scientifically” studying whether compassion has any potential to address problems? Of course it does.

Meh.  At least this year we don’t have a genuine scientist corrupted by Templeton money.


h/t: Dom


  1. bodhi
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    this is a touchy subject with sam harris…

    • Steve
      Posted March 29, 2012 at 9:34 am | Permalink

      What subject would that be?

      • bodhi
        Posted March 29, 2012 at 10:13 am | Permalink

        “For the fact is that a person can embrace the Buddha’s teaching, and even become a genuine Buddhist contemplative (and, one must presume, a buddha) without believing anything on insufficient evidence. The same cannot be said of the teachings for faith-based religion. In many respects, Buddhism is very much like science. One starts with the hypothesis that using attention in the prescribed way (meditation), and engaging in or avoiding certain behaviors (ethics), will bear the promised result (wisdom and psychological well-being). This spirit of empiricism animates Buddhism to a unique degree. For this reason, the methodology of Buddhism, if shorn of its religious encumbrances, could be one of our greatest resources as we struggle to develop our scientific understanding of human subjectivity.”
        -sam harris

        • whyevolutionistrue
          Posted March 29, 2012 at 10:16 am | Permalink

          But of course there’s that nasty reincarnation business, of which I believe the Dalai Lama partakes. . .

          • Dan L.
            Posted March 29, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

            Buddhist reincarnation is a wacky evidence-free metaphysical tenet, but it’s not as straight-forwardly wacky as it’s often portrayed.

            The Buddhist analog to the “soul” is less dualistic than the western concept of the same. I think most strains of Buddhism agree that the “I” or “self” is a construction made by the mind much as some findings of modern neuroscience suggest. Again, a lot of the stuff is wacky and evidence-free but I find it more interesting and compelling than the western view of life after death.

            For some idea of the complexity involved in the Buddhist take on reincarnation see the wikipedia article on skandhas.

        • Andy Dufresne
          Posted March 29, 2012 at 10:36 am | Permalink

          Sam has a soft spot of the eastern stuff, sure, but I believe he’s also on record regarding Templeton, their prize, and their whole science-and-religion-don’t-conflict charade. I can’t imagine he’d enjoy the Dalai Lama getting the prize any more than he’d enjoy anyone getting the prize, considering what the prize represents.

        • Posted March 29, 2012 at 11:53 am | Permalink

          Now I understand why Harris is sometimes considered a suspicious atheist…
          I am advocating on this blog about the new non-dual perspective you can get, as taught by the eastern traditions.

          So I am more than pleased to read that Harris wrote that “the methodology of Buddhism (…) could be one of our greatest resources as we struggle to develop our scientific understanding of human subjectivity”.

        • Marella
          Posted March 29, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

          If Buddhist teachings were so empirically minded it’s hard to understand why science didn’t blossom in the east. It is obviously not an important part of the ‘way’ to encourage scientific discovery or they would have been doing it for the last 2,500 years.

          • David Leech
            Posted March 29, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

            Well there is China and India, though I don’t think many people realize how much scientific advancement happens in warfare. Europe until recently was at each others throats.

          • अहंनास्मि (Ahannāsmi)
            Posted March 29, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

            Wow! Did you miss hearing about algebra, trigonometery, the decimal number system,
            just to mention a few scientific achievements of one corner of the “east”? Notice that I haven’t touched on China at all.

            I thought the canard that science did not flourish in the “east’ had long been dismissed as a vestige of the colonial era.

            • Dominic
              Posted March 30, 2012 at 1:24 am | Permalink

              Are those things the results of science as we regard the term today, or mathematics? Is mathematics a branch of science or parallel to it…? What is remarkable is that the amazingly advanced civilisations of Asia did not develop science as we know it. Why?

          • Posted March 29, 2012 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

            If it is true that China used to be more advanced than the west for many centuries, I don’t think it has something to do with buddhism.

            Buddhism is a science of the mind where the mind owner needs to adopt a new perspective in order to know who he really is.

            We could say that what is found when the quest is achieved is useless from a scientific perspective, but extremely meaningful from a personal point of view…

            • अहंनास्मि (Ahannāsmi)
              Posted March 29, 2012 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

              If it is true that China used to be more advanced than the west for many centuries,

              That’s an understatement if I ever I saw one. Historically, didn’t the “west” used to be well behind the “east” for most of recorded history (barring perhaps the Greeks) before the 15th century?

              • Dominic
                Posted March 30, 2012 at 1:28 am | Permalink

                Let’s not get too hung up on regionalism or continentalism! Science and acquiring kowledge are cumulative processes.

              • अहंनास्मि (Ahannāsmi)
                Posted March 30, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

                Actually, I would much prefer we were not hung up. I am just fed up of the canard that “Science/mathematics/rationality did not flourish in the east.” As for your earlier comment about science, our current view of science is mostly a product of the last 400 years. And I do not buy the statement that the early eastern or the early western civilizations did not have “science”: it was just the growth was not that explosive as it was in the last 400 years. To me, the achievements of the ancient Greek astronomers (for example, the estimation of the Earth’s circumference), Indian metal workers (for example, the metallurgy of the Iron Pillar in Delhi) and Chinese and Arabic chemists (paper, acids) do count as science.

              • Posted March 30, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

                I do not buy the statement that the early eastern or the early western civilizations did not have “science”: it was just the growth was not that explosive as it was in the last 400 years.

                I don’t think the issue is about explosive growth; I think it’s down to the methodology. Before Bacon*, say, I don’t think the way people explored the way the world worked was “science” as it’s it would be recognised today.


                *Even science is better with Bacon! 😉

            • Posted March 30, 2012 at 3:03 am | Permalink

              Joseph Needham and collaborators wrote a whole series of giant books on this subject. If I remember correctly, he identified Buddhism as an inhibitory influence on the development of natural science, for precisely this reason: it emphasises subjective experiences and entails a rejection of the material world.

              Of the other two main strands of Chinese thought, Confucianism was largely concerned with law, society and the humanities, and not so much with the natural world, while Daoism was a positive influence on proto-scientific investigations as it placed great emphasis on nature and the changes that occured in it. This heavily influenced Chinese alchemy, for example. From the early modern period, the time when Europe began to overtake China, Confucianism was the dominant ideology.

              There were also political and social factors at work: China has been for long periods of time a unified polity with a largely self-sufficient economy and abundant labour, which reduced the need for competitive technological development.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted March 30, 2012 at 1:47 am | Permalink

          And if you strip prayer or church attendance from the religious meaning it is meditation too, and every much as “empirical”.

          I’m afraid Harris won’t make a convert to “Buddha’s teaching” superstition out of me.

          • Posted March 30, 2012 at 7:01 am | Permalink

            In order to know if this is superstition, you would need to experience it and see for yourself the effect.

        • DV
          Posted March 30, 2012 at 8:02 am | Permalink

          but but but… there is exactly insufficient evidence that the Buddha’s teaching has empirical truths relating to the outside world

          • Posted March 30, 2012 at 10:12 am | Permalink

            And what truth are you talking about exactly?

            Buddha’s teaching are mostly about the nature of the Self, why we perceive it like we do and why this isn’t an absolute perspective.

  2. Posted March 29, 2012 at 9:35 am | Permalink


  3. alejb
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    I’ll be happy if it becomes tradition for the Templeton Foundation to recognize efforts of religious people to support sciencem rather than scientists who are willing to compartmentalize their thinking on religion.

    • Marta
      Posted March 30, 2012 at 2:56 am | Permalink

      I agree completely.

      Templeton can give all the money to religious figures it wants, and it’s fine with me if the Dalai Lama accepts.

      Awarding cash prizes to scientists for compromising with religion, however, is another thing entirely.

  4. Posted March 29, 2012 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    The Dalai Lama seems to have the right attitude though… 

    If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change. In my view, science and Buddhism share a search for the truth and for understanding reality. By learning from science about aspects of reality where its understanding may be more advanced, I believe that Buddhism enriches its own worldview.

    Contrast that with those Christians that admit (or demonstrate) that their faith would trump science every time.

    But I guess he remains unconvinced by the scientific evidence against reincarnation… 


    • eric
      Posted March 29, 2012 at 10:38 am | Permalink

      I was going to drop in the same quote. As religious beliefs go, (a comment like) this is about as positive as we can hope for.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted March 30, 2012 at 12:00 am | Permalink

      I don’t think there’s any scientific evidence _for_ reincarnation, but is there any scientific evidence against it? (Other than the fact that there’s no plausible mechanism for it, I suppose).

      I do like the DL’s quote, though.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted March 30, 2012 at 1:52 am | Permalink

        Children’s behavior, especially their brain function, is not that of “a reincarnated person”. A fetus is too unorganized, including its brain, to be impressed by some magical mechanism.

        It’s a non-starter IMO.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted March 30, 2012 at 3:04 am | Permalink

          That’s kinda assuming that the reincarnated person somehow retains all his previous consciousness. I suppose a ‘soul’ (for want of a better word) could be reincarnated and have to learn all over again. Though that would seem to make it kinda pointless.

          But I doubt if it’s possible to produce any empirical evidence against it – like trying to prove a negative.

          (I don’t want to push this argument too far since I don’t believe in reincarnation, myself).

  5. J James
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    Roughly 80% of Buddhists and Hinduk agree that evolution is the best explanation for the origins or human life on earth (vs. 22% for Mormans and 8% for Jehovah’s Witnesses) [Pew Research Center], so you’ve got that. The Dalai Lama himself is very educated, keeps up on the sciences and his faith view is probably more akin to that of Baruch Spinoza as opposed to that of, say, Pat Robertson, so you’ve got that too. . . . .

  6. Posted March 29, 2012 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    … vigorously focused on the connections between global bond fund dividends and eager recipients (kinda like Osho’s penchant for anything associated with a Rolls-Royce dealership).

    “Spirituality” clearly requires the right tax accountant.

  7. Screechy Monkey
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    Has it been a year already? And no WEIT contest this time? (Not that it matters, I wouldn’t have guessed the Dalai Lama anyway.)

  8. sachiwilson
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    I’ve long considered Buddhism to be more a philosophy than a religion. To be sure, there are non-scientific trappings but most of the practical aspects of Buddhism seem to be based on rational and dispassionate examination of human behavior and needs. To say it another way, Buddhism isn’t about some deity telling you what to do, but rather how a person can live best in a messy world.

    IMO, and all that. 🙂

  9. Posted March 29, 2012 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    Not knowing Buddhism I have a question…

    In the Buddhist world view, is a person who is born disabled “doing time” for misdeeds in a previous life? If so, are they treated less well by fellow Buddhists in this life? Or in other words is there a structural prejudice in Buddhism against the born disabled?

    I ask because I have encountered this prejudice towards me from two Hindu friends (formerly my friends) ~ I went through school with them & only discovered their views on this after 16 years of amiable association. Once I became aware of the truth it explained some peculiarities in their behaviour towards me over the years.

    • अहंनास्मि (Ahannāsmi)
      Posted March 29, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      I went through school with them & only discovered their views on this after 16 years of amiable association.

      I am not sure this is very common even among Hindus.

    • Kirth Gersen
      Posted March 29, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

      There’s a lot of confusion because Buddhism uses a lot of the surface language and terminology of Hinduism (the dominant religion in India at the time that Buddhism arose there), without necessarily applying the same meanings. For example, the Buddha taught that the “self” as separate from everything else is an illusion (i.e., the “soul” doesn’t really exist), so “reincarnation” in Buddhism isn’t the reincarnation of some kind of immortal soul (as it means in Hinduism), but rather an acknowledging of your current situation in this life.

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted March 29, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

        Kirth thank you. What does this mean?:-

        “…but rather an acknowledging of your current situation in this life.”

        • Kirth Gersen
          Posted March 29, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

          You stop and say, “OK, whatever brains the atoms currently in my brain used to make up, right now I find myself, as those previous meat-packages doubtless did, in a situation in which I keep thinking that “I” am something immortal and distinct from a collection of atoms. Which means that, yet again, the collection atoms has to be re-programmed to accept the truth. In other words, “here we go again.”

          In that sense, I’d assume Buddhists would be jumping all over the “no contra-causal free will” thing, come to think of it.

          • Kirth Gersen
            Posted March 29, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

            Masahiro Mori, a cybernetic engineer, does a much better job explaining this than I do: check out “The Buddha in the Robot” if you ever get a chance.

      • अहंनास्मि (Ahannāsmi)
        Posted March 29, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

        For what it is worth, there was no such thing as “Hinduism” before the Mughals landed in India. There is no one single concept of “soul” in the collection of religions that are today called “Hinduism”.

  10. Sastra
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    The Dali Lama authored a book a while back called The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality. I haven’t read it, but I heard that it contains some quantum woo, as well as a lot of desperate attempts to find parallels between discoveries in modern science and ancient Buddhist beliefs.

    And then of course there’s that wonderful weasel word “spirituality.” Does it mean wisdom and compassion? Does it mean karmic forces and supernatural connections? Does it mean either or both — take your pick? You decide! It’s all good!

    The Dali Lama is not necessarily the liberal icon he’s often portrayed as. He’s come out and declared that homosexuality is a “sin,” for one thing. He’s also been reported as saying, on several occasions, that problems like Down’s Syndrome are caused by bad deeds done in previous lives. There’s controversy too over the fact that, in his country, very young boys are “bonded” as monks, their life determined for them before they really know what it means to have to be permanently celibate. The Dali Lama doesn’t seem interested in reforming this.

    Buddhism in Tibet is not as secularized as Buddhism in California. And it’s much more rigid.

    • Kirth Gersen
      Posted March 29, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

      It’s definitely worth mentioning, as Sastra alludes, that Tibetan Buddhism = basic Buddhism + a whole collection of pre-existing Tibetan folk beliefs that in some cases outright contradict the basic tenets of what the Buddha taught. The aggregate whole is a bit schizophrenic.

      If you take the Buddha’s teachings, strip out all the Hindu terms and analogies, and keep it away from other folk religions, you end up with something like Zen, which is about as close to secular and naturalistic as a religion gets.

      • Bruce S. Springsteen
        Posted March 29, 2012 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

        And so we return to the oft-visited conclusion, that religions are respectable to the extent that they become less like religion and more like secular humanism. The Dalai Lama should consider making the last leap of faithlessness, and retire from the hereditary holy man business altogether. He can afford it now, with this emoluments in his robe posket. Then we could see if his profundities seem uniquely inspiring without the quasi-mystical back story and entourage.

        • Bruce S. Springsteen
          Posted March 29, 2012 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

          Emolument, robe pocket. Touch screen typos, a modern malady.

    • Posted March 30, 2012 at 10:25 am | Permalink

      One central assertion in buddhism is that everything is empty, which means that things don’t exist by themselves but are transitory aggregates. We may agree intellectually with that but in our everyday life, we act as we were not ourself an aggregate but a true real constant person. And from that egotic perspective, comes the suffering.

      ( a good wiki article )

      That being said, quantum physics also revealed that everything is empty. Buddhism told us this centuries ago…

      Is this the woo you are referring too?

      • the Siliconopolitan
        Posted April 1, 2012 at 6:21 am | Permalink

        That being said, quantum physics also revealed that everything is empty.

        How so?

        The quantum physics I know on the contrary teaches that nothing is empty. That fields pervade the entirety of spacetime and keep fluctuating at all timescales.

  11. Andrew
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    While Buddhism and Hinduism do consider one’s lot in this life to be the result of karma accrued during past lives, the attitude towards those who are having a bad go of it this time ’round is SUPPOSED to factor in the possibility that the hapless one may have been a former lover or even a parent child and potentially a future ally or love, so we are supposed extend compassion to that person, even if they deserve their lot.

    In addition, Buddhists and most Hindus are supposed to recognize that we are all selves who are but aspects of the Self, and thus of the same substance as Bramhan and therefore deserving of compassion as long as we are still trapped in the cycle of birth-rebirth.

    However, since most people are assholes regardless of their religious tradition, we get judgemental Buddhists and the caste system.

  12. the Siliconopolitan
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    What’s the problem? They’re just returning to their roots? Wasn’t one of the first recipients Ma Teresa? This way at least they’re not tainting so many scientists.

    What I’d like to know, is why an anti-materialist would accept 1.7 megabucks?

    • David Leech
      Posted March 29, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

      Good point, lets see if he practices what he preaches.

    • Posted March 30, 2012 at 10:29 am | Permalink

      If you are buddhist, you can’t be anti-materialist because that would mean that you are attached to non-materiality.

      And if you are truly a detached person, you’ll accept what life brings you with no problem, especially if it is a good load of money that you can be used for the benefit of others.

      In fact, an enlightened buddhist is ultimately free from buddhism itself.

      That is why a buddhist monk once said that if you meet the Buddha, kill him…

  13. neil
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    I still say he looks like Sgt. Bilko, but not as funny.

    • David Leech
      Posted March 29, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

      Come on that’s a pretty high standard:-)

  14. Jimalakirti
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    I don’t believe the blurb here gives a very accurate idea of the Dali Lama’s views on science. He actualy treats sciece quite seriously and has change the Buddhist outlook on existence from almost ure abstract argument and specuation to a scientific approach. It ain’t perfect, but it ain’t qccomodation in the sense that that term is usually used. They don’t just fiddle with stuff until they can make it fit into their reeived world view. They actualy change their world view.

  15. Matt G
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    Interesting that Templeton chose a Buddhist. I wonder if they are looking to deflect criticism that they promote a Judeo-Christian agenda. If anyone doubts that they have an agenda, just read the description of the prize – they betray their agenda right there in black and white.

    • Bruce S. Springsteen
      Posted March 29, 2012 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

      Tenzin Gyatso, putting the temple back in Templeton.

      • Marta
        Posted March 30, 2012 at 3:03 am | Permalink

        a nice turn of phrase there

  16. Posted March 29, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    Considering the efforts towards peace and reconciliation that the Dalai Lama has been involved with, I am certain the money will be used for the betterment of real folks…and not crazy pseudoscience. I do recommend that folks interested in a secular Buddhism check out Stephen Batchelor’s “Buddhism Without Beliefs.”

    While we may, as atheists, reject religion, we ought not to simply reject those who believe, for there are good and decent believers, many of whom do not seek to “convert” non-believers. Our angry rhetoric sometimes seems to make enemies out of all believers.

  17. dunstar
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    lolz. Actually that’s priceless.

  18. PeteJohn
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    Kind of humorous that someone who believes himself to be a reincarnated version of someone else is honored with a scientific award. I guess that shows how useless the Templeton is.

    • Dominic
      Posted March 30, 2012 at 1:29 am | Permalink

      Shall we all apply for tickets to the service in St.Paul’s Cathedral (where I used to work) and boo?!

  19. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted March 30, 2012 at 2:12 am | Permalink

    This ‘compatibility’ bullshit has its own Wikipedia page! No serious criticism of course, just showing as much mysticism and magic into the gap what the reader may swallow. (For example, the “eight-fold way” with its magic “karma” supernaturalism and its ties to rebirth supernaturalism.)

    I’m with Hitch on this one:

    “Yet the entire Western mass media is uncritically at the service of a mere mortal who, at the very least, proclaims the utter nonsense of reincarnation and who affirms the sinister if not indeed crazy belief that death is but a stage in a grand cycle of what appears to be futility and subjection.”

  20. Larry Lama
    Posted March 30, 2012 at 3:45 am | Permalink

    I think it’s worth asking what is the reality behind the media image of the Dalai Lama. He faces no criticism in mainstream media yet a short bit of searching on google will find you a lot of questionable aspects to the Dalai Lama and his beliefs. Supporting the Iraq war and being paid by the CIA for starters…

    • Kirth Gersen
      Posted March 30, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

      I don’t doubt that most of that is true, although the piece as a whole reads suspiciously like Chinese government propaganda, down to the use of the favorite buzz-word of “liberation.”

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