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Thousands protest in Hungary against planned Chinese university campus

Thousands of Hungarians, some of them holding banners declaring “treason,” protested on Saturday against a Chinese university’s plans to open a campus in Budapest.

Liberal opponents of nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban accuse him of cosying up to the Chinese government, and fear the campus could undercut the quality of higher education and help Beijing increase its influence in Hungary and the European Union.

“I do not agree with our country’s strengthening feudal relationship with China,” Patrik, a 22-year-old student who declined to give his full name, told Reuters at the protest in the Hungarian capital.

He said funds should be used “to improve our own universities instead of building a Chinese one.”

The government signed an agreement with Shanghai-based Fudan University in April to build a campus at a site in Budapest where a dormitory village for Hungarian students had previously been planned.

The Fudan campus is planned for construction at this site in Budapest, Hungary, seen on April 23, 2021.
The Fudan campus is planned for construction at this site in Budapest, Hungary, seen on April 23, 2021.
The government has said Fudan is a world-class institution and the campus would “allow students to learn from the best.”

Hungary’s MTI news agency quoted Tamas Schanda, a deputy government minister, as saying Saturday’s protest was unnecessary. He also dismissed “political hysteria” based on unfounded gossip and media reports.

Opposition politicians and economists have criticized what they say will be the high costs of the project and a lack of transparency.

“Fidesz is selling out wholesale the housing of Hungarian students, and their future, just so it can bring the elite university of China’s dictatorship into the country,” the organizers of Saturday’s protest said on Facebook, referring to Orban’s ruling right-wing party.

Budapest’s mayor, Gergely Karacsony, has publicly opposed the plan. As an act of protest, the mayor announced Wednesday that streets near the planned campus would be renamed after prominent human rights causes sensitive to the Chinese government.

One street will be named after the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, while another will be called “Uyghur Martyrs’ Road” after the mainly Muslim ethnic group that Washington and other capitals say has been victim of a Chinese genocide.

Two other streets will be named in honor of Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters and a Catholic bishop who was jailed in China.

Beijing said this week “a few Hungarian politicians” were trying to grab attention and obstruct cooperation between China and Hungary.

“This behavior is contemptible,” said Wang Wenbin, China’s foreign ministry spokesman.

Orban has built cordial ties with China, Russia and other illiberal governments, while locking horns with Western allies by curbing the independence of scientific research, the judiciary and media.

The Hungarian leader was criticized Friday by a senior German diplomat for blocking an EU statement that would have condemned Beijing’s crackdown on civil liberties in Hong Kong.

“Hungary again blocked an EU statement on Hong Kong. Three weeks ago it was on Middle East. Common foreign and security policy cannot work on the basis of a blocking policy,” German Foreign Office State Secretary Miguel Berger wrote on Twitter.

Orban faces a unified opposition at home for the first time since assuming power in 2010 before a parliamentary election due in 2022.


The Twitter storm was triggered by a video uploaded by Paras Singh, a 21-year-old YouTuber from Ludhiana, last week.

A week after a YouTuber from Punjab was booked for his purported racial remarks on Arunachal Pradesh MLA Ninong Ering, more than 30 universities and student organisations from the northeast have come together to organise a ‘Twitter storm’ demanding that the history and culture of northeast be made a part of the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) curriculum.

Slated for 6-8 pm, June 4, participants at the virtual gathering will tweet with the hashtags #AChapterForNE and #NortheastMatters with an appeal that the region’s “history, ethnicity, lifestyle, personalities, natural resources and patriotism” make up a mandatory chapter in NCERT textbooks.

The Twitter storm was triggered by a video uploaded by Paras Singh, a 21-year-old YouTuber from Ludhiana, last week. In it, he commented on Ering’s appearance saying he did not “look Indian” and claimed that Arunachal Pradesh was not a part of India, but in China, causing widespread outrage in Arunachal Pradesh and Northeast. On Tuesday, Paras was booked under sections 124A (sedition), 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on ground of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc), 505(2) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for “inciting ill will and hatred” against the people of Arunachal Pradesh. He was remanded to six days of judicial custody by an Arunachal Pradesh court.

“We believe that this kind of racism can be solved only through education,” said Debonil Baruah, Advisor, North East Students’ Union (NESU), Vadodara, one of the organisers of the Twitter storm. “The Paras Singh case was what set it off, but such instances of racism are very common,” he added.

|Arunachal court remands Punjab YouTuber to six days in jail in racial slur case
After the NESU Vadodara reached out to universities across the eight Northeastern states, more than 30 major universities such as Guwahati University, Dibrugarh University, Nagaland University, Mizoram University, NIT- Agartala, Rajiv Gandhi University Arunachal Pradesh as well students unions in Delhi, Manipur etc, have come on board to participate.

“We think the Twitter storm will help bring the issue to the notice of politicians and lawmakers,” said Tarh Naki, a 24-year-old student from Arunachal Pradesh. “When I studied in Gujarat, people were clueless about where Arunachal was. They would directly ask me which country I belonged to — ‘Are you from China?’ Sometimes I felt like putting a banner on my head saying I am from Arunachal Pradesh and it is in India,” she said.

The plan is to tag Chief Ministers, Education Ministers and other concerned authorities to bring it to their notice, Baruah said. A few politicians such as K Therie, former Finance Minister of Nagaland, MLA Kuzholuzo Nienu from Nagaland as well as Arunachal Pradesh’s Ering have tweeted their support for the storm. “Inclusion of our culture and history must be done in the curriculum. Had introduced a Bill on the same issue in 2017 in Lok Sabha” tweeted Ering, tagging the handles of the Prime Minister, Home Minister, CBSE and NCERT, among others.

In 2017, Ering had introduced a Private Member Bill ‘The Compulsory teaching of North-East culture in Educational Institutions’ in the Parliament but it was not taken up.

In 2014, following the attack and murder of 19-year-old Nido Tania in Delhi, the M P Bezbaruah Committee report had made a number of recommendations, including integration of Northeastern culture and history in the NCERT syllabus.

“While there have been discussions on including Northeast-related matter in textbooks, it has never really worked out,” said Baruah. While in 2017, the NCERT did publish ‘North East India — People, History and Culture’, a supplementary text book for students from Class 9 to 12, Baruah said it really did not have any impact because it was only suggested as “supplementary reading”. “So no one took it seriously. What we need now is a chapter which is a compulsory part of the syllabus so that it can bridge the gap between the northeastern states and ‘mainland’ India,” he said. (Source: Express news)


Plea To Cancel CBSE, ICSE Class 12 Exams : Supreme Court Adjourns Hearing To May 31

The Supreme Court on Friday adjourned to May 31 a plea seeking cancellation of Class XII exams of CBSE and ICSE and to devise an objective methodology to declare the result of class XII within a specific timeframe.

A vacation bench comprising Justices AM Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari was considering a Public Interest Litigation filed by Advocate Mamta Sharma.

The bench adjourned the matter after noting that the petitioner has not served advanced copy on the standing counsel for the CBSE. The bench asked the petitioner to serve the advance copy on the CBSE counsel and listed the matter on May 31 at 11 AM.

Justice Dinesh Maheshwari observed during the short hearnig that the CBSE is likely to take a call on the matter on June 1.

Senior Advocate JK Das appeared for the ICSE.

Advocate Mamta Sharma also requested the bench to take suo moto cognizance of the issues related to state board exams and to issue notice to all state boards.

“Please be optimistic. There might be some resolution by Monday”, the bench told the counsel.

The direction has been sought to the Centre, Central Board of Secondary Education and the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examination.

The plea has also sought directions for setting aside the Notification dated 14th,16th and 19th April 2021 issued by CBSE and Council for the Indian School Certificate Examination only in respect of clauses dealing with postponement of Class XII examination

CBSE through its letter dated 14th April had cancelled the examination for class X and postponed the examination for class XII. CISCE through its circulars dated 16th and 19th April had cancelled the examination for class X and deferred the examination for class XII for an unspecified period.

The petitioner Advocate Mamta Sharma has sought similar directions as passed by the top Court Court in the matter of Amit Bathla & Anr. V. CBSE & Ors. (2020), in similar circumstances caused to Covid – 19 pandemic India to meet out the hardships of the innocent school children of Class XII of CBSE and ICSE.

The Apex Court through that judgement, had directed the computation and declaration of the result of class XII students on the basis of their earlier grading as their main final examination had been postponed and could not be conducted due to unprecedented situation caused by pandemic.

The plea has stated that CICSE/ CBSE had already through their circulars dated 26th June and 13th July 2020 accepted and admitted the same severe situation of covid 19 and has partly accepted the judgment of Supreme Court passed last year for this present year academic session of 2020-2021 in respect of class X students by :

Issuing the directions not to conduct their fresh final examination Adopting the criteria of declaring result on the basis of their earlier internal grading

However, the plea has stated that for the innocent students of class XII, “step motherly arbitrary, inhuman direction” have been issued to postpone their final examination for an unspecified duration instead of following the directions propounded and accepted by them last year.

The petitioner, enrolled as an advocate with Delhi Bar Council has stated that she was approached by the minor students of Class XII approached, and is filing petition on their behalf, as their claim is genuine and to protect their fundamental rights of education under article 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India.

The plea has argued that in view of the unprecedented health emergency and rising numbers of the Covid -19 cases in the Country, the conduct of examination, either offline/online/ blended in upcoming weeks is not possible and delay in examination will cause irreparable loss to the students as time is the essence in taking admission in higher education courses in foreign universities.

“As per the UNESCO statistics for the year 2018 around 7.3 lakh students had opted for foreign universities to pursue higher education. Delay in declaration of result will ultimately hamper one semester of the aspiring students as admission cannot be confirmed until the result of Class XII is declared.” the plea reads.

According to the petitioner, it cannot be legitimately expected from the respondents to remain a mute spectator over the current situation and not to take a timely decision in respect of examination and declaration of result of more than 121akhs students of class XII.
by Shristi Ojha
CBSE ICSE Cancellation of Class XII Board Exams Supreme Court Justice AM Khanwilkar Justice Dinesh Maheshwari


Air India Express Hires US-Based Firm To Recover Baggage After Plane Crash

New Delhi: Air India Express said it has contracted a US-based company to recover and restore the baggage of the crew and passengers of its plane that crashed in Kozhikode.
The airline’s flight from Dubai with 190 people overshot the tabletop runway while landing amid heavy rain at the Kozhikode airport on Friday night, fell into a valley 35 feet below and broke into two, killing 18 people, including the pilots.

Air India Express said in a statement that Kenyon International specialises in recovery of baggage in case of a major accident. “Their expertise lies in identification of baggage with their specialised services through advanced technology,” it said.

The team of the US-based company will be arriving on Monday night, the statement said.

“The contract service provider Kenyon International will carry out the functions of restoration of personal effects with the help of Angels of Air India. Personal effects are items belonging to crew and passengers on board an aircraft involved in an aircraft accident,” it said.

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Angels of Air India is a special team of the airline to assist passengers and their family members at a time of accident. Air India Express is a wholly owned subsidiary of national carrier Air India.

A total of 56 passengers injured due to the crash have been discharged from various hospitals after obtaining complete fitness, said Air India Express.


Assam Govt proposes new guidelines for schools & colleges

Envisaging a September re-opening of schools, the Assam has issued a new set of guidelines for informal education, while also seeking suggestions
Guwahati: Amid the ongoing plans to open the schools and colleges in the month of September, the Assam government has framed a set of guidelines (SOPs) for informal education in the state and also sought views from stakeholders.

This has been reported after Assam’s education minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has publicly mulled the resumption of informal education in both government and private schools from September 1.

The new guidelines for the reopening of schools in Assam have been issued by N. Laskar, joint secretary in the Assam higher education department. The same have been uploaded in the public domain: in the state Sarba Siksha Abhiyan website.

According to the guidelines, the classes shall not be mandatory and students shall have to inform the institutions before attending the classes.

Additionally, the students shall have to don masks to attend informal classes and maintain a physical distance of at least 8 feet while attending classes.

COVID-19 tests shall also be made compulsory for teachers, resource persons, education department staff, etc. between August 23 and August 30 to be able to attend classes. Sanitation of venues to be used for informal classes before classes start and thereafter on an interval of every 15 days has also been made compulsory as per the new guidelines.

However, ongoing online classes are likely to continue.

Students from classes 1-4 need not go to school, but their parents shall be able to collect the hard copies of their assignments while collecting ration meant for mid-day meals.

The parents can then submit the completed assignments during their next visit to the schools and the teachers will evaluate them to sue as results for tests.

For students from classes 5 through 8, four venues like community halls, libraries, open fields, courtyard of houses etc. shall be used for teaching anywhere between 90 to 120 minutes. The students will be taught in batches.

As per the guidelines, the resource persons/teachers shall teach in the style which was earlier used in ‘gurukul’ (style of imparting knowledge by teachers in an informal setup like underneath large trees). They shall be expected to use improved techniques like storytelling, project preparation, assignments, tests etc.

As for students from classes 9 to 10, there will be 4 classes of 45 minutes duration each in groups of 15 for six days of the week except on Sundays. Students can attend classes nearest to their homes even if they are not enrolled there.

Students of the final semester of graduation in colleges as well as students of classes XI and XII studying in colleges will have to follow the guidelines for classes issued for students of classes IX to XII in schools. A separate set of detailed rules will be issued after receiving feedback from public.

Final semester students in medical and engineering colleges have also been asked to follow the same set of rules for classes as those framed for classes IX to XII until further guidelines are issued.

The Assam Government is also inviting more suggestions from stakeholders. Concerned stakeholders have been asked to mail their views on or before August 20 to Source: Sentinel Digital Desk


24 million may drop out of school due to COVID-19 impact: U.N.

Almost 24 million children are at risk of not returning to school next year due to the economic fallout of COVID-19, according to the United Nation’s policy brief on the pandemic’s impact on education, released on Tuesday. The educational financing gap is also likely to increase by one third, it said.

More than 1.6 billion learners across the world have been affected by the disruption of the education system, but the pandemic has also served to exacerbate existing disparities, with vulnerable populations in low-income countries taking a harder and longer hit. For example, during the second quarter of 2020, 86% of children at the primary level have been effectively out of school in poor countries, compared to just 20% in highly developed countries.“UNESCO estimates that 23.8 million additional children and youth [from pre-primary to tertiary] may drop out or not have access to school next year due to the pandemic’s economic impact alone. The number of children not returning to their education after the school closures is likely to be even greater,” says the policy brief, adding that girls and young women are likely to be disproportionately affected as school closures make them more vulnerable to child marriage, early pregnancy and gender-based violence.

Lost earnings
Even for those who do not drop out of school, learning losses could be severe, especially in the foundational years. “Simulations on developing countries participating in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) suggest that without remediation, a loss of learning by one-third [equivalent to a three-month school closure] during Grade 3 might result in 72% of students falling so far behind that by Grade 10 they will have dropped out or will not be able to learn anything in school,” says the brief. “The economic loss might reach $16,000 of lost earnings over a student’s lifetime, translating over time into $10 trillion of lost earnings globally.”

In early 2020, it was estimated that low and middle incomes faced a $148-billion gap between their education budgets and the money available to reach the Sustainable Development Goal of quality education. The COVID-19 crisis is likely to increase that financing gap by up to one-third.

“Education budgets need to be protected and increased. And it is critical that education is at the heart of international solidarity efforts, from debt management and stimulus packages to global humanitarian appeals and official development assistance,” said U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, in a video statement at the launch of the brief


New Education Policy declared: MHRD to renamed as Education Ministry

The NEP has been approved by the Cabinet. Current and former HRD Ministers to jointly hold a press conference on the same at 4 pm. Several changes likely ahead for the Indian education system

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Education Policy gets a nod from Cabinet

New Education Policy 2020 HIGHLIGHTS: The Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved the new National Education Policy (NEP) and renamed the HRD Ministry as Education Ministry. Making the announcement, Union Ministers Prakash Javadekar and Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank said there would be a single regulator for all higher education institutions and MPhil would be discontinued.

In a bid to ramp up digital learning, a National Educational Technology Forum (NETF) would be created. “E-courses will be developed in eight regional languages initially and virtual labs will be developed,” Amit Khare, Higher Education Secretary, said.

Top 100 foreign colleges will be allowed to set-up campuses in India. According to the HRD Ministry document, listing salient features of policy, “such (foreign) universities will be given special dispensation regarding regulatory, governance, and content norms on par with other autonomous institutions of India.”

Standalone Higher Education Institutes and professional education institutes will be evolved into multi-disciplinary education. “There are over 45,000 affiliated colleges in our country. Under Graded Autonomy, Academic, Administrative and Financial Autonomy will be given to colleges, on the basis of the status of their accreditation,” he further said.

The committee — which suggested changes in the education system under the NEP — was headed by former ISRO chief K Kasturirangan. The NEP was drafted in 1986 and updated in 1992. The NEP was part of the election manifesto of the ruling Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) ahead of the 2014 elections.

All education institutes to be audited as ‘not for profit’ entities
All education institutions will be held to similar standards of audit and disclosure as a ‘not for profit’ entity. Surpluses, if any, will be reinvested in the educational sector, as per the NEP. There will be transparent public disclosure of all these financial matters with recourse to grievance-handling mechanisms to the general public. All fees and charges set by private HEIs will be transparently and fully disclosed, and there shall be no arbitrary increases in these fees/charges during the period of enrolment of any student.

What is Lok Vidya
BVoc degrees introduced in 2013 will continue to exist, but vocational courses will also be available to students enrolled in all other Bachelor’s degree programmes, including the four-year multidisciplinary Bachelor’s programmes. ‘Lok Vidya’, that is, important vocational knowledge developed in India, will be made accessible to students through integration into vocational education courses.

Vocational courses to be part of mainstream courses
Vocational education will be integrated into all schools and higher education institutions in a phased manner over the next decade. By 2025, at least 50% of learners through the school and higher education system shall have exposure to vocational education, for which a clear action plan with targets and timelines will be developed.

What is Academic Bank of Credit?
An Academic Bank of Credit (ABC) shall be established which would digitally store the academic credits earned from various recognized HEIs so that the degrees from an HEI can be awarded taking into account credits earned. For instance, now if a student covers a topic related to his or her degree

Indian Sign Language (ISL) will be standardised across the country: PM

What are the changes in the curriculum?
Imaginative and flexible curricular structures will enable creative combinations of disciplines for study, and would offer multiple entry and exit points. Curricula of all HEIs shall include credit-based courses and projects in the areas of community engagement and service, environmental education, and value-based education.

What do multiple exit options in degrees mean?
The undergraduate degree will be of either 3 or 4-year duration, with multiple exit options, as informed by the Education Ministry. After completing one year, a student will get a certificate in a discipline or field including vocational and professional areas, a diploma if a student leaves after 2 years of study, or a Bachelor’s degree after a 3-year programme. The 4-year multidisciplinary Bachelor’s programme, however, shall be the preferred option and will give degree with research if a student has pursued a project along with it.

Higher education institutes to be divided into further categories
Research-intensive Universities. Those that place greater emphasis on teaching but still conduct significant research i.e. Teaching-intensive Universities. Autonomous degree-granting College (AC) will refer to a large multidisciplinary that grants undergraduate degrees and is primarily focused on undergraduate teaching though it would not be restricted to that.

By 2030, one large multidisciplinary college in every district
By 2040, all higher education institutions (HEIs) shall aim to become multidisciplinary institutions, each of which will aim to have 3,000 or more students. There shall, by 2030, be at least one large multidisciplinary HEI in or near every district. The aim will be to increase the Gross Enrolment Ratio in higher education including vocational education from 26.3% (2018) to 50% by 2035.

NEP to follow three-language formulae, Sanskrit to be mainstreamed
Sanskrit will be mainstreamed with strong offerings in school – including as one of the language options in the three-language formula – as well as in higher education. Sanskrit Universities too will move towards becoming large multidisciplinary institutions of higher learning.

NEP was requirement for New India
Foreign universities to set-up campuses in India
Under the NEP the world’s top 100 foreign universities will be “facilitated” to operate in India through a new law. According to the HRD Ministry document, listing salient features of policy, “such (foreign) universities will be given special dispensation regarding regulatory, governance, and content norms on par with other autonomous institutions of India.”

IITs asked to take holistic approach
Even engineering institutions, such as IITs, will move towards more holistic and multidisciplinary education with more arts and humanities. Students of arts and humanities will aim to learn more science and all will make an effort to incorporate more vocational subjects and soft skills.

Music , arts and literature to be taught in all colleges
Departments in Languages, Literature, Music, Philosophy, Indology, Art, Dance, Theatre, Education, Mathematics, Statistics, Pure and Applied Sciences, Sociology, Economics, Sports, Translation and Interpretation, etc. will be established and strengthened at all higher educatio institutes.

All institutes to be research institutes
By 2040, all higher education institutions (HEIs) shall aim to become multidisciplinary institutions, each of which will aim to have 3,000 or more students.

UG colleges to be more autonomous
Undergrad autonomy, academic, administrative, and financial autonomy will be given to colleges, on the basis of the status of their accreditation. India has over 45,000 affiliated colleges

Single common entrance exam for all colleges
The common Entrance exam for all higher education institutes to be held by NTA. The exam will be optional and not mandatory.

Report card to have assessment by teacher, peers
Life skills to be taught every year. Report card to have reviewed from teachers, peers, and students as well. Review assessment of performance. AI-based assessment of each year to be given to the student.

A draft of the NEP was put on public display by the government. Feedbacks on the same were sought from all stakeholders. The ministry had claimed to have received over two lakh suggestions for the same. After discussion, the final policy was approved by the cabinet as on July 29, 2020.


US: Foreign students will confront more challenges

The administration has reportedly been planning to either substantially curtail or suspend a popular programme that allows international students to stay back on their student visa and work for one to three years, known as Optional Practical Training (OPT). International students contribute $41 billion to the economy in the United States (US). They have also just forced the Donald Trump administration to rescind an order that would have led to the deportation of those among them enrolled in colleges offering online classes only for the upcoming fall semester.

It was a rare retreat for an administration that prides itself in its pertinacity. The students, a large percentage of whom are from India, did not fight back themselves. They couldn’t. Their colleges did for them, led by Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

But they fought as much for their students as for themselves. Full tuition-paying foreign students are critical for their financial well-being. And, of course, they are super-talented — some of them have gone on to found iconic companies such as Tesla and Moderna, the pharmaceutical firm that leads the worldwide race for a vaccine to beat the coronavirus. That’s their clout, and, together with strategically opportune assistance from other quarters, it saw them through this most unexpected crisis.

But the July 6 directive by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency left students shaken as never before. It caught them at the most vulnerable point in their lives as foreign students. Thousands of miles from home, they were trying to deal with the deadliest pandemic the world had faced in 100 years, with all its insecurities and uncertainties.

After the original order, international students could think and talk of nothing else. Would they be impacted? How badly? Would they have to choose a course because it would help them academically or because it would help them stay in the country, in compliance with the directive? These were not choices they had prepared to make, and, mercifully, they won’t have to now.

But there may be more coming. The administration has reportedly been planning to either substantially curtail or suspend a popular programme that allows international students to stay back on their student visa and work for one to three years, known as Optional Practical Training (OPT). This is considered to be a stepping stone to an H-1B and, eventually, a Green Card. More than 223,000 graduates remained under this programme in the 2018-19 academic year.

The administration plans to package the suspension with a more expansive executive order on immigration, which is due for an announcement any day now, as indicated by Trump several times recently.

It will be touted as a temporary measure, meant to ensure Americans have the first shot at any and all jobs that become available as the economy emerges from the crushing impact of Covid-19. It is the same underlying logic used for suspending Green Cards in April and all non-immigrant work visas in June, including H-1B and L-1, the two most popular types with Indians and Indian firms. And all of this may not be temporary. BY Jashwant Raj

The views expressed are personal


What Buddhism and science can teach each other – and us – about the universe

These are trying times. A global recession sparked by the coronavirus pandemic, and widespread civil unrest, have created a combustible mix of angst – stressors that heighten the risk for long-term health woes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued guidelines to cope with this anxiety. Among them is meditation.

Buddhists have been familiar with this strategy for thousands of years. And as the CDC example shows, scientists increasingly believe they can learn from Buddhism.

Momentum for dialogue between Buddhism and science comes from the top. When Tenzin Gyatso – now serving as the 14th Dalai Lama – was a child in rural Tibet, he saw the moon through a telescope and marveled at its craters and mountains. His tutor told him that, according to Buddhist texts, the moon emitted its own light. But Gyatso had his doubts. He discovered what Galileo saw 400 years earlier, and he became convinced that dogma should bend to observation.

As the Dalai Lama, Gyatso has engaged in dialog with scientists ever since. “If science proved some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change,” he has said.

These are striking words from the leader of a major world religion. Most Americans believe science and religion clash. But Buddhists accept evolution as the source of human origins more than any other religious group.

As a professor of astronomy who has been teaching Tibetan monks and nuns for over a decade, I’ve found them to be highly receptive to science as a way of understanding the natural world.

The program I teach started in response to the Dalai Lama’s desire to inject science into the training of Buddhist monastics. In our spartan classroom – the windows are open to catch a breeze in the monsoon heat and monkeys chatter in the pine trees outside – we talk cosmology.

The monks and nuns eagerly absorb the latest research I present – dark energy, the multiverse, the big bang as a quantum event. Their questions are simple but profound. They approach learning with joy and humility. Outside class, I see them applying critical thinking to decisions in their daily lives.

Yes, the Buddhist monastic tradition has been rebooted with a dose of 21st-century science. But how has Buddhism influenced science?

Buddhists as skeptics

Scientists are increasingly using Buddhist wisdom for insight into several research topics and to illuminate the human condition. When psychologists use Buddhist concepts in their work, for example, they find their patients are less inclined to exhibit prejudice against people outside their social and religious group. And scientists have used the harmonic principles built into Buddhist “singing” bowls to design more efficient solar panels.

Both disciplines share an empirical approach. Buddhists are trained to be skeptics, and to only accept a proposition after examining evidence. The following words are attributed to the Buddha: “Just as a goldsmith would test his gold by burning, cutting, and rubbing it, so must you examine my words and accept them, not merely out of reverence for me.”

Numerous studies show that meditation has a positive effect on health and well-being. EEG tests to measure monks’ brain waves provide proof. Monks and other expert meditators produce high levels of gamma brain waves, which have a series of benefits to cognitive functioning.

Meditation also benefits the immune system. And it’s been shown to reduce mind wandering, which increases happiness and reduces depression. Meditation can even slow the rate of brain atrophy. In one remarkable case, meditation may have shaved eight years off a Buddhist monk’s brain.

Western scientists and Buddhist scholars have also collaborated on one of the profound mysteries of the human experience: consciousness. Researchers have used neuroscience to support the idea of an ever-changing self. Neuroscientists have modeled the sense of self in terms of shifting networks and circuits in the brain. Your sense of a stable and rooted “you” is an illusion, they concluded.

Christof Koch is a leading expert on consciousness. Koch and his colleague Giulio Tononi have come up with an audacious theory of consciousness. They argue that it’s not localized and cannot be identified in any part of the brain. They also write that plants, animals and microbes can be conscious. Their theory “treats consciousness [as] an intrinsic, fundamental property of reality.”

Wait. The self is nowhere and consciousness is everywhere? This sounds like Zen sophistry rather than scientific analysis. But I see it as a sign of the fruitful convergence of Western science and Eastern philosophy.

It’s early to determine what this ambitious research will deliver. But it shows that input from Buddhist thought is forcing scientists to question their methods, assumptions and logical constructs. Koch and Tononi, for example, are less concerned with the physical mechanisms and localized structures of the brain than they are with the network of transient connections that may underlie consciousness.

The best lesson Buddhism has for science concerns balance. In his gentle way, the Dalai Lama chastises scientists for not paying enough attention to the negative implications of their quest for knowledge. He writes: “It is all too evident that our moral thinking simply has not been able to keep pace with the speed of scientific advancement.”

In a troubled world, being guided by science but insisting that it reflect human values may be the best advice of all.

by Chris Impey
University Distinguished Professor of Astronomy, University of Arizona
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