A World Waiting for our Difference

by Tommy Woon, Director of Diversity & Inclusion at Naropa University

I arrived at Naropa University this fall, in time to participate in two of the most significant conferences that I have ever attended: Naropa’s Radical Compassion Symposium, and Mind & Life Institute’s International Symposium for Contemplative Studies.October’s Radical Compassion Symposium, attended by more than 500 people, was part of Naropa’s 40th Anniversary celebration. The International Symposium for Contemplative Studies, attended by 1700 people and graced by the appearance of His Holiness, was a biannual event inspired by the Dalai Lama, who was the keynote speaker. Both events brought together leaders from wide-ranging fields, including neuroscience, psychology, clinical science, philosophy, economics, humanities, and education.

I have described both events as Buddhist revivals, bringing different bodies together: the East and West, science and religion, and a cognitive focus and the body’s felt sense. Research presentations and poster exhibits interacted with sessions offering movement and meditation. Thinking and feeling permeated the activities, promoting cognitive and embodied learning.

The Venerable Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, son of Naropa’s founder, opened the Radical Compassion Symposium by noting that the fate of humans may hinge on our response to the great doubt about our inherent goodness. A few weeks later, I listened to the Dalai Lama deliver a response he offered more than twenty-five years ago. He asked for scientists and Buddhists to conduct scientific research together on meditation, because he feels a partnership could uncover solutions for the most serious relational challenges we face. He asserts that we need to explore ways to face and forge interdependency of beings through evidence based on science, and in conversation with religious leaders.

The world is waiting for something that can make a difference, and it was clear at these gatherings that the promise of contemplative science is growing. I am pleased to have been a part of these discussions, and to be at Naropa, where we know the world is awaiting our difference.

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