By Uma Srivastava
His Holiness the Dalai Lama, a clinician, and a scientist walk into a room. No, really, this actually happened. The Dalai Lama, sometimes referred to as simply His Holiness, visited Washington, DC, during the first week of March. The NIH was honored to have him visit the campus, where he spoke about the role of science in human flourishing.
The Dalai Lama is a well-known spiritual figure whose ideologies are prominent in Asia. One might question, what exactly is he doing at the National Institutes of Health? It can be hard to imagine how a spiritual leader would be accepting of modern science, but it was quickly apparent that the Dalai Lama was open to scientific exploration and excited to see new trends in science. He spoke of his visit with a young girl who, after being diagnosed with cerebral palsy, could finally walk thanks to new research.
Because such a recognized humanitarian was visiting, the NIH held a lottery for tickets to attend the Dalai Lama’s talk. I was lucky and won a ticket to see his lecture live. This was a unique and unforgettable experience; I never thought I would be in the same room, ten rows away from the Dalai Lama.
I found his talk to be very inspiring as he discussed the delicate balance between religion and science. He said it is okay to practice a certain religion, but do not let that get in the way of research. He then stated that research is important, but do not let that get in the way of being a good human.
The Dalai Lama emphasized that there is no point in being a good scientist if one’s life is full of stress and unhappiness. I pondered on that statement even after the talk. He was correct: what is the point of being a scientist, or any other profession, if one cannot fully appreciate the joys?
After his talk, I felt inspired; yes, that does sound cheesy and stereotypical. Right now, I am a young scientist who is still learning about research and the different dynamics. His message of enjoying life and having less stress is true. I notice the people around me at work and home; everyone seems to be extremely stressed regarding their work. If we could all take a moment to relax and enjoy what we have, life will be much more pleasant.
I also really appreciated the fact that he said to respect one’s religion but not to let it interfere with science. While it’s important to consider the ethical implications of each experiment, the separation of science and religion will help us to focus on the research and achieve more. This message will remain with me long after the talk, just like his unique laughter.