About The Book
December 18, 2012
Dear Friend Somewhere On the Planet:
Twelve years ago, my family foundation (Sager Family Foundation), the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, and the Dalai Lama's private office began a ground breaking program called Science for Monks to teach Western science to Tibetan monks and nuns. It represents the first time in the approximately 1,500-year history of Tibetan Buddhism that Western science is being taught in the monasteries.
Last month, Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama addressed a luncheon gathering at my home in tBoston and announced a decision by the leaders of the monasteries to make the study of Western science part of the core curriculum required of all monastic scholars in the Gelug tradition. His Holiness further commented that the decision to include Western science was the most significant change to the monastic curriculum in centuries.
This book, Beyond the Robe, tells the story of the decade long development of the Science for Monks program and what it reveals about the larger role Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns can play in their monasteries, in their communities, and in the world at large.
Beyond the Robe is a collection of essays from the monks and scientists containing the first insights that have come out of our historic effort. Beyond the Robe follows the monks' study of science, but it is not a science book. The real story here is what the study of science has revealed about who these remarkable men and woman really are and the much bigger role that they seem so suited to fill.
The title Beyond the Robe refers to monks extending their studies beyond the traditional monastic curriculum to include Western science. Beyond the Robe also refers to the monastics' potential for an expanded role in their community, not necessarily as scientists, but as more engaged citizens, more informed messengers, and more well-rounded scholars. Perhaps having a more complete worldview will give greater voice to the monks' centuries-old wisdom.
The Science for Monks program isn't an attempt to inject science into the monks' religious thought. It isn't, for example, about how the study of the human genome might affect someone's belief in reincarnation. The study of science is meant to add additional scholarly insight into the monks' understanding of scientific phenomena and into the nature of reality so that science and Buddhism can help each other to best serve humanity.
An excellent example of how scientists and monks have come together to make the world a better place is a new program the Sager Foundation has launched with the Dalai Lama Center for Ethics at MIT called Science, Monks and Technology. This program teaches monks practical technologies like solar power and clean water systems, empowering them to better the everyday lives of their fellow refugees living in the Tibetan diaspora. Leaders without ego. Leaders who are even tempered, dedicated, compassionate people. These are people who we should want to have the greatest possible voice.
The Dalai Lama says that academic study as an end in itself isn't enough. The job description of a monk is to make a positive difference in people's lives, which means that our initiative between monks and scientists only matters if it leads to actions that benefit our world.
I hope that Beyond the Robe helps you to feel closer to the monks and nuns and to better understand their immense potential to provide leadership in their world and further insight into ours. Instead of simply admiring them from afar, let's all get close enough to really listen.
— Bobby Sager
"Beyond the Robe has many fascinating dimensions and makes a critical contribution to Tibet, to Buddhism, and to our world today. The space it opens is the world of the Tibetan Buddhist monastic universities, still thriving in Indian exile. Within that world, we encounter, in beautiful and thought provoking ways, the living tradition of Buddhist monastics, their realms of study, debate, prayer, and meditation, and their living intellectual and experiential encounter with the modern worldview, with its discoveries, technologies, and anxieties."
— Robert Thurman
"Bobby Sager has been not only a most generous and dedicated benefactor of the Science for Monks program since it was launched 12 years ago, but also he is a direct witness to its flourishing. His testimony and insight are key to an in-depth understanding of this unique encounter between two major traditions of knowledge, Buddhist contemplative science and modern Western science. His account provides a welcome encouragement to this wonderful meeting of minds and hearts at the service of humanity."