Buddhism at Crossroads: A Case Study of Six Tibetan Buddhist Monks Navigating the Intersection of Buddhist Theology and Western Science
KeywordsCollateral Learning Theory
Theory of Evolution
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractRecent effort to teach Western science in the Tibetan Buddhist monasteries has drawn interest both within and outside the quarters of these monasteries. This novel and historic move of bringing Western science in a traditional monastic community began around year 2000 at the behest of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhism. Despite the novelty of this effort, the literature in science education about learners from non-Western communities suggests various "cognitive conflicts" experienced by these non-Western learners due to fundamental difference in the worldview of the two knowledge traditions. Hence, in this research focuses on how six Tibetan Buddhist monks were situating/reconciling the scientific concepts like the theory of evolution into their traditional Buddhist worldview. The monks who participated in this study were engaged in a further study science at a university in the U.S. for two years. Using case study approach, the participants were interviewed individually and in groups over the two-year period. The findings revealed that although the monks scored highly on their acceptance of evolution on the Measurement of Acceptance of Theory of Evolution (MATE) survey, however in the follow-up individual and focus group interviews, certain conflicts as well as agreement between the theory of evolution and their Buddhist beliefs were revealed. The monks experienced conflicts over concepts within evolution such as common ancestry, human evolution, and origin of life, and in reconciling the Buddhist and scientific notion of life. The conflicts were analyzed using the theory of collateral learning and was found that the monks engaged in different kinds of collateral learning, which is the degree of interaction and resolution of conflicting schemas. The different collateral learning of the monks was correlated to the concepts within evolution and has no correlation to the monks’ years in secular school, science learning or their proficiency of English language. This study has indicted that the Tibetan Buddhist monks also experience certain cognitive conflict when situating Western scientific concepts into their Buddhist worldview as suggested by research of science learners from other non-Western societies. By explicating how the monks make sense of scientific theories like the theory of evolution as an exemplar, I hope to inform the current effort to establish science education in the monastery to develop curricula that would result in meaningful science teaching and learning, and also sensitive to needs and the cultural survival of the monastics.
Degree ProgramGraduate College
Teaching & Teacher Education