- The Washington Times - Monday, November 7, 2005

More than 900 scientists have signed a petition to prevent the Dalai Lama from presenting a lecture today in Washington.

The exiled leader of Tibet is scheduled to speak about the neurological effects of meditation at a three-day conference presented by the Mind and Life Institute. His talk will draw on his extensive participation in research on intense meditation, such as that practiced by Buddhist monks.

Some researchers suggest that meditation can contribute to physical and mental well-being and lead to a heightening of traits such as compassion and altruism.

Many scientists who signed the petition said that inviting a religious leader to speak at a scientific assembly sends a damaging message about the role of faith in science.

The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Georgetown University Medical School are co-sponsors of the Science and Clinical Applications of Meditation conference.

“Scientifically, as a neurologist, I don’t see any advantage [to the lecture],” said Dr. Xian-Min Yu, a professor of molecular neurophysiology at Florida State University. “If we really want to talk to people about religion, of course we can go to church.”

“No one has any problem with the Dalai Lama,” said Dr. Nancy Hayes, a neurobiologist at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey. She said she signed the petition because she did not consider a scientific conference the appropriate place for his lecture.

Defenders of the Dalai Lama’s presentation point out that many of the protesters are Chinese or of Chinese heritage, suggesting that their opposition may have more to do with politics than science. They say the Dalai Lama’s presentation is appropriate because it is the first in a series of lectures by non-scientists.

“The Dalai Lama is inaugurating a lecture series of non-scientists on subjects of interest to scientists,” said Kate Saunders, a spokeswoman for the Dalai Lama. “Next year the same lecture will be given by an architect, and I doubt the Chinese scientists are going to question his credentials.”

The spiritual leader has drawn criticism for writings perceived to support the theory of intelligent design, which holds that the theory of evolution insufficiently explains the complexity of the universe.

“The Dalai Lama has always made it clear that he is not a scientist,” said Miss Saunders. “But he has a passionate interest in science.”

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