Science for Monks

I look out on the sea of earnest nut-brown faces and maroon robes and smile. The young monk called Sonam has asked a good question: “If space is empty, how can it be expanding?”

We’re in a classroom at the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, on a hilltop in Gangtok, the capital of the province of Sikkim in northern India. It’s a forested sanctuary with fluttering prayer flags, removed from the cacophony of the town. Getting here was a seemingly endless journey involving five flights over two days, ending in a six-hour drive over mountain roads that were often washed out by monsoon rains and strewn with boulders.

I’m teaching in a program started by the Dalai Lama almost 20 years ago. He knew that the Tibetan monastic tradition had not changed for centuries, and he worried that his monks wouldn’t be prepared for the 21st-century world unless they were learning math and science. Science for Monks started bringing out Western teachers to address this need. I’ve been coming to India for a decade, and it’s rejuvenating as a professor to work with students who are so humble in their approach and so committed to learning.

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