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Education professor brings Writing Project to Tibetan monks

Associate Professor Tom Meyer, who also serves as the director for the Hudson Valley Writing Project, traveled to Dharamsala, India last semester to work with the Science for Monks program, which brings Buddhist monastics together with experts in Western science and other disciplines.

“For Tibetan monks, science – physics, biology, earth science – was not really part of the canon for 600 years,” said Meyer, a professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning in the School of Education. “Not only that, but theirs is a tradition of mostly oral learning and debate. Writing, not so much!”

That has begun to change in the era of the 14th Dalai Lama, who has been receptive to merging the teachings of Buddhist philosophy and western science. Science for Monks cites his statement that, “With the ever growing impact of science on our lives, religion and spirituality have a greater role to play reminding us of our humanity. There is no contradiction between the two. Each gives valuable insights into the other. Both science and the teachings of the Buddha tell us of the fundamental unity of all things.”

For Meyer and his National Writing Project colleague Tanya Baker, the challenge of working with these monks was not that they were unreceptive to western ideas about science, but simply that they had very little experience writing about those ideas.

“A lot of people assume the National Writing Project is about creative writing, but it’s not only that,” Meyer said. “We use writing in every discipline – journalists, scientists and mathematicians need to learn to write a certain way, just like poets do.

“We found that the idea of writing to learn, or even just writing about your own life, was completely new for most of the monks and nuns. These men and women were so taken once they felt like they had permission to write about their lives.”

In addition to professional development institutes for teachers, the Hudson Valley Writing Project is offering a full suite of summer writing projects for children from ages 7-17, at scenic and historic sites throughout the region. Learn more and register here.