Dykstra instructs monks on science, physics

By Liz Huerta Hale, Arbiter Online News Writer, February 10, 2005

Physics professor Dewey Dykstra recently returned from teaching a three-week workshop for exiled Tibetan monks in Dehra Dun, India. Dykstra was one of about five professors chosen to participate in the Science for Monks project, a workshop requested by His Holiness Dalai Lama. Dykstra said his opportunity to travel to India came after a colleague recommended him.

Dykstra worked alongside co-leader Andy Johnson, assistant professor of physics and associate director of the Center for the Advancement of Math and Science Education at Black Hills State University. The workshop took place at the Tibetan Children’s Village School for Gifted Students.

About 50 Buddhist monks, all in their late 20s to early 40s, attended the
workshops focusing on scientific knowledge and methods. The monks were exposed to Western science and learned about the physics of optics and light.

Due to some of the monks’ limited English, Dykstra and Johnson worked with translators to convert the Western texts into the Tibetan language.

Academic excellence is very important to the Buddhist monks, who spend an average of 18 to 20 years studying Buddhist manuscripts. At about their 18th year of study, the monks participate in debate contests in order to earn a title, similar to a doctorate degree. In the Science for Monks workshop, monks study subjects like astronomy, genetics, mathematics, and physics in order to advance their knowledge and gain a better understanding of the world.

According to Dykstra, there were a few differences in how the monks view the world versus how the West sees it.

“To the monks, black and darkness are considered colors, whereas we don’t even consider their existence. To us, someone blind doesn’t see at all, but the monks believe that the blind person sees total darkness instead.” Dykstra considers the monks’ response to the material very similar to the responses he sees in students at BSU.

From his journey to India, Dykstra returned with a better understanding about the life and culture of the Tibetan monastic scholars.