From June 15 to 17, 2018, Woodenfish Foundation hosted the second iteration of the interdisciplinary Buddhism and science conference. Changing its official name to “Buddhism, Science, and the Future,” the conference focused on innovations in biological sciences and their ethical implications. Shenzhen was chosen as the conference venue because it was the first city to be designated as a Special Economic Zone in China. This vibrant city is considered the rising “Silicon Valley” for its drastic urban landscape development and rapid economic growth. At the conference, Woodenfish invited 26 scholars, entrepreneurs, and Buddhist practitioners from China, U.S., Thailand, U.K., Egypt, and Denmark for this intellectual engagement. This international team constituted of scholars from Stanford University, Peking University, MIT, Chulalongkorn University, entrepreneurs, and Buddhist practitioners. More than 350 international audience attended the conference. The event was live streamed and received just over one million views.
On Friday’s opening ceremony, Deputy Director of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, Mr. Han Fang-ming, extended his congratulations on the grand opening of the conference. In his letter, Han encouraged conference attendees to bridge gaps between humanity and science through this unique opportunity. Woodenfish Founder, Dr. Venerable Yifa, expressed her mission to “establish an international society shared by all humanity through collaboration of science and Buddhism. Following opening remarks, Aneel Chima delivered the first keynote on the immense potential that mankind has to attain enlightenment. Incorporating his lighthearted humor, Bill Duane expressed his joy for speaking to a general Chinese audience about technology and meditation. In his keynote, Duane introduced various meditation techniques. In the afternoon, panels Monks & Robots and Meditation & Neuroscience presented. As Mikey Siegel mentioned, “there is no problem but spiritual suffering of human beings that can’t be solved with engineering alone,” but VR technology can become critical in exploring refreshing meditation practice and expanding the reach of Buddhist teaching. Via video conferencing, Ted Strauss and Carole Griggs elaborated on developmental models of human consciousness. Shaoqin Zhang introduced how technology can facilitate daily prayer routines, and an example was the use of counting devices for sutra recitation. Speaking from a theoretical perspective, Yi Yuan related concept of atom leadership to the interconnected nature of social network; Bao Jianying emphasized thinking from the heart and examined relationships between heart and the mind, heart and the brain, and boundaries of the heart. Taking a different approach to his presentation, Ahmed Alashwah led a meditation practice, which gained wide popularity from the audience.
To start off the second day of intense intellectual engagement, Liu Feng discussed universal holographic system, referring the conference gathering to a space filled with positive energy. On the Life & Biotechnology panel, Dee Denver affirmed the promise of reducing physical suffering through genetic testing, while he also raised some potential perils from unethical application; Rohan Dixit stressed physical brain structure change that consistent meditation practice results in; Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu led the audience to a deeper understanding of connecting with others from a psychological perspective and embracing imperfections and unknowns. Enlightening the audience with confronting the unknowns, Joseph Tucker suggested the concept of crowdsourcing be a viable strategy to solve big problems that are impacting our generation. Crossing over to the Future & Ethics panel, the audience learned that forming and maintaining life principles were extremely critical.Li JingJing, again, expanded the idea of fostering deep connections. Kin Cheung talked about how Buddhism contributes to artificial intelligence development. After grappling with big philosophical questions, the Happiness Panel, composed of Kenneth Blum, Jon Cowan, Jeffrey Rossman, and Tre Azam, presented a series of technical, scientific talks. The ongoing debate of Nature v.s. Nurture emerged in this panel discussion.
On the third day, a special panel is congregated, the Youth Science Forum. Led by Trey Wang and Rebecca Ding, the panel attracted students from University of Washington, Rhode Island School of Design, New York University Abu Dhabi, Nanjing Foreign Language International High School, Virginia Episcopal School, etc. These brilliant minds presented not only their understanding of how Buddhism and science intersected but also their compassionate acts of engaging with communities. Among them are youths who organized mental health conference for teens, founded non-profit to bring mindful teaching to rural areas of China, used art to empower those suffering from mental illness. After their presentation, Ahmad Alashwah was so moved that he extended invitations for students to engage with mindfulness resources at Stanford University.
The second annual Buddhism, Science, and the Future Conference gained wide recognition among the international audience, and the Woodenfish team is setting goals to recreate this enriching experience in the Seattle this coming spring. Please stay tuned to join us.