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Reflection: Why am I where I am today?

Why am I where I am today? Let me put some context into it so we have a common ground here. Why am I researching on contemplative neuroscience, knowing that this field is controversial? Many neuroscientists are moving towards computational models and big data, such as machine learning, deep learning, or artificial intelligence to optimize their research and findings. Many are also researching on developing several neuroscientific-specific algorithms. So why did I choose to do something which is very controversial, and something which is not researched by many?

To start off, I’m actually very grateful that there are mentors out there who are willing to take me in as a student, given that I do not think like a scientist. Not that during discussion I tell my boss that “Hey, boss I have an idea and it came from some non-scientific texts!” More often, I reworded it to what everyone in my lab is able to experience for themselves what I mean. I have had many encounters which I was shut down because the idea seems radical, or that because I literally said that this was an idea I got from Buddhist texts.

I realized that many people, as they hear about religion-related words, they immediately shun away from you. I feel that humanity has gained so much knowledge in the past few centuries, yet our relationships with people has not improved since. The more knowledge we have gained, for example, knowing that there is another village, town, city, country, continent, or planet, or system, the more we tend to develop a kind of differentiation; a differentiation of “you”, and “me”. Where does this arise from? Before knowing that there is something out there other than ourselves, we are able to share our connections with people. However, the more we know, the more we distinguish ourselves from others.

Coming back from a conference at the Mind & Life Institute, I have learnt a lot about connectedness, and I wish to emphasize that. The interdependency between people is why I chose to change my path towards this. Imagine that you are talking to people from another culture, but you seem to misunderstand each other. Many of us will think “Oh, they are different from me.” Take a closer look at the sentence structure. The object of the sentence is “they”, or the other person. And the subject is “I’, or me. Who would put “I” as the object and “other” as the subject?

With development in technology and science, we seem to grow towards knowledge, competition, and power, but we have forgotten humanity in the process. At conferences, people normally asks, “What is your research. What do you do? What brought you to graduate school?” No one asks about their experience in life. It is because that the future society requires kindness, compassion, and joy, that I made up my mind to enter this field. What I saw and heard at the conference, such as “How has your life experience moved you towards where you are now?”, “Has your research reinforces your practice?”, or also “What’s your value and hopes for humanity?” gave me courage to know that there are many people who are able to step in for humanity.

To conclude, where I am today, is a collection of advice I received from many great advisers around me: my parents, my research mentors, many compassionate monastics, peers who are also doing this work, and most important of all, the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

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