The Enlightened Gene

Biology, Buddhism, and the Convergence that Explains the World

Arri Eisen and Yungdrung Konchok

Eight years ago, in an unprecedented intellectual endeavor, the Dalai Lama invited Emory University to integrate modern science into the education of the thousands of Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns in exile in India. This project, the Emory Tibet Science Initiative, became the first major change in the monastic curriculum in six centuries. Eight years in, the results are transformative. The singular backdrop of teaching science to Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns offered provocative insights into how science and religion can work together to enrich each other, as well as to shed light on life and what it means to be a thinking, biological human. In The Enlightened Gene, Emory University Professor Dr. Arri Eisen, together with monk Geshe Yungdrung Konchok explore the striking ways in which the integration of Buddhism with cutting-edge discoveries in the biological sciences can change our understanding of life and how we live it. What this book discovers along the way will fundamentally change the way you think. Are humans inherently good? Where does compassion come from? Is death essential for life? Is experience inherited? These questions have occupied philosophers, religious thinkers and scientists since the dawn of civilization, but in today’s political discourse, much of the dialogue surrounding them and larger issues—such as climate change, abortion, genetically modified organisms, and evolution—are often framed as a dichotomy of science versus spirituality. Strikingly, many of new biological discoveries—such as the millions of microbes that we now know live together as part of each of us, the connections between those microbes and our immune systems, the nature of our genomes and how they respond to the environment, and how this response might be passed to future generations—can actually be read as moving science closer to spiritual concepts, rather than further away. The Enlightened Gene opens up and lays a foundation for serious conversations, integrating science and spirit in tackling life’s big questions. Each chapter integrates Buddhism and biology and uses striking examples of how doing so changes our understanding of life and how we lead it.

Cloth: $29.95 | E-book: $24.99
ISBN-13: 9781512600001
Pages: 296 | Size: 6.25 in. x 9.25 in.
Date Published: October 3, 2017


  • This thought-provoking text is a welcome addition to efforts at building bridges of respect and understanding between purely matter-based scientific probes and Buddhist insights on the mind and its mysteries. . . . Highly recommended.

  • Chronicles a fascinating dialogue. . . . There are real benefits for humanity to be gained by this historic encounter. I highly recommend this book.

    Robert A. F. Thurman
    Jey Tsong Khapa Professor of Buddhology, Columbia University
  • The remarkable intellectual and spiritual voyage of an American biology professor and a Tibetan Buddhist monk exploring how the basic principles of cell biology, developmental biology, and neuroscience can be viewed as Buddhist themes on impermanence, the eternal cycle of life and death, and the communality of all creatures, small or large.

    Dr. Christof Koch
    chief scientist and president, Allen Institute for Brain Science
  • This book . . . represents something close to my heart. [It is a] real collaboration between a modern scientist and a Tibetan monk-scholar. Their work represents not only scholarly achievement but also the friendship and understanding that can come from open dialogue between great intellectual traditions. . . . I have no doubt that all who read this book will benefit from the insights generated by the convergence of science’s understanding of the material world and contemplative traditions’ understanding of the workings of the mind.

    From the foreword by His Holiness the Dalai Lama

About the Author

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