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East Meets West Through Buddhist Institute

By: Anne Reilly

The existence of a Buddhist organization in an Eastern European country may seem surprising. But Buddhism has come of age in the secularized West. Its reach is expanding beyond its original Eastern context and Hungary's East-West Research Institute is bringing this worldview to the rest of the globe.

Although Hungarian culture is largely influenced and informed by Christian values and perspectives, many Hungarians "have a traditional interest in Eastern cultures, because they are thought to have come from Inner Asia," said Tamas Agocs, director of the institute.

This may be why the only state-accredited Buddhist institute of higher education in Europe, the "Gate of the Dharma" Buddhist University, was founded in Budapest in 1991.

The university subsequently established the East-West Research Institute "to provide framework and conditions for scientific research into the possibilities of Buddhist education and the dissemination and application of Buddhist principles in the country," said Agocs.

As globalization continues to make the world smaller, participants strive to increase the dialogue between the "East" - the Asian cultures that have been shaped by Buddhist thought - and the "West" - the modern, scientific cultures that originated in Western Europe. With this goal in mind, they also work towards making the values of Buddhism known in the West.

Without forsaking the integrity of Buddhist views, values and practices, Agocs said their goal is "to enter the East-West dialogue not just in order to find interesting parallels and differences between Eastern and Western discourses, but with a view towards the constructive and creative application of Buddhist principles in all walks of life."

According to Agocs, the open attitude of Buddhist thought is the ideal starting point for furthering the science-and-religion discussion.

"Buddhism shares many methods with Western science. They both emphasize the unbiased examination, thoughtful analysis and critical testing of experience," said Agocs.

However, the direction of the approach is different, he said. "The basic difference is that Buddhist inquiry is directed mainly inwards, towards the consciousness, while scientific research is mostly targeted outside."

In addition to participating in the science-and-religion dialogue and organizing conferences on the intersection between the East and the West, the institute promotes research on the study of the Buddhist tradition and explores Buddhism as an applied science that can provide answers to challenges faced in the world today.

Current programs include the Milky Way project, which is establishing a Buddhist school. The institute is also sponsoring research on the mind and the application of Buddhist mind training methods to psychology and community building. Eventually, Agocs said he would like to build cooperative relationships between the center and other international organizations for interdisciplinary research projects.

Author Bio
Anne Reilly is an editorial intern at Science & Theology News.

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