In 1958, 4-year-old Lobsang Rapgay and his family fled their home in Lhasa, Tibet. Joining a caravan of some three dozen fellow refugees, they headed into the Himalayas on a treacherous, seven-day trek to India while, behind them, Mao Tse Tung's armies completed China's bloody conquest of Tibet. Once safely in India, the family settled in Dharamsala, which in 1960 would also become home to another refugee - His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, the TIbetan spiritual leader and former head of state, with whom Rapgay would later cross paths. Today, Rapgay is a research psychologist in UCLA's Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences. And he is organizing a May 2 symposium in which UCLA neuroscientists and the Dalai Lama will discuss how Tibetan Buddhism and western neuroscience can work together to help people gain greater mental flexibility, creativity and compassion. The UCLA International Institute and the UCLA Center for Buddhist Studies are hosting the Dalai Lama's campus visit.
Rapgay also studied Tibetan medicine, wrote "Tibetan Medicine: A Holistic Approach to Better Health" and three other books on the subject, before beginning a new quest: studying in the United States. In 1990, he enrolled at the Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara for psychoanalytic training, earning a Ph.D. And in 1996, he joined UCLA's Neuropsychiatric Institute - now the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior - where he founded and directed the Behavioral Medicine Clinic. Throughout, Rapgay remained a monk. While he dressed western-style, forgoing the traditional saffron-hued robes, he continued to shave his head, remain celibate and follow the disciplined regimen he had known at his monastery, where his days - filled with work, study and prayer - began with 5 a.m. prayers and ended with bed at 11:30 p.m. Yet, worlds removed from the monastery, L.A. exerted its own influence. "It became more difficult," he recalled. "Once I realized I was pursuing a professional career and living by myself in Los Angeles in a modern situation, I felt it I could not do justice to being a monk. I kept my vows until 2000." Still, Buddhism remains very much a part of Rapgay's life, including twice-daily meditation and visits to local temples on Buddhist holy days. And in March, he and his wife - an accomplished practioner of Tibetan medicine - will travel to India on a pilgrimage to the sites where the Buddha was born, became enlightened, died and was cremated. Buddhism is reflected in his profession as well. Three years ago he shifted from working with patients as a clinical psychologist to doing full-time research. Specifically, he applies his deep knowledge of mindfulness practices to better understand the brain's role in attention - exploring how humans process and respond to stimuli, and fine-tuning an understanding of the many varieties of attention involved in human functioning. His research, Rapgay hopes, may someday lead to new treatments for post-traumatic stress syndrome and other anxiety disorders, among other implications. He also has written books about meditation, most recently "Real Meditation in Minutes a Day: Enhancing Your Performance, Relationships, Spirituality, and Health" (2008, Wisdom Publications), co-authored with the Dalai Lama and Dr. Joseph Arpaia. Rapgay will discuss his research with the Dalai Lama at the May 2 afternoon symposium at Royce Hall, along with colleagues Professor Robert Bilder, who will discuss the cognitive aspects of creativity, and Professor Susan Bookheimer, who will talk about the role of mirror neurons in cultivating compassion. Professor Robert Buswell, director of the Center for Buddhist Studies, will moderate the discussion, which will be open to the public. Earlier that same day, the Dalai Lama will also speak at Royce on the subject, "What is True Wisdom?" Tickets and additional information on both events will be available at this website during the second week of March.