Questions for a scientific Buddhist

Domenic Caravetta, photo taken in August 2012. A Blissful Day in Seda, western Sichuan Mountain Monastery. Photo: Courtesy of Caravetta

Domenic Caravetta, a Canadian microbiologist and Buddhist follower based in New York, has been working for a multinational company for 18 years. He moved to China just before the 2008 Beijing Olympics on a work assignment to help the company to set up and develop its R&D center in Shanghai.

Caravetta always feels relaxed and at home in China. “From my Buddhist belief," said the microbiologist, “I see myself as being connected to China from maybe my past life.”

Now he has almost completed his assignment with the company and will be returning to the US after giving a talk at a university in Shanghai on September 26 which will be his very last day in China this time.

Caravetta, as a microbiologist for over 28 years, told me that he was fascinated by things that cannot be seen (by eyes). And while expressing his views in response to my questions over the phone, he could quite naturally and seemingly paradoxically connect his scientific work with his Buddhist belief.

Q: When did you start to get interested in Buddhism?

A: It’s a hard question. I had a strong interest when I was young...way back in high school. When I was in my 20s, a friend of mine gave me a very nice statue of Buddha. Before that I had been reading a lot (about Buddhism). It all started probably in a previous life (he chuckles).

Q: So you really believe that there exists a previous life?

A: Yeah, definitely. It’s hard to talk about it. I mean many people find it a little funny because of science. However, I find Buddhism very scientific and quite logical. I benefit a lot from Buddhist teachings. There is nothing harmful in believing; it only brings good results.

  Q: What do you mean by “teaching” you mentioned?

A: Just the Buddhist scriptures and teachings, for example, the basic teachings about compassion and helping others. According to the teachings I mentioned, it’s difficult to help people but you can try and you must try. But you cannot really truly help them, in the way you want.

Q: Could you tell me a story about how you help others?

There is a little girl with a muscular atrophy disease. I’m not sure how old she is; she must be about 10. But she looks much younger and crippled. Unfortunately, her mother uses her to beg for money on sidewalks.

I make an effort to go and find her regularly, and to be as generous as I could possibly be. I’ve also invited them to my home one time. I have tried to do as much as possible, but in the end I found that I could not make a big difference to this girl. It’s a very serious illness she has and can be life threatening.

The teachings tell us that you can be compassionate; you can try to help. But in this world of suffering, it’s hard to stop suffering. But the teachings do talk about ways to overcome suffering, and that we can achieve it.

A photo of Caravetta taken at Shanghai Expo in October 2010. Photo: Courtesy of Caravetta

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