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Steven Tainer

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Steven A. Tainer (born July 26, 1947) is a respected scholar and instructor of contemplative traditions.[1] He is a logician, philosopher, teacher and writer with an extensive background in philosophy of science, mathematical logic and Asian contemplative traditions. One of the central themes of his work involves how different ways of knowing can be compared, contrasted, and/or integrated.


Steven Tainer's initial training was in Western analytic philosophy, with a particular specialization in philosophy of science. He was pursuing a PhD in philosophy of science, with great success, when he first became acquainted with Eastern philosophy. Just prior to finishing his PhD, he decided to rededicate himself to the study of Eastern philosophy and contemplative traditions. Since then, he has studied Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism with sixteen Tibetan, Chinese and Korean teachers, as well as a number of senior monks and nuns.

Steven Tainer began his study of Tibetan Buddhism in 1970, training in the traditional way with many Tibetan masters, mostly from the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism, with a particular emphasis on the Dzogchen or “Great Perfection” school. His primary teachers included Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche and Chogyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche. Upon the publication of Time, Space, and Knowledge[2] in 1978, which he ghost wrote for his first instructor, Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche, he earned an advanced degree in Tibetan Buddhist studies. He was eventually named a Dharma heir of Tarthang Tulku, however he did not take up the position and decided to continue his study and practice on his own. After a collaboration with Ming Liu (born Charles Belyea) in the 1980s and eight years of training and retreat practice, Steven Tainer was declared a successor in a family lineage of yogic Taoism. In 1991 he co-authored a book with Ming Liu (Charles Belyea), Dragon's Play[3] and together they also founded Da Yuen Circle of Yogic Taoism.[4] In addition, starting in the mid-80’s, he studied Confucian views of contemplation emphasizing exemplary conduct in ordinary life.

He taught at first under the direction of his masters in the early 1970s, and after a series of mountain retreats spanning most of 1989 and 1990, finally began teaching his own groups on his own.

He teaches Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism, with particular emphasis on Ch'an contemplation, the "Unity of the Three Traditions" in Chinese thought, Taoist yogic practice, Tibetan dream yoga,[5] and Indian Buddhist philosophy.


Since 1995, Steven Tainer has been a faculty member of the Institute for World Religions and the Berkeley Buddhist Monastery.[6] He has been involved in various interfaith councils and conferences. At a Monastic Interreligious Dialogue conference in 2001,[7] Steven Tainer represented the Chinese Mahayana lineage of Master Hsuan Hua together with Rev. Heng Sure and Dr. Martin Verhoeven.

Steven Tainer has led over two hundred weekend retreats and about ninety live-in retreats (ranging from one week to one hundred days). A new series of books on his own teaching are also in progress, some with an emphasis on applications of traditional teachings to modern daily life.

Steven Tainer is one of the founders of the Kira Institute.[8] Through collaboration between Kira colleagues, including Piet Hut, he explores the interface between modern, scientifically-framed perspectives and matters involving human values. Between 1998 and 2002, Piet Hut and Steven Tainer organised a series of annual summer schools, bringing graduate students from various disciplines together in order to engage in an open Socratic dialog, centred on science and contemplation. Also a series of articles were published in 2006 on Ways of Knowing, drawing from intensive discussions between Hut and Tainer.

Steven Tainer and Eiko Ikegami[9] are currently working on a research project, titled "Virtual Civility, Trust, and Avatars: Ethnology in Second Life". While aiming to contribute to the knowledge of how to make virtual worlds socially meaningful collaborative knowledge productions, the study will also consider if the new virtual social forms would become the new standard forms of trust and civility in human interactions generally in real life.[10]


Steven Tainer has long attempted to make the essence of Eastern philosophy and practice accessible and applicable to Westerners who lead extremely busy lives.[11] He points out a particular issue with modern people starting with an isolated self:

The starting point for these other traditions is the fact of connection. If you don't believe in connection to a larger Reality as a basic fact, then your agenda in life is to maximize personal values: creative impulses, reveries, daydreams, poetic musings. None of these have value to people who take all human existence as being about the issue of either enhancing the appreciation of connection or losing track of connection.

— [11]

He also argues that this 'interconnectedness' is the basis of ethics: when we see the inter-dependency of all relationships, it is possible to implement The Golden Rule.[12] Steven Tainer describes his view on leadership, which is unique yet highly relevant:

I am somewhat appalled by the notion that I have anything to say about being a leader, because I have spent so much of my life trying to avoid the leadership stereotype. It's a model that doesn't fit into what I am trying to do together with other people. There are many common teacher-student relationships that involve a "leader and led" logic. I try to avoid that.

— [13]

Together with Piet Hut, Steven Tainer has explored two distinctive ways of knowing, science and contemplation and how they can be reconciled at the Princeton Program for Interdisciplinary Studies, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey. Hut and Tainer argue that scientific progress depends on insights from contemplative thinking, understood as reflection, thinking, meditation. Such ideas are especially relevant to the movement in science and technology studies to bring greater reflexivity into scientific practice, making their goals to shift towards producing knowledge to serve public interest and social justice outcomes:[14]

What does it mean to really know something? Science has discovered an empirical and multi-generational way of obtaining verifiable knowledge in a limited domain of application. But what about areas traditionally assigned to ethics, and other topics not, or not yet, in the domain of what science studies? How do other ways of knowing address questions of 'what is' in the most fundamental sense? How can we approach contemplative traditions that in essence go beyond socio-cultural frameworks and beliefs and also explicitly emphasise seeing, learning, and hence knowing (vs. mere sensations or experience of one sort or another)? What is the relevance of explorations in these areas for human concerns, values, and modern life?

— [15]

In his paper Studying "No Mind": The Future of Orthogonal Approaches, Steven Tainer explores how "science and spirituality" differ and how they may co-exist in the future. One of the interesting ideas he presents is that the greatest achievement of science is science itself.[16] He also emphasises that science doesn't stand alone, calling for a holistic approach to studies of science.[17]

See also


  1. ^ Lojeski, 2009 p. xix
  2. ^ Time, Space and Knowledge, A New Vision of Reality
  3. ^ Dragon's Play: A New Taoist Transmission of the Complete Experience of Human Life
  4. ^ Komjathy, 2004, p. 16
  5. ^ Ochiogrosso, 1997
  6. ^ Berkeley Monastery: Teachers
  7. ^ Monastic Interreligious Dialogue. 2001.
  8. ^ Kira Institute
  9. ^ New School Faculty: Eiko Ikegami Archived 2010-07-03 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Ikegami, Eiko. "Virtual Civility, Trust, and Avatars: Ethnology in Second Life".
  11. ^ a b "Dream Yoga". Yoga Journal. January–February 1997.
  12. ^ Binzen, Nathaniel (2008). "Eastern Meditation in Western Psychology: Perspectives from Ethics and the Science-Religion Dialogue" (PDF).
  13. ^ Lojeski, 2009 p. 28
  14. ^ Anne Schneider: Ways of Knowing: Implications for Public Policy (PDF). Annual meeting of American Political Science Association. Chicago. August 29 – September 2, 2007. p. 5.
  15. ^ Schneider, 2007, p. 6
  16. ^ Tainer, Studying "No Mind", p. 62
  17. ^ Tainer, Studying "No Mind", p. 9

Further reading

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