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Buddhism and science have increasingly been discussed as compatible, and
Buddhism has entered into the science and religion dialogue. The case is made
that the philosophic and psychological teachings within Buddhism share
commonalities with modern scientific and philosophic thought. For example,
Buddhism encourages the impartial investigation of Nature — the principal
object of study being oneself. Some popular conceptions of Buddhism connect
it to discourse regarding evolution, quantum theory, and cosmology, though
most scientists see a separation between the religious and metaphysical
statements of Buddhism and the methodology of science. In 1993 a model
deduced from Jean Piaget's theory of cognitive development was published
arguing that Buddhism is a fourth mode of thought beyond magic, science and
religion. Buddhism has been described by some as
rational and non-dogmatic, and there is evidence that this has been the case
from the earliest period of its history, though some have suggested this aspect
is given greater emphasis in modern times and is in part a reinterpretation.
Not all forms of Buddhism eschew dogmatism, remain neutral on the subject
of the supernatural, or are open to scientific discoveries. Buddhism is a
varied tradition and aspects include fundamentalism, devotional traditions,
supplication to local spirits, and various superstitions. Nevertheless,
certain commonalities have been cited between scientific investigation and
Buddhist thought. Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, in a speech at the
meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, listed a "suspicion of absolutes" and a
reliance on causality and empiricism as common philosophical principles shared
between Buddhism and science. Buddhism and the scientific method
More consistent with the scientific method than traditional, faith-based
religion, the Kalama Sutta insists on a proper assessment of evidence, rather
than a reliance on faith, hearsay or speculation:
"Yes, Kalamas, it is proper that you have doubt, that you have perplexity,
for a doubt has arisen in a matter which is doubtful. Now, look you Kalamas, do
not be led by reports, or tradition, or hearsay. Be not led by the authority of
religious texts, not by mere logic or inference, nor by considering
appearances, nor by the delight in speculative opinions, nor by seeming
possibilities, nor by the idea: 'this is our teacher'. But, O Kalamas, when you
know for yourselves that certain things are unwholesome, and wrong, and bad,
then give them up...And when you know for yourselves that certain things are
wholesome and good, then accept them and follow them."
The general tenor of the sutta is also similar to "Nullius in verba" — often
translated as "Take no-one's word for it", the motto of the Royal Society.
Buddhism and psychology During the 1970s, several experimental
studies suggested that Buddhist meditation could produce insights into a
wide range of psychological states. Interest in the use of meditation as a
means of providing insight into mind-states has recently been revived,
following the increased availability of such brain-scanning technologies as fMRI
and SPECT. Such studies are enthusiastically
encouraged by the present Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, who has long expressed an
interest in exploring the connection between Buddhism and science and
regularly attends the Mind and Life Institute Conferences.
In 1974 the Kagyu Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa predicted that "Buddhism
will come to the West as psychology". This view was apparently regarded with
considerable skepticism at the time, but Buddhist concepts have indeed made most
in-roads in the psychological sciences. Some modern scientific theories, such as
Rogerian psychology, show strong parallels with Buddhist thought. Some of
the most interesting work on the relationship between Buddhism and
science is being done in the area of comparison between Yogacara theories
regarding the store consciousness and modern evolutionary biology, especially
DNA. This is because the Yogacara theory of karmic seeds works well in explaining
the nature/nurture problem. William James often drew on Buddhist
cosmology when framing perceptual concepts, such as his term "stream of
consciousness," which is the literal English translation of the Pali
vinnana-sota. The "stream of consciousness" is given various names
throughout the many languages of Buddhadharma discourse but in English is
generally known as "Mindstream". In Varieties of Religious Experience James
also promoted the functional value of meditation for modern psychology. He is
said to have proclaimed in a course lecture at Harvard, "This is the
psychology everybody will be studying twenty-five years from now."
Buddhism as science Buddhist teacher S.N. Goenka describes
Buddhadharma as a 'pure science of mind and matter'. He claims Buddhism uses
precise, analytical philosophical and psychological terminology and reasoning.
Goenka's presentation describes Buddhism not so much as belief in a body of
unverifiable dogmas, but an active, impartial, objective investigation of
things as they are. What is generally accepted in Buddhism
is that effects arise from causation. From his very first discourse onwards,
the Buddha explains the reality of things in terms of cause and effect. The
existence of misery and suffering in any given individual is due to the presence
of causes. One way to describe the Buddhist eightfold path is a turning
towards the reality of things as they are right now and understanding reality
directly, although it is debated the degree to which these investigations are
metaphysical or epistemological. Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh has written
the following on Buddhism and science: In Buddhism there are two kinds of
truth: conventional truth and ultimate truth. In the framework of the
conventional truth, Buddhists speak of being and non-being, birth and death,
coming and going, inside and outside, one and many, etc… and the Buddhist
teaching and practice based on this framework helps reduce suffering, and
bring more harmony and happiness. In the framework of the ultimate truth, the
teaching transcends notions of being and non-being, birth and death, coming and
going, inside and outside, one and many, etc… and the teaching and practice based
on this insight help practitioners liberate themselves from discrimination,
fear, and touch nirvana, the ultimate reality. Buddhists see no conflict
between the two kinds of truth and are free to make good use of both
frameworks. Classical science, as seen in Newton’s
theories, is built upon a framework reflecting everyday experience, in which
material objects have an individual existence, and can be located in time
and space. Quantum physics provides a framework for understanding how nature
operates on subatomic scales, but differs completely from classical
science, because in this framework, there is no such thing as empty space,
and the position of an object and its momentum cannot simultaneously be
precisely determined. Elementary particles fluctuate in and out of
existence, and do not really exist but have only a “tendency to exist”.
Classical science seems to reflect the conventional truth and quantum physics
seems to be on its way to discover the absolute truth, trying very hard to
discard notions such as being and non-being, inside and outside, sameness
and otherness, etc.… At the same time, scientists are trying to find out the
relationship between the two kinds of truth represented by the two kinds of
science, because both can be tested and applied in life.
In science, a theory should be tested in several ways before it can be accepted
by the scientific community. The Buddha also recommended, in the Kālāma Sūtra1,
that any teaching and insight given by any teacher should be tested by our own
experience before it can be accepted as the truth. Real insight, or right view,
has the capacity to liberate, and to bring peace and happiness. The findings
of science are also insight; they can be applied in technology, but can be
applied also to our daily behavior to improve the quality of our life and
happiness. Buddhists and scientists can share with each other their ways of
studying and practice and can profit from each other’s insights and
experience. The practice of mindfulness and
concentration always brings insight. It can help both Buddhists and scientists.
Insights transmitted by realized practitioners like the Buddhas and
bodhisattvas can be a source of inspiration and support for both
Buddhist practitioners and scientists, and scientific tests can help Buddhist
practitioners understand better and have more confidence in the insight they
receive from their ancestral teachers. It is our belief that in this 21st
Century, Buddhism and science can go hand in hand to promote more insight for
us all and bring more liberation, reducing discrimination, separation,
fear, anger, and despair in the world. Buddhism and relativity
Buddhism shares with science the understanding of relativity. The
relativity of phenomena is often used in Buddhist teaching to counter dogmatic or
rigid views, like the relativity of size to break the belief in "small" or
"tall". In Nāgārjuna's Treaty on the Middle Way, in the chapter 3 "Analysis
of motion", it is even shown that motion has no independent existence and does
not exists intrinsically, more than one millennium before Galileo who wrote:
"Let us therefore set as a principle that, whatever be the motion that one
attributes to the Earth, it is necessary that, for us who partake of it, it
remains perfectly imperceptible and as not being".
In the Heart Sutra, which presents the view of emptiness, it is said that
phenomena have no "defining characteristics", which is a claim of
relativity since, in the absence of a reference system, nothing can be said
about anything and therefore objects have indeed no intrinsic
characteristics. In this Sutra, it is also said that phenomena are "not
decreasing nor increasing", which is in agreement with Noether's theorem showing
that, because of relativity, there are conserved quantities in physics, like
energy. Buddhism mainly focused on the emptiness aspect of objects whereas
science developed more the relative aspect.
Buddhism and quantum physics The Heart Sutra explains that: "Form is
emptiness, Emptiness is form", which fits closely Nottale's theory of quantum
physics, which proves that matter and space are not different.
Notable scientists on Buddhism Niels Bohr, who developed the Bohr Model
of the atom, said, For a parallel to the lesson of atomic
theory...[we must turn] to those kinds of epistemological problems with which
already thinkers like the Buddha and Lao Tzu have been confronted, when trying to
harmonize our position as spectators and actors in the great drama of existence.
Nobel Prize–winning philosopher Bertrand Russell described Buddhism as a
speculative and scientific philosophy: Buddhism is a combination of both
speculative and scientific philosophy. It advocates the scientific method and
pursues that to a finality that may be called Rationalistic. In it are to be
found answers to such questions of interest as: 'What is mind and matter?
Of them, which is of greater importance? Is the universe moving towards a goal?
What is man's position? Is there living that is noble?' It takes up where
science cannot lead because of the limitations of the latter's instruments.
Its conquests are those of the mind. The American physicist J. Robert
Oppenheimer made an analogy to Buddhism when describing the Heisenberg
uncertainty principle: If we ask, for instance, whether the
position of the electron remains the same, we must say 'no;' if we ask
whether the electron's position changes with time, we must say 'no;' if we ask
whether the electron is at rest, we must say 'no;' if we ask whether it is in
motion, we must say 'no.' The Buddha has given such answers when interrogated as
to the conditions of man's self after his death; but they are not familiar
answers for the tradition of seventeenth and eighteenth-century science.
Nobel Prize–winning physicist Albert Einstein, who developed the general
theory of relativity and the special theory of relativity, also known for his
mass–energy equivalence, described Buddhism as containing a strong cosmic
element: ...there is found a third level of
religious experience, even if it is seldom found in a pure form. I will call
it the cosmic religious sense. This is hard to make clear to those who do not
experience it, since it does not involve an anthropomorphic idea of God; the
individual feels the vanity of human desires and aims, and the nobility and
marvelous order which are revealed in nature and in the world of thought. He
feels the individual destiny as an imprisonment and seeks to experience the
totality of existence as a unity full of significance. Indications of this cosmic
religious sense can be found even on earlier levels of development—for
example, in the Psalms of David and in the Prophets. The cosmic element is much
stronger in Buddhism, as, in particular, Schopenhauer's magnificent essays have
shown us. The religious geniuses of all times have been distinguished by this
cosmic religious sense, which recognizes neither dogmas nor God made in man's
image. Consequently there cannot be a church whose chief doctrines are based
on the cosmic religious experience. It comes about, therefore, that we find
precisely among the heretics of all ages men who were inspired by this highest
religious experience; often they appeared to their contemporaries as
atheists, but sometimes also as saints. See also
References Further reading
Sarunya Prasopchingchana & Dana Sugu, 'Distinctiveness of the Unseen Buddhist
Identity' Donald S. Lopez Jr., Buddhism and
Science: A Guide for the Perplexed Matthieu Ricard, Trinh Xuan Thuan, The
Quantum and the Lotus Tenzin Gyatso, The Dalai Lama XIV, The
Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality,
McMahan, David, “Modernity and the Discourse of Scientific Buddhism.”
Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 72, No. 4, 897-933.
B. Alan Wallace, Hidden Dimensions: The Unification of Physics and Consciousness
B. Alan Wallace, Buddhism and Science: breaking new ground
B. Alan Wallace, Choosing Reality: A Buddhist Perspective of Physics and the
Mind, Robin Cooper, The Evolving Mind:
Buddhism, Biology and Consciousness, Windhorse
Daniel Goleman, Destructive Emotions, Bloomsbury
Rapgay L, Rinpoche VL, Jessum R, Exploring the nature and functions of
the mind: a Tibetan Buddhist meditative perspective, Prog. Brain Res. 2000 vol
122 pp 507–15 External links
Full text of 2004 paper examining effects of long-term meditation on brain
function Full text of 2003 paper examining the
effect of mindfulness meditation on brain and immune function
The Mind and Life Conferences Buddha on the Brain - Dalai Lama on the
Society for Neuroscience's annual conference
[Science meets Dharma] Pratityasamutpada.
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Buddhism and science

421 Folder Collection
Benjamin Shih published on December 27, 2016
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