An objective analysis of Buddhism and science
Buddhism has been described by Buddhist Scholar S.N. Goenka as “a pure science of mind and matter”. He substantiates this on the basis that Buddhism uses precise, analytical, philosophical and psychological terminology and reasoning . The Buddha explained the reality of things in terms of cause and effect. Buddhism is firmly founded on the principle that effects arise from causation. The existence of misery and suffering in any given individual is due to the presence of causes.
Buddhism is undoubtedly the most profound and wholesome educational path available to mankind. It explains the true nature of life and the universe. In the Buddhist doctrine “life” refers to ourselves and the “universe” refers to the environment in which we live. Buddhism begins with mindfulness. One has to be mindful of the moment that is now, connected with what one is doing outside and what one is thinking and feeling inside. Thus, Buddhism is not only about withdrawal or detachment from this world but is also about living each moment meaningfully.
Buddhism is essentially a teaching for the intelligentsia. It is based on a systematic and rational analysis of the problems of life and the way to their solution. The Buddha emphatically admonished everyone to “come and see”; not to “come and believe”. Buddhism does not rely on blind faith. On the contrary one is encouraged to probe and verify personally what the Buddha preached.
Buddhism is undoubtedly the most profound and wholesome educational path available to mankind. It explains the true nature of life and the universe. In the Buddhist doctrine “life” refers to ourselves and the “universe” refers to the environment in which we live.
Buddhism has totally rejected belief by faith while encouraging personal conviction by investigation. Buddhism stands out singularly alone as the only system of thought that can be accepted by strict rationalization and comparison with already known phenomena. Every other religious system can be scientifically and rationally doubted. Buddhism is unique as in that not a single facet of its teaching can be disproved or even rationally doubted. On an intellectual basis, Buddhism has only one real contender to convince and that is the materialist. One does not need Buddhism to obviate the sparse rationalism of most religious systems. In fact most religions other than Buddhism are engaged in a desperate and pathetic struggle to keep up with the concepts of modern Science; so much so that with every new scientific discovery they have to adjust their sequence of thought and at times even the dogma.
Buddhism today is a hot topic in the science and religion dialogue. There is a basic understanding between Buddhist scholars and eminent scientists regarding the compatibility of Buddhism and science. The case is made that the philosophical and psychological teachings contained in Buddhism share commonalities with modern scientific and philosophical thought. For example Buddhism encourages the impartial investigation of nature or Dhamma Vicaya; the principal object of such study being oneself. In fact some popular conceptions of Buddhism connect it to discourses regarding evolution, quantum theory and cosmology. Moreover, Buddhism has been described as rational and non – dogmatic. There is ample evidence to prove that it has been so from the earliest period of history. Among the common philosophical principles shared between Buddhism and science are causality, empiricism and suspicion of absolutes.
Great scientist Albert Einstein has spelt out the common thread that binds Buddhism and science as follows. “The religion of the future will be cosmic religion. It should transcend a personal god and avoid dogmas and theology. Covering both the natural and spiritual it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things natural and spiritual and a meaningful unity. Buddhism answers to this description. If there is any religion that would cope with modern scientific needs it would be Buddhism”.Likewise, many scientists have observed similarities between science and Buddhism. The American physicist Robert Oppenheimer saw in Buddhism a scientific parallel to the puzzling riddles of modern physics.
Science; The product of observations and experiments
Science is as old as man. It is also universal in the sense that the subjects of study, the methods employed and results obtained have been similar throughout history and across all civilizations. Science from its humble beginnings has come a long way. It has been successful in solving many human problems and making life ever more comfortable. Advances in medical science and new scientific inventions have contributed to relieving pain, eradicating disease, lengthening the life span and also made life healthier and more comfortable. But science up to date except in a few areas of human activity apparently has been oblivious to the damaging effect of fuelling the fires of human greed for more and more comforts and better quality of life.
Science is an understanding of matter whereas spiritualism is related to the consciousness of the individual. Usually we analyse them as separate entities. However in reality they are interdependent and inalienable parts of each other.In the west spiritualism is defined as a philosophical doctrine which perceives all reality as spiritual and not material. On the other hand science is knowledge gained by the study of the physical and natural world. The scientific method we use today in modern science is based on building up a hypothesis using data obtained through observations and arriving at a conclusion through experiments.
Science is defined as systematic observation of natural events and conditions in order to discover facts about them and to formulate laws and principles based on these facts. Modern science relies on inductive reasoning from multiple observations of nature; thus working up from basic observation or experiment to generalization. However, the entire body of knowledge generated by scientists is not true. Thus, most scientists test theories knowing that future evidence may cause refinement, revision or even rejection of today’s theories that are held as true.
Experimentation in science is indispensable for it helps establish causal relationships. It is said that the ultimate purpose of science is to make sense of human beings and our nature. Science has discovered that all matter including human beings consist of particles. Further, it has been found that matter could be converted to energy and vice versa. Thus we are nothing but aggregates of energy. More than 2600 years ago the Buddha said that the “atom” is not the ultimate particle of matter; but that ultimate of matter exists in the form of energies. Modern science discovered the same about a three quarter of century ago.Likewise, there are many aspects of the teachings of the Buddha which we are unable to comprehend.
Science has not found an answer to the question why are we here? What is the meaning of life? May be before long science will find out the origin of life and the universe. However, science may not be able to solve the problem of human suffering. Also, science has not found a solution to the malaise of insatiable greed and acquisitive craving. The whole world and it’s economy and all policies of governments are driven by human greed. The Buddha has shown us that the cause of suffering is greed. Apart from that ignorance of the true nature of the world keeps human beings in bondage. The Buddha has said that bondage could be severed by getting rid of ignorance.
The development of modern science paved the way for a deep spiritual crisis in the West which resulted in an irrevocable split between the established the monotheistic religious faith and scientific reason. Buddhism being an atheistic philosophy has the ability to bridge the worlds of matter and spirit estranged due to certain findings of modern science. Buddhists do understand that objects and individuals are comprised of an ever changing composite of elements of reality called “dharmas”. Even though Darwinism met with great resistance in the West; Buddhists ingrained in the transient nature of things found no difficulty in accepting that humans evolved from lesser forms of life. Thus, Buddhism has the potential to satisfy post Darwinian needs of religious beliefs grounded in new scientific findings.
Similarities between science and Buddhism
There are many similarities between Science and Buddhism. Both agree that there is no creator. Buddhism rejects accepting things merely on a teacher’s authority. Buddhism emphasizes personal verification.One of the cardinal doctrines of Buddhismis that of dependent or conditioned co-production (patitya samutpada) according to which no being or event arises without a conditioning factor. One of the principles on which science operates is universal causation, which means that all material things are caused. According to Buddhism the cosmos consists of thousands of spherical worlds (chakkavatas). In each world system there are thousands of suns, moons, earths etc. This bears a close resemblance to the modern scientific understanding of the universe with its galaxies. Science states that matter and energy can neither be created nor destroyed but only transformed. Buddhism says the same thing and extends this principle to the mind.
In Buddhism mind means awareness of phenomena either conscious or unconscious and awareness of phenomena can neither be created nor destroyed but only be transformed. Thus, reincarnation is simply a transformation in the ongoing continuity of an individual’s awareness of phenomena, but now with the physical basis of another body. There are two types of wisdom in Buddhism namely conventional wisdom and ultimate wisdom. Conventional wisdom relates to the understanding of the conventional world and how it functions including science. Ultimate wisdom refers to a direct realization which is non dualistic and contradicts the way in which we ordinarily perceive the world. There are two methods available to the human being to acquire knowledge. They are left brain centred intuition method and the left brain centred scientific method. The Buddha had used the intuition method while modern science uses the scientific method.
Buddhism is more consistent with the scientific method than traditional faith based religion. Accordingly the Kalama Sutta insists on a proper assessment of evidence, rather than a reliance on faith, hearsay or speculation. The general tenor of the Sutta is take no one’s word for it. The following is a gist of the Kalama Sutta. “ If you have a doubt do not be led by reports, or tradition or hearsay. Do not be led by authority of religious texts, not by mere logic or inference, nor by considering appearances nor by delight in speculative opinions, nor by seeming possibilities, nor by the idea this is our teacher. But when you know that certain things are unwholesome (Akusala) and wrong and bad then give them up. When you know that certain things are wholesome (Kusala) and good then accept them and follow them”. Up to about the 1960’s even though the super normal non materialistic knowledge flourished with one’s spiritual development described in Buddhism as “Panca Abihinna”; those attainments did not receive scientific acceptance. However today with the advancement of Metaphysics and Parapsychology the five Abhinna’s are now being accepted under the same classification given in Buddhism but with new names namely (1) Iddhivida nana or magical powers now called psycho kinesis (11) Dibba Sota Nana or divine ear now called clairaudience (111) Ceto Pariya Nana or penetration of mind now called telepathy (1V) Dibba Chakkhu Nana or divine eye now called clairvoyance and (V) Pubba Nivasanussati nana or remembering of former existences now called post cognition.
During the 1970’s 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 availability of brain scanning technologies etc. It is worthy of note that in recent times Buddhist concepts have made most inroads into 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. It has been scientifically established that there is a co-relationship between Buddhist meditation and improved quality of life. It has been substantially proved that meditation thickens the brain tissues thus increasing attention and sensory processing . Also, it has been found that Pirith chanting not only has a sobering influence on the listener but also a beneficial impact on the heart function.
Buddhism and science can coexist harmoniously
Science works on the basis that nature fixes laws. But on the other hand Buddhism strives to solve the problem of human suffering which arises from both internal or mental and external or physical conditions, with an emphasis on human behaviour. At the same time Buddhism sees this as a natural process. Thus Buddhism has faith in nature as well as human beings. Science ignores human values; hence it has an incomplete or faulty view of nature. Science’s search for knowledge is both inadequate and incomplete because it ignores the internal nature of man. Science pays little attention to the development of the human being, whereas Buddhism pins great faith in the human potential and its full exploitation. Buddhist teachings rely on the ability of human potential to develop wisdom and realize the truth of the laws of nature.
In Buddhism, real insight or right view has the capacity to liberate and bring about peace and happiness. The findings of science are also typical insight; for they can be applied in technology as well as in our daily behaviour to improve the quality of life and happiness. Thus, Buddhists and scientists can share with each other the ways of studying and practice and can profit from each one’s insights and experiences. The practice of mindfulness and concentration always brings insight. It can help both Buddhists and Scientists. Thus Buddhism and science can go hand in hand to promote more insight and bring greater liberation leading to a reduction of discrimination, separation, fear, anger and despair in the world.
The trend to link Buddhism and science has continued unabated so much so that today Buddhism and science are considered to be rivers leading to the same sea. Hence, the dire need for greater dialogue between Buddhist scholars and scientists to realize the importance of Buddhist wisdom to advance scientific wisdom.