Vesak is a time for us to consider the Buddhist understanding of reality. According to Wikipedia "reality" in Buddhism is called Dharma (Sanskrit) or Dhamma (Pali). This word, which is foundational to the conceptual frameworks of the Indian religions, in Buddhism, refers to the system of natural laws which constitute the natural order of things. Dharma is therefore reality as-it-is (yatha-bhuta). The teaching of the Buddha, constituting as it does, a method by which people can come out of their condition of suffering (dukka), involves developing an awareness of reality (see mindfulness). Buddhism thus seeks to address any disparity between a person’s view of reality and the actual state of things. This is called the developing of a ‘right’ or ‘correct’ view (Pali: samma ditti). Seeing reality as-it-is, is thus an essential pre-requisite to mental health and well-being, according to the Buddha’s teaching.
We understand the reality, ordinarily through common sense which, with education and technology, becomes the scientific method. We are told that the scientific method is backed by the positivist philosophy. The scientific method is based on logic, where we start from entities. Unless reality consists of entities, identifiable and separate, at least momentarily, we cannot use logic to analyse the data given. A school book that explains the scientific method says "The Foundation of the scientific method – logical reality checks." You can understand and enjoy the adventure of science, because the thinking used in science is not strange and mysterious, it’s the same thinking you use in daily life. In scientific logic, as in daily life, you use reality checks to decide whether ‘the way you think the world is’ matches with ‘the way the world really is.’ We’ll begin by looking at the central activity of the modern scientific method, when OBSERVATIONS (from an experiment) and PREDICTIONS (based on a theory) are compared in a REALITY CHECK that is a test of quality for a theory. That is, I would say, a very good introduction to the scientific method. It is this method of daily life that the Buddha classified as “anusota gami” path, the method of the ordinary mind.
" Human practice is very much limited to the middle space in which humans exist. When we go beyond into micro or macro spaces, logic alone cannot give us a complete understating of the reality "
It is easy to see that the scientific method is limited and it becomes problematic when we move out of the middle space. Human practice is very much limited to the middle space in which humans exist. When we go beyond into micro or macro spaces, logic alone cannot give us a complete understating of the reality. This has been discovered a long time ago in different civilisations. The Buddha mentioned very clearly, when he proposed for understanding of the fundamental nature of reality, the use of norms of impermanence. Norms and rules of impermanence – dialectics - have to be used in addition to logic to understand a “thing in itself”. In order to go beyond the scientific method, if one does not want to follow the path of dialectics then one is compelled to explain things in terms of gods, spirits and the supernatural. What science fails to explain has to be explained in terms of rules of negation and impermanence, if not it will be taken over by mysticism.
" n order to go beyond the scientific method, if one does not want to follow the path of dialectics then one is compelled to explain things in terms of gods, spirits and the supernatural. "
It was left to the scientist Kuhn, who died recently, to show clearly to the western world the limitation of the scientific method. Thomas Kuhn looked at the history of science and argued that science did not simply progress by stages based upon neutral observations. Like Popper, he agrees that all observation is theory-laden. Scientists always have a worldview or “paradigm”. The paradigm of Newton’s mechanical universe is very different to the paradigm of Einstein’s relativistic universe; each paradigm is an interpretation of the world, rather than an objective explanation. For Kuhn the history of science is characterised by revolutions in scientific outlook. Scientists accept the dominant paradigm until anomalies are thrown up. Scientists then begin to question the basis of the paradigm itself, new theories emerge which challenge the dominant paradigm and eventually one of these new theories becomes accepted as the new paradigm. Kuhn also found that the ancient paradigm which was replaced by the Newtonian system had a formal similarity to the paradigm of Einstein. In other words even the paradigm shift took place according to the Hegelian rule of negation or the Buddhist rule of Uthpatha Thithi Banga.
The first person to explain the fundamental nature of reality was the Buddha. He said clearly that the fundamental nature is impermanence, continuous change, abrupt collapses and nothingness. To understand that completely, one has to go beyond Positivism by suppressing alienation, because humans are alienated through craving or attachment to the empirical reality.