Buddhism And Science
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 (an activity referred to as Dhamma-Vicaya in the Pali Canon) — 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, and supplication to local spirits. 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. See also: Relationship Between Religion And Science, Religion, Science,
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 ideas 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’.
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.
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