Buddhism and science have increasingly been discussed as compatible, and Buddhism has increasingly entered into the science and religion dialogue.[[1]] 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 Pāḷi Cannon— the principal object of study being onself.

Some popular conceptions of Buddhism connect it to discourse regarding evoulution, quantum theory and cosmology, though most scientists see a separation between the religious and metaphysical statements of Buddhism and the methodology of science.[citation needed]

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,[[2]] though some have suggested this aspect is given greater emphasis in modern times and is in part a reinterpretation.[[3]] 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,[[4]]devotional traditions,[[5]] supplication to local spirits, and various supersatition.[[6]] 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.[[7]]

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 (akusala), and wrong, and bad, then give them up...And when you know for yourselves that certain things are wholesome (kusala) and good, then accept them and follow them."[[8]]

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.[[9]]

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 SECT.

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.[[10]]

In 1974 the Kagyu Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa predicted that "Buddhism will come to the West as psychology". This view was apparently regarded with considerable scepticism 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. See the works by William Waldron on this topic, e.g. Waldron (1995) [[11]], (2002) [[12]] and (2003). [[13]]

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".[[14]] In Varieties of Religious Experience James also promoted the functional value of meditation for modern psychology.[[15]] He wrote: "This is the psychology everybody will be studying twenty-five years from now."[[16]]

Buddhism as "Science"

Buddhist teacher S N Goenka describes Buddhadharma as a 'pure science of mind and matter'.[[17]]He claims Buddhism uses precise, analytical philosophical and psychological terminology and reasoning.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

What is generally accepted in Buddhism is that effects arise from causation. From his very first discourse (Dhammacakkapavattana) 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 kamma which is result 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.

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[[18]]

Nobel-prize winning philosopher Betrand 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 is 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. [[19]]

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.[[20]]

References of the Citation

[1] Yong, Amos. (2005) Buddhism and Science: Breaking New Ground (review) Buddhist-Christian Studies - Volume 25, 2005, pp. 176-180. [2]

[3] Snodgrass, Judith. (2007) Defining Modern Buddhism: Mr. and Mrs. Rhys Davids and the Pāli Text Society Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East - Volume 27, Number 1, 2007, pp. 186-202.

[4] Journal of Buddhist Ethics A Review of Buddhist Fundamentalism and Minority Identities in Sri Lanka.

[5]Safire, William (2007) The New York Times Guide to Essential Knowledge ISBN 0-31237-659-6 p.718

[6] Deegalle, Mahinda (2006) Popularizing Buddhism: Preaching as Performance in Sri Lanka ISBN 0-79146-897-6 p.131

[7] "The Neuroscience of Meditation." November 12, 2005 speech given by the Dalai Lama [8] Rahula & Demieville (1974) pp.2-3

[9] Robin Padilla (2008) Karma and the Cortex in Berkeley Science Review.

[10] Christina Reed, "Talking Up Enlightenment." Scientific American, 6 February 2006.

[11] Waldron, William S. (1995). How Innovative is the Ālayavijñāna?: The ālayavijñāna in the context of canonical and Abhidharma vijñāna theory. Source: [1] (accessed: Wednesday April 21, 2010).

[12] Waldron, William S. (2002). Buddhist Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Thinking about 'Thoughts without a Thinker'. Source: [2] (accessed: Wednesday April 21, 2010).

[13] Waldron, William S. (2003). The Buddhist unconscious: the ālaya-vijñāna in the context of Indian Buddhist thought. RoutledgeCurzon critical studies in Buddhism. Routledge. ISBN 0415298091, 9780415298094

[14] B. Alan Wallace, Brian Hodel (2008). Embracing mind: the common ground of science and spirituality. Shambhala Publications. ISBN 1590304829, 9781590304822. Source: [3], (accessed: Wednesday April 21, 2010) p.186

[15] William James, Varieties of Religious Experience. (1902; New York: Viking Penguin, 1982).

[16] David Scott, "William James and Buddhism: American Pragmatism and the Orient," Religion 30 (2000): 335.

[17] Journal of Buddhist Ethics A Review of Buddhist Fundamentalism and Minority Identities in Sri Lanka

[18] 1958 Niels Bohr, Atomic Physics and Human Knowledge, (edited by John Wiley and Sons, 1958) p. 20.

[19] "Buddhism and Science: Probing the Boundaries of Faith and Reason," Verhoeven, Martin J., Religion East and West, Issue 1, June 2001, pp. 77-97

[20] J. R. Oppenheimer, Science and the Common Understanding, (Oxford University Press, 1954) pp 8-9.


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