Buddhism and science
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This article contains too many or too-lengthy quotations for an encyclopedic entry. (August 2017)
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.[page needed] 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 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
Notable scientists on Buddhism
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.
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.
- Yong, Amos. (2005) Buddhism and Science: Breaking New Ground (review) Buddhist-Christian Studies - Volume 25, 2005, pp. 176-180
- Donald S. Lopez Jr., Buddhism and Science: A Guide for the Perplexed, (University of Chicago Press 2008)
- Kress, Oliver (1993). "A new approach to cognitive development: ontogenesis and the process of initiation". Evolution and Cognition 2(4): 319-332.
- Tambiah, Stanley Jeyaraja "Magic, Science and Religion and the Scope of Rationality" (Cambridge University Press 1990)
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- "Talking Up Enlightenment." Christina Reed Scientific American, 6 February 2006
- "The Neuroscience of Meditation." November 12, 2005 speech given by the Dalai Lama
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- William James, Varieties of Religious Experience. (1902; New York: Viking Penguin, 1982).
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- 1958 Niels Bohr, Atomic Physics and Human Knowledge, (edited by John Wiley and Sons, 1958) p. 20.
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- Sarunya Prasopchingchana & Dana Sugu, 'Distinctiveness of the Unseen Buddhist Identity' (International Journal of Humanistic Ideology, Cluj-Napoca, Romania, vol. 4, 2010)
- Donald S. Lopez Jr., Buddhism and Science: A Guide for the Perplexed (University of Chicago Press 2008)
- Matthieu Ricard, Trinh Xuan Thuan, The Quantum and the Lotus (Three Rivers Press 2004)
- Tenzin Gyatso, The Dalai Lama XIV, The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality, (Morgan Road Books 2005)
- McMahan, David, “Modernity and the Discourse of Scientific Buddhism.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 72, No. 4 (2004), 897-933.
- B. Alan Wallace, Hidden Dimensions: The Unification of Physics and Consciousness (Columbia Univ Press 2007)
- B. Alan Wallace (ed), Buddhism and Science: breaking new ground (Columbia Univ Press 2003)
- B. Alan Wallace, Choosing Reality: A Buddhist Perspective of Physics and the Mind, (Snow Lion 1996)
- Robin Cooper, The Evolving Mind: Buddhism, Biology and Consciousness, Windhorse (Birmingham UK 1996)
- Daniel Goleman (in collaboration with The Dalai Lama), Destructive Emotions, Bloomsbury (London UK 2003)
- 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
- 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
The Metaphysical Foundations of Buddhism and Modern Science.