Science and Buddhism – a rejoinder to the views of Dr N A de S Amaratunga
Posted on January 1st, 2012

R Chandrasoma

There cannot be any doubt that the early religious thinkers of India pioneered the use of argumentative strategies in religious discourse “”…” often subtle and challenging “”…” at a time when the rest of the world adopted religious views based on anticipations of the divine and the preternatural. Their arguments had a certain quaint rigour “”…” even if the logic was was convoluted and strange. The art of what is best called “ƒ”¹…”logic-chopping’ was harnessed to ease the task of defeating opposing views on matters metaphysical and religious. Where Dr Amaratunga goes astray is in his attempt to compare these first efforts of pioneer thinkers in India with the mighty achievements of contemporary science and philosophy. Our close religio-cultural affiliation with the traditions of the Sub-Continent must not blind us to the errors and misdirections that made the early promise without strength and substance.

The notion that the “ƒ”¹…”world’ or totality of things is a cyclically-repeating eternal presence was a most unfortunate choice in the metaphysics of nature adapted by the ancient Indian schools. That natural kinds (human species and other organismic beings) never evolve but change places and are caught up in endless cycles of birth and death in defined “ƒ”¹…”abodes’ (heavens, hells etc) is a fanciful notion entrenched in most primitive societies The idea of the real flow of time is missing in Indian faiths “”…” not only is the universe infinite in age and extension, humans as a species have infinitely extended karmic lines into the past and the future . The paradoxes of infinity were unknown and the “ƒ”¹…”recent’ advent of our species through evolutionary transformation was not even remotely anticipated in Indian thought. While the notion of “ƒ”¹…”universal flux’ was adopted, the idea of innovation and novelty in real time “”…” true evolution “”…” was beyond the reach of contemporary Indian philosophers

To these intuitive lapses must be added the the philosophizing of primitive myths “”…” the chief of which is the notion of cosmic retributive justice and the odyssey of connected lives in an endless search for ultimate extinction “”…” also called “ƒ”¹…”release’. Any system of thought incorporating such archaisms cannot evem pretend to be scientific. That other hoary error “”…” the four-element theory of material substance and the qualitative transformation of bodies through the transfusion of fictitious “ƒ”¹…”essences’ “”…” is a late borrowing from early Greek-Arab sources. From these same sources a theory of perception was adopted by late Buddhist thinkers that speaks of minuscule simulacra travelling from the object to the eye. It is not necessary to add to this list of unfortunate beliefs.

Let me conclude by saying something about by materialism. This word “”…”and its cognate “ƒ”¹…”empirisicm’ – are no longer descriptive of the methodology of current science. The correct word is physicalism, – the idea that natural phenomena must have natural explanations. Today quantum uncertainty rules the physics of the microworld and this is very far from the dance of the atoms of the ancients. Sapce-time itself richly structured and the universe is a multiplicity beyond our conceptual grasp. This healthy skepticism cannot come to those who grandiosely declare that they have discovered the “ƒ”¹…”ultimate truth’. It is a weakness of the Indian mind to fall victim to such pomposity.


24 Responses to “Science and Buddhism – a rejoinder to the views of Dr N A de S Amaratunga”

  1. Bodhi Says:

    Good response.
    The attempt to compare ancient beliefs with modern concepts has to be done very carefully. Such comparisons are imporatnt from the point of view of the history of thougfht, but can be very misleading.
    The quatum theory applies at very small length scales. At more human length scales, a materialist approach is all that is needed, as seen in physiology, neuroscience, and even in celestial mechanics. The detailed structure of space-time is relevent only at very large length scales or at space-time singularities. So, for discussing human affairs, a robust materialistic point of view works very well. There is no moral law in nature, but there is in human affairs. Science is value neutral and does not tell us what we OUGHT to do.

    The Buddha presented a moral philosophy and not a natural philosophy (science). So Chandrasoma has not made that distinction carefully. But the Buddha, and his contemporaray Thales the Greek announced the scientific method correctly. In the Gnanan sutta the Buddha said that “everything must be tested in once’s experience, just as an alloy has to be tested on the touchstone to see if it is gold or a base metal’. He also rejected authority in the kaalamam sutta. These were done with rspect to moral issues and not ’empirical’ issues.

  2. Bodhi Says:

    please see my detailed disdcussion at the blogsite:

  3. Andare Says:

    Here is a quote from Albert Einstein. Hope this helps.
    Human beings are a part of a whole called by us the “Universe,” a part limited in time and space.
    We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest—-a kind of optical delusion of consciousness.
    This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us.
    Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.

    -Albert Einstein

  4. callistus Says:

    Dham hasn’t seen this yet.

  5. nandimitra Says:

    At the end of the day reality is once perception of this moment. What is happening today is that the response by most of humanity is reflex. Inadequate thought is given to the daily challenges,Pros and the cons are never reviewed. Science and money are the driving forces no thought is given to the negatives. It is the wisdom that will extract the best of the Indian Philosophy though humanity are geared to the easy way out of just being followers. If one steps back for a moment from the driving forces one realises the truth of the middle way advocated by Buddha.

  6. Dham Says:

    I have seen it now.
    Firstly I cannot understand it. I can understand what Albert Einstien said as given by Andare but not the one by Prof. Chandrasoma. May be I have a weak “Sri Lankan” brain.
    What I understood in Prof Amaratunge’s writing was a simple message, which I understood fully.
    I can understand the four noble truth but not this unversal truth by Chandrasoma.
    May be Gon Silva has a properly trained brain to understand this jargon.
    Bante Nandamitra has repeated the simple message of the Buddha. To me Buddha is not a philosopher because non of the philoshers left his young wife and baby in search of the truth.
    I am not a follower of Albert Einstiene, I cannot understand his theory.
    Let us see what Gon has to say.

  7. Ben_silva Says:

    Dham says he has a ‘weak Sri Lankan” brain. Dumb Dham and his side kick Mjaya are completely brainless and they totally lack cognitive ability. What they lack in cognitive ability, they attempt to compensate by being loud mouthed and using abusive language and name calling. I merely returned compliments as I do not resort to such low level conduct Dham also has said in one of his previous posts, with reference to Buddhists that ‘We will earn less, be less competitive and die like Buddhist.’ Need I say more about Dham.
    To explain to Dham what Chandrasoma has said in a nutshell – Death, rebirth cycle and things such as devaloka’s are bullshit myths. This is essentially what I have been saying as well.
    There are many people affected by the religion mind virus and promote religion. Such people are more dangerous than terrorists themselves as they will attempt to keep us trapped in an ancient era, without learning and evolving. To survive in the modern world, we need to learn to compete, rather than giving up desires
    Indians have dumped Buddhism and hardly a trace of significant Buddhism left in India,while some in Sri Lanka still blindly follow it..
    Good article by Chandrasoma.

  8. cassandra Says:

    Among other things, Ben Silva has this to say:

    “Indians have dumped Buddhism and hardly a trace of significant Buddhism left in India,while some in Sri Lanka still blindly follow it.”

    So, is he saying India is better than Sri Lanka for doing so ? I know in which of the two countries I would choose to live – and it is not India!

  9. Ben_silva Says:

    To respond to Cassandra. I merely stated a fact that there is no significant Buddhism in India, now. The only conclusion I would draw is that not many Indians believe in Buddhism to day and nothing else. I too would like to live in Lanka, but we must not forget the threats from Indians, who would like to get their hands on Sri Lankan resources. The general message I want to say is not to rely on ancient Indian myths, or for that matter any myths, Indian or otherwise.

  10. cassandra Says:

    Thanks, Ben, for clarifying that. I’d go along with you about not relying on any myths. Having said that, I’d add that we have to respect the religious views held by others even if some of those religious beliefs may seem like myths to us.

  11. Ben_silva Says:

    It is a good thing to respect others beliefs and I respect that. On certain occasions, if we are heading the wrong way, I may Challenge beliefs.
    My view is that religion need to be replaced by teaching, values, morality, bright and wrong, taught at school and at home. Certain aspects may be obtained from leading religions, as there appears to be a common element. The problem with religion is that it depends on unproven myths and could cloud a persons thinking. According to Einstein:’ A man’s ethical behaviour should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary.’ I would give a high priority for ethics and morality, but would like to stay well away from religion, which rely on myths.

  12. Bodhi Says:

    Regarding what Ben and others have said about “Indian myths”, we can say the following.
    What the ancients said about the natural world (it has four elements-earth,water,air, fire; it has 31 celestial abodes and four hells; it has living creatures which are cyclically reborn, nature of mind and matter, etc., etc.) are attempts to explain matters of FACT (science). So that is since at its primitive beginings. All such attmpts and such ancient theories are outdated and have been dumped not only by educated Indians, but even more so by educated people all over the world. But the vast mass of Indians still believe in rebirth and all those myths, now as part of Hinduism rather than Buddhism. So, Indians HAVEN’T ‘dumped’ these myths. They have dumped the critical content (Kaalama sutta, Gnana sutta, Brahmajala sutta) of Buddhism and retained the myths. They are worse off.

    On the other hand, besides primitive science (matters of fact), the Buddha also discussed matters of how humans OUGHT TO BEHAVE (this is not science but Ethics, or moral philosopy). People like Prof. Chandrasoma waffle about primitive science contained in Indian myths but fail to see that the real advance of the Buddha was in the area of Ethics. Prof. Amaratunga also failed to clearly make this distinction and talks of the ‘Indian theory of knowledge’. Such epistemology is now only of interest to historians since we have a better approach to seeking factual information in the scientiific method (which cannot be easily defined).

    It is not only Chandrasoma and Amaratunga who fail to see these distinctions between matters of fact and matters of values, but also the traditional Buddhists who believe that the Buddha is “Sarvaggna”, or that the Buddha said that the “miknd is supreme” (based on one snippet in the Dhammapada), where as he did not say so as seen from the full suttas. The Buddha did not even talk of rebirth in the first (major) srrmons, as it is irrelavant to his Ethic which is based purely on impermenance, greed, suffering and how to relieve suffering by the eight-fold path. However, tradional Budddhists feel threatened by the critical force of the Buddha’s method found in the Kaalama sutta. Some of them are fascists in Buddhist clothing, and come forward to wield the “Kithul Polla” (wooden baton), or call dissident opinion “Gon”, “Meeharak” etc., or go to the extent of uttering Musaavaada (lying) claiming that attacking people using the “Polla” is alowed in the Zen Buddhist tradition!!!!! The use of the polla or derogatory words are explicitly forbidden in the Theravada Danda sutta.

    Science is value neutral and cannot indicate to us a set of values; while the Buddha’s teaching defines a set of values. It is up to you to take it or leave it, but based on your testing it yourself – that is called Ehipassiko’.

  13. Fran Diaz Says:

    I have some points to raise re the issues of ‘dumping’ Buddhism because of India.

    (1) Do Lanka troubles come from India or Tamil Nadu (which tries to break away from India) ? Tamil Nadu Breakaway/Caste/Poverty troubles have slowly become Lanka troubles because of indentured labor (virtual slaves) brought by Coloniists to Lanka, and later hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants from Tamil Nadu..

    (2) Buddha’s Teachings were not in keeping with the Hindu based Caste structure which has existed in India for over 3,000 yrs (through the Laws of Manu). That is the reason why Buddhism lost ground in India, and also due to vicious Muslim Invasions.

    (3) Hindu mythology existed in India prior to the arrival of Gauthama Buddha. It was only natural that parts of Hindu mythology crept into Buddhist teachings down the ages. The pure Buddhism does not have any myth.

    I conclude :

    * Any parts perceived/proved as mythical in Buddhism should be viewed as such and gently removed or seen only as myth.

    * Only Core Teachings of any religion should be emphasized on in order to remove long winded explanations. Generally, Core Teachings of all religions are similar. Money & the Market Place have replaced the Core Teachings in most societies in the world.
    Also, political struggles for dominance over resources & people, Cold Wars, greed, insecurity & fear, corrupt politics ruin all countries, and replace Core Teachings. The fault lies in such other reasons, and not in the Core Teachings of religion.

    I am forced to conclude that the real trouble is that Core Teachings of religions are not practiced and that is why there is so much trouble in society everywhere.

    If we are to be realistic, we ought not to expect human beings to be perfect. But some self control and discipline are required if we have to have stable societies all over the world.

  14. callistus Says:

    Ben Silva, excuse me, you cannot insult other commenters as ‘dumb’, and use words like ‘bshit’. I thought you were a respectful and respectable gentleman. If you don’t agree with someone’s views, just ignore that person’s views.

  15. mjaya Says:

    Well Ben Silva, its pretty obvious that you can’t respond to the factual rebuttals that I have presented to all of your baseless arguments.

    Like the sun always shining the next day, Ben Silva will continue copy pasting his historical inaccuracies (from his “historian” friend) and fantasies onto Lankaweb. I must thank Fran and Bodhi for their valuable comments. Bodhi from a Buddhist perspective and Fran from a more neutral perspective.

    Bodhi has mentioned “Mano Pubbangama Dhamma” (the mind is above everything), a core teaching of Buddhism which gives no room for unproven myths whatsoever. (I have mentioned this in response to Ben Silvas comments on numerous occasions ….) In the Kalama Sutta, a Buddhist is told to investigate and only believe in something after convincing yourself that it is possible and true. So, again there is no room for unproven myths or blind faith. There is nothing supernatural about the Singalovada Sutta, the Mahamangala Sutta, Wasala Sutta or Parabava Sutta which all contain practical advice on leading a productive life. The Pancha Seela is a practical basis for ethics.

    As I have mentioned before there are numerous traditionalisms in Buddhism of the Sinhalese, some practices are benign and cultural (like the Kandy Perahera) while others should be discouraged (like horoscopes).

    Charlatans with hidden agendas can always pretend to be concerned patriots just like the JVP…..

  16. Dham Says:

    Core of Buddhism is the Four Noble Truth. Once the Dukkha has been understood there is no time for Gon acts. You either speak out of ego to benifit a false” me” ot you speak just for the benfit of others.
    While MJaya and numerous others explained out of compassion, Gons do not even appreciate. Calling some one a fool when he repeats the same argument like a parrot without reasonning is not abuse.
    Gon Silva will be Gon Silva until he realises his foolishness and think straight.

  17. cassandra Says:


    I refer to your response following my last comments on 2nd January.

    I note that it is your view that religion needs to be replaced by teaching, values, morality and so on in the way you have mentioned. In this regard, I would suggest, with all due respect,

    (a) that would be impracticable, because there will always be a place for religion, to provide answers to questions that cannot be otherwise answered. As Bodhi has stated so well, we need to make a distinction between matters of fact and matters of value. Religion is relevant in respect of the latter

    (b) people comply with instructions because they are compelled to do so or because they are convinced of their validity. Compliance through compulsion is not a desirable thing. But religion serves to provide the conviction – the underlying rationale – for compliance.

    Myths are a part of a universal heritage and not surprisingly some of them are reflected in some religious beliefs. The myths themselves do not however invalidate the value of religious precepts. I find, for instance, that the Noble Eightfold Path in Buddhism and the Ten Commandments in Christianity provide valuable guides to good personal and communal conduct. As Fran Diaz has stated what is needed is for the core teachings of religions to be emphasised and for the myths to be weeded out – there is certainly no need to throw out the baby with the bath water.

    You have quoted what Einstein had to say about ethical behaviour. Given Einstein’s stature, his views are worthy of consideration. We do not, however, have to accept his views as constituting the final word, in matters outside his field of expertise. He was a great mathematician but that did not make him a great philosopher or a learned theologian. He is no more an expert in regard to philosophical thought than he is, say, an expert in cookery or carpentry.

  18. Ben_silva Says:

    Good points by Cassandra. However, history has shown that religions have lead to religious wars with millions killed. In some cases, Buddhist followers have been killed in millions, with agressors taking advantage of the passive nature of Buddhism. Not only Einstein, but thinkers such as Russel and Clark have been anti religion.
    I am of the alternative view that, whilst morality and ehics are important, religion is not a suitable vehicle to teach them. This view appear to be growing, certainly in UK.

  19. Fran Diaz Says:

    Religions came about after the Master/Teacher passed away. There was no “Religion” for a particular Master/Teacher while they were alive. Masters/Teachers, when alive, appear to have given a direct experience of Bliss/Ecstasy to their then sincere followers, which experience seems rare after the Master/Teacher passed away.

    I think so called ‘religious wars’ came about because ‘religion’ can be easily used by wily leaders to incite large groups of people into passionate anger. All this has been done in the absence of living Master/Teacher.

    I think the different religions came about partly because of the social need for Morality & Ethics, plus some explanation for Birth & Death. A finite life for a sentient being with the ability to think, is a tremendous burden to bear, and various approaches to answer the necessary questions and quell fears have been thought out and presented. As far as we know, only human beings (homo sapiens which means ‘wise man’), can look at their own plight as finite beings and find reason/meaning in such a relatively brief existence.

    There may be inaccuracies in interpretations of what the Masters/Teachers actually said. It is up to each of us take what we perceive and value as Core Teachings and try to live up to such ideals, and thereby find life supportive meaning & purpose in our existence, whilst still enjoying the journey.

  20. Dham Says:

    When everyone out there struglling to earn bucks by whatever method ( out of greed) morality goes out of the door. Only law and order of the country can contorl it to a certain extent.
    By undestanding the life better one can become a good human being naturally and easily. By studying atoms and learing theory of relativity one can learn to concentrate a bit but cannot learn morality.
    I have met so many young extremely smart Buddhist you have achieved the best in the world and not one has ever become athiests. Only the not so smart die hards think that athiesm is “cool” because of pure stupidness and inferriority complex. I have met a few like this. There will be more in the future.

  21. Dham Says:

    Harmony – by Achan Sumedho

    When there is Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration, then one is fearless. There is fearlessness because there is nothing to be frightened of. One has the guts to look at things and not take them in the wrong way; one has the wisdom to contemplate and reflect upon life; one has the security and confidence of sila, the strength of one’s moral commitment and the determination to do good and refrain from doing evil with body and speech. In this way, the whole thing holds together as a path for development. It is a perfect path because everything is helping and supporting; the body, the emotional nature (the sensitivity of feeling), and the intelligence. They are all in perfect harmony, supporting each other.

    Without that harmony, our instinctual nature can go all over the place. If we have no moral commitment, then our instincts can take control. For example, if we just follow sexual desire without any reference to morality, then we become caught up in all kinds of things that cause self-aversion. There is adultery, promiscuity and disease, and all the disruption and confusion that come from not reining in our instinctual nature through the limitations of morality.

    We can use our intelligence to cheat and lie, can’t we, but when we have a moral foundation, we are guided by wisdom and by samadhi; these lead to emotional balance and emotional strength. But we don’t use wisdom to suppress sensitivity. We don’t dominate our emotions by thinking and by suppressing our emotional nature. This is what we have tended to do in the West; we’ve used our rational thoughts and ideals to dominate and suppress our emotions, and thus become insensitive to things, to life and to ourselves

  22. Fran Diaz Says:

    Dham : totally agree with you ! It is up to each individual to make or break life.


    Life is Gift ! Live it ! Enjoy life without harming others or oneself. Earn money, educate yourself, but NEVER put Money & wrong sex above Morals & Ethics. If we Choose right actiion, we can have a life with Self Respect and respect for others. As human beings, Self Respect is our birthright. It gives a wonderful feeling.

  23. Dham Says:

    Achan Sumedho is American born and Chief Monk of Amarawati , London. He is a good example of a scientist who learned Buddhism and now critisising western way of thinking. Gon gone to UK to learn and teach us western value systems.
    Why can’t Gon Silva go there and argue and publish the dialogue if he is so interested in teaching Buddhist how to live ?
    He has an agenda (together with mental problems) and no point giving him reasons, that is all.

  24. Fran Diaz Says:

    Dear Dham,

    I think that Ben is trying to provoke Buddhists of Sri Lanka to defend their one and only country, by constantly thinking of our problems on how to protect the country for future generations in a practical way, putting forth innovative ideas on how to overcome problems within the country and problems from outside of the country. He wants to achieve this by provoking us to act. He is prodding us to survive in the new circumstances we are caught up in. Ben is needling us where it hurts most, it seems !! But, I think he means well for us. I think he is challenging us to meet our modern day problems without getting too caught up in any ‘religion’. This is somewhat of a tall order for us Buddhists who have suffered some 500 yrs of ignoble Colonisation. After Independence, we have now naturally turned to our time honored Buddhist religion & language for identity & self respect. But, as Ben insists in a roundabout way, we must also meet the new Challenges in order to survive.

    500 yrs of Colonisation have left our masses bewildered, dealing with a new form of government (Democracy), rapid Globalisation, a greedy, insecure part of the world, some holding WMDs, and a host of new problems. Let’s meet this Challenge head on whilst keeping our Buddhist values and some practices intact. In the modern world of speeded up living, we must, for the masses of people, at least keep the Core Teachings intact.

    In the modern world, we have to be fairly well informed of what is going on outside of Lanka, be technically savvy (Sc& Tech), speak a global language (mostly English) to get a job, learn modern day manners & some etiquette – tough going for the people of a small island like ours, just emerging out of a 30 yr war with terrorism. Such is life, and easier said than done.

    We had a great country in the old times. Let’s make it so once again. It can be done because we have a solid base to build on with Buddhist Teachings. Practical Buddhism is the need of the hour.

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