Buddhism and Science – untangling confusions
Posted on August 15th, 2013

R Chandrasoma

A leading lexical authority defines Science (from Latin scientia, meaning ‘knowledge’) as the systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe and things therein. On the other hand Religion is defined as a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe as the perilous habitat of sentient questing beings. More pointedly, this universe is considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, demanding devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs. It is true that Buddhism is not an archetypical religion and eschews all reference to God or a Godhead but it shares with other religions ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” but not with science ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” the pursuit of meaning and significance in a world that threatens us with our seeming irrelevance, finitude and ultimate extinction. It is unique in that this

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”predicament of manƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ is examined with a wonderful intuition in which the science and logic available in those far-off days was joined to an inner vision of a deeply spiritual nature that went far beyond science. This was a time when great minds voyaged alone in the ardent pursuit of the Truth. The collegiality that characterizes the science of today was unknown then. It must be noted here that ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”scientific methodsƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ can be exploited in the pursuit of a religious truth and this appropriation of the modus operandi of science does not, by itself, make the subject under interrogation a science.

The great question addressed by the Buddha had its foundation in an issue that very clearly transcended science. It was deeply existential and concerned the ineluctable linkage between life and suffering ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” that ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”beingƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ in its existential totality is indelibly imprinted with sorrow. This association can only be broken (so declared the Buddha) through an abrogation of the seemingly inexorable trans-generational linkage of lives that forces a perpetuation of the all-encompassing misery of existence. True relief and liberation from this apparently inescapable bondage can be a reality only through a profound knowledge of the Four Noble Truths. These truths give the basis or rationale of that incessant flux of the Five-Fold Dynamic Aggregations that in conventional discourse are assumed to give identity and personhood. The denial of the ontologic primality of the latter (anatta) is a foundational truth in Buddhism.

On first sight it might appear that the discovery of the roots of the ever-present existential ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”dolorƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ or anguish in the living world is a proper scientific achievement. Surely, it is more than that since what is ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”discoveredƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ is more elemental and life-shaping than any discovery in science. More importantly, the spiritual goal in all religions is transcendence ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” a concept devoid of any meaning or significance in science. ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”FelicityƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ and ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”well-beingƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ are not quantifiable features of material systems. Addtitionally, ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”karmaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” which plays a huge role in Eastern religions – is a trans-generational process involving causative links with other worlds and other kinds of beings that have absolutely no warrant in science as conventionally understood. They refer to aspirations, longings, fears and forebodings of the human human spirit which lie totally outside the anbit of science.. To conclude in a contrarian strain, the religious instinct

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” this is the verdict of science ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” is a species of adaptive behaviour in socially competent organisms struggling for group survival. Adaptive (religious) intuitions are hallowed and sanctified when public knowledge (science) is weak and seers and sages take up the slack.

Be that as it may, to speak of the Buddha as the consummately great scientist is a weakness of those overawed by science and confused over the true relation between two distinct ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”magisteriaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ of human understanding. When the famous Immanuel Kant said that the foundation of ethical behaviour was the maxim ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”Do unto others what you would have them do unto youƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ he propounded an ethico-religious truth that has nothing to do with science. Yet we honour him for the deep insight contained in this seemingly trite statement. To be the founder of a great religion is to be exalted in the domain of the human spirit ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” not to be celebrated as a great scientist. Spirituality eclipses science and it is a great insult for a luminary in one sphere to be celebrated in another antithetical sphere.

4 Responses to “Buddhism and Science – untangling confusions”

  1. Nalliah Thayabharan Says:

    Buddhism is not a religion. Buddhism is not a system of faith and worship owing any allegiance to a supernatural being. Buddhism does not demand blind faith from its adherents.
    A Buddhist seeks refuge in the Siddhārtha Gautama because it was he who discovered the path of deliverance. A Buddhist does not seek refuge in the Siddhārtha Gautama with the hope that he will be saved by his personal purification. The Siddhārtha Gautama gives no such guarantee. It is not within the power of a Siddhārtha Gautama to wash away the impurities of others. One could neither purify nor defile another. The Siddhārtha Gautama, as teacher, instructs us, but we ourselves are directly responsible for our purification. Although a Buddhist seeks refuge in the Siddhārtha Gautama, he does not make any self-surrender. Nor does a Buddhist sacrifice his freedom of thought by becoming a follower of the Siddhārtha Gautama. He can exercise his own free will and develop his knowledge even to the extent of becoming a Siddhārtha Gautama himself.
    The starting point of Buddhism is reasoning or understanding – samma-ditthi.
    To the seekers of truth the Siddhārtha Gautama says:
    “Do not accept anything on (mere) hearsay
    Do not accept anything by mere tradition
    Do not accept anything on account of mere rumors
    Do not accept anything just because it accords with your scriptures.
    Do not accept anything by mere suppositions.
    Do not accept anything by mere inference.
    Do not accept anything by merely considering the reasons.
    Do not accept anything merely because it agrees with your pre-conceived notions.
    Do not accept anything merely because it seems acceptable
    Do not accept anything thinking that the ascetic is respected by us

    More than 4 centuries before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, one of the three great tragedians of classical Athens – Euripides wrote in his play Bellerophon based upon the myth of Bellerophon, “Doth some one say that there be gods above? There are not; no, there are not. Let no fool, led by the old false fable, thus deceive you.”

    Intelligence is the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly, and learn from experience. Religiosity is the involvement in all facets of religion, which includes belief in the supernatural, offering gifts to this supernatural, and performing rituals affirming their beliefs.

    More intelligent people are less likely to conform and, thus, are more likely to resist religious dogma. Intelligent people may be more likely to become atheists when they live in religious societies, because intelligent people tend to be nonconformists. Intelligent people don’t like to accept any beliefs that are not subject to empirical tests or logical reasoning. Intelligent people may think more analytically, which is “controlled, systematic, and slow”, as opposed to intuitively, which is “heuristic-based, mostly non-conscious, and fast. That analytical thinking leads to lower religiosity. Intelligence provides whatever functions religion does for believers.
    But religion provides people a sense of control. Much like believing in God, higher intelligence has been shown to grant people more “self-efficacy,” which is the belief in one’s ability to achieve goals. So, if intelligent people have more control, then perhaps they don’t need religion in the same way that others do.
    Religion provides self-regulation. Religion is associated with better well-being. Religious people are more disciplined in pursuing goals and deferring small rewards for large ones. Intelligent people are less impulsive. Delayed gratification may require better working memory, which intelligent people have. Intelligence is acting as a substitute for religion, helping people delay gratification without needing divine interventions.
    Religion also provides self-enhancement. Also intelligent people have been shown to have a sense of higher self-worth. So intelligence may be providing something that religion does.
    Religion provides attachment. Religious people often claim to have a personal relationship with God. They use God as an “anchor” when faced with the loss of a loved one or a broken relationship. Intelligent people find their “anchor” in people by building relationships. Those who score highly on measures of intelligence are more likely to be married and less likely to get divorced. Thus, intelligent people have less need to seek religion as a substitute for companionship.

  2. Fran Diaz Says:

    Please permit me to deviate to another aspect of Buddhism.

    It is hard for Buddhists to survive the Game of Forgiveness of Sins. SINS are Forgiven freely in all other religions, but Buddhists are expected to face, alone, the consequences of their actions. This is a lonely road, requiring great strength of character and ability.

    In actual fact, the Spiritual Laws are the same for everyone.

    In Christianity : Jesus said “the Kingdom of Heaven is WITHIN You”.

    In Buddhism : the Buddha said “Truth is WITHIN YOU”.

    Islam means PEACE “Peace is WITHIN YOU”.

    In Hinduism, the highest of all Yogas (Yoga means ‘Yoke to God’), Raj Yoga requires Meditation which is to connect to

    In practical terms, the LAW OF THE LAND has to protect Buddhists. This is how mostly Buddhist Singapore manages.

  3. Fran Diaz Says:

    Buddhists of all denominations must know by now that the words God/Truth (Sathya)/Allah all mean the same other dimensional ‘something’ that sustains the Universe, its creation(s), maintenance & death. This is irrespective of any ‘belief’.

    This all pervading ‘energy’ or something, is within us all of us too, maintaining our life (Life Force). When it leaves it us, we die,
    and our bodies go back to the elements (the Buddha said : “All component things decay”). This is scientific and makes sense to me. I welcome comments on what I have stated.

    For more clarity, see wopg.org.

  4. AnuD Says:

    Modern Science or material sciences or Natural Science began as an opposition to the claim by the church that every thing was created by GOd and there was nothing natural. In other words, science began because of the European intellectuals who did not believe that every thing was created by the god. In other words, they were looking for the Truth in this world.

    Buddha dhamma, I think Hindus call it Sanathana dharma, is also the nature or the truth.

    So, the Natural sciences and the buddhism must match each other.

    Buddhists are not investigating enough (because, what they are seeking is in front of them, On the other hand, christians who have that suspicion about their religion always question why we are on this earth. Further to that, Muslims are not allowed to question Allah or his teachings) ). Otherwise, buddhism is the only “religion” that existed. since times unknown, and Buddha’s appear from time to time and remind the people of that truth. Buddhism existed even when the earth was destroyed and reappeared. Even Buddha had said that, he as a bodhisatta, lived when this world system disintegrated, at the end of this world system.

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