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Buddhism and Science Research

Introduction

Often religion and science have displayed critically different scenarios. The difference has been maintained especially regarding the creation and existence of humanity where religion claims the existence of a supernatural being at the center of creation while science holds to the natural influences. However, regarding the various forces of the society which influence the manner in which humans relate to one another and the natural environment, religion and science seem to take almost similar views. Different religions are structured and premised on completely different beliefs and religious principles. The Buddhist religion, associated mainly with the Asian origin, has been associated with science on various fronts.[1] This research analyses the connection between science and the Buddhists religion. Since the period defined by the Theravāda reform movement in the late 19th century and the early 20th century, Buddhism has been seen to be compatible with the western scientific beliefs and ideologies. These relationships are strengthened by the recent emergence of the concept of Mindfulness Therapies associated with the Buddhists cultures.

Until its contact with the western culture and consequent exposure into the world scenario, the Buddhist culture has remained predominantly restricted to the Asian continent and identified mainly with the Asian culture. However, expansion into the west during the 20th century exposed the Buddhists culture to the world, associating it with the western science a great deal. According to Garfield, a lot of the Buddhists religious beliefs and practices tends to reflect the same scenario advocated in modern western science[2]. Since the development of this solemn contact with the western culture, many Western scientists began to think of Buddhism practices are being grounded on rational philosophies which reflect a high degree of compatibility with the fundamentals of the modern science. These realizations led to the formation of an alliance between the Buddhists reformers, drawn mainly from Sri Lanka and the Western scholars as well as the sympathizers of Buddhism from Europe and North American regions. Continued research into these connections has revealed further connections between the two practices as will be outlined subsequently in this research. However, curtained marked differences have also been noted and are as well outlined in this report.

The connections between science and Buddhism

To date, Buddhism has been discussed in various research and historical accounts as the most science friendly cultures and religions in the world. Of the three Abrahamic religious groups (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) Buddhism has been closely linked to science on various fronts. The knowledge of the Buddhists societies about the biological sciences, for instance, is a fascinating fact that Garfield says is not coincidental but rather a natural endowment[3]. During his lectures in biological sciences across the continents, Garfield concludes that he is often amazed by the content of knowledge that his students in Asia, who owe allegiance to the Buddhists religion have tremendous knowledge concerning various aspects of the natural sciences[4]. This natural knowledge, Geoffrey associates to the earlier and lifetime teachings provided by the Buddhists culture and which is ultimately reflected in their classwork[5]. Like science, Geoffrey has maintained that Buddhism is not just a religion but a way of looking at the natural world in a scientific manner[6].

To justify these assertions, Garfield focusses on how scientific knowledge is generated and approved both scientifically and in the Buddhists contexts[7]. For instance, science believes that knowledge must be hypothesized by questioning reality in its natural settings, tested through research and investigations and approved into law as a way of thinking. In the same manner, Buddhism insists that knowledge must be gained solely through personal experiences, tested and validated through interrogation to validate the allegations. These propositions seem to advocate for the same approaches to knowledge acquisition, which is the basis of science, as opposed to the religious acceptance of the sacred texts. In this way, both Buddhism and science’s views concerning knowledge acquisition and development in the society are oriented towards a practical perspective as opposed to the theoretical underpinnings upheld in other religious teachings. It is the only religion in which concrete evidence is sort after to act as justifications of the truth and approval of knowledge as is the case with the interrogation and approval of knowledge from a scientific perspective.

The teachings of Buddha, for instance, insists on not accepting knowledge or understanding just because such knowledge is the popular dogma.[8]  These are justified in the following teachings of the Buddha;

Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another’s seeming ability; nor upon the consideration,”[9]

Instead, the Buddha asks his followers to investigate the sources of such knowledge and test their standing to see if they stand the truth or explain important aspects of the society. Only through these interrogations should they rush and believe the veracity of such knowledge. In this way, the teachings of the Buddha seems to support free inquiry and demonstrates openness to free verification of knowledge to support the proposed ways of thinking and the truth. A lot of the western truth and knowledge is derived barely from science. Science is often viewed as the practice of Buddhists, albeit, in a socialized and naturalized context separate from that of the organized scientific inquiries of today.

We can understand the connection between science and Buddhism more conclusively when we look at the tenets of Buddhism as a belief system and compare these beliefs with those of science. Geoffrey for instance lists down some five belief principles of the Buddhism societies as stated below;

  • Buddhism does not depend on or claim the existence of any god, in fact, the Buddha himself declared that he shouldn’t be treated as a god since he isn’t and there isn’t anything as such[10]
  • Buddhism was a superstition, a moral ideal which seemed to conform to the scientific view of an ordered world that is ruled by certain laws known as Dharma. Dharma was a systemic combination of both moral and physical derivations in which all things appeared to be working for themselves inexorably without the prime intervention of any divine being (popular as karma in Buddhism).
  • Buddhists also believe in the permanence of the natural laws and inability of any karma to alter these laws. These laws were enshrined in the laws of metaphysics which inform the foundations of scientific inquiries to date.

Arguing from these perspectives, instuitional inquiries of Buddhists informed scholars such as Charles Darwin had dominated modern scientific inquiries to date. Geoffrey argued that Darwinism seemed to undermine the Christian authority of the West, but it seemed only to propagate the beliefs and fundamentals of Buddhism which appealed to reason and inquisitiveness as a way of seeking to find out the truth[11]. From Darwin’s proposition of the theory of evolution, science has come to approve of the fact that everything on earth is evolutionary. That is, everything (cultures, races, economies, nations, species of organisms, and the entire universe) have kept on changing from time to time both from a micro-perspective and from the macro-perspectives[12]. Moreover, the social Darwinists have even proposed that evolution operates even behind the realms of market capitalism.

Darwin’s evolutional theory originates from the notion of karma which proposed the cyclic unfolding of various events happening over the earth. These cyclic events are propagated primarily by the law of cause and effect. Through the cause-effect relationships, the Buddhists religion finds itself well-embedded within the contexts of scientific disciplines, including biology, physics, geology, botany, etc. Both science and Buddhism believe that there can be only one truth at any given moment, not two; what the Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge refer to as ‘the unity of truth’[13]. Carus, on the other hand, referred to this coherence in truth as ‘The Religion of Science’ and Max Muller, ‘The Science of Religion.’

Buddhism believe in four types of truths: that sorrow exists, the cause of sorrow is desire, and the cessation of desires is the cessation of sorrow and the noble eightfold path which explains that there is a way in which the third truth (sorrow cessation) can be explained. According to David, the basis for scientific inquiry is to seek to understand the value of nature in a bid to understand the basis of nature and exploit it effectively to gain power and prosperity.[14] Descartes, alluding to these observations, observes that by studying and knowing the actions and forces which control nature, we are capable of ascending and possessing nature for out benefits and development. These propositions stem from the fact that before possessing nature, we must understand how it is constructed and how it functions. For these reasons, scientific knowledge was seen as the key to obtaining adequate information about the society and how it functioned. About these, it is gaining knowledge, scientific or religious, is the basis for gaining the outer success and prosperity for humanity around the globe. Due to these reasons, the values and beliefs which control various scientific research and inquiries are purely materialistic rather than value-oriented.

Referring to the materialistic nature of modern science, geared towards exploiting the exploitation of natural resources for the development and benefits of humanity, Goldacre observes that the materialistic focus of modern scientific exploitation through technology and the problems associated with the natural resources exploitation without love[15]. Recent scientific research is in agreement that the modern approach to scientific inquiry and application devoid of ethics and altruism, is the greatest problem to the 21st-century world dominated primarily by the capitalistic feelings and opinions. In this way, therefore, the findings of scientific knowledge and inquiries are in agreement with the Buddhists second truth that the sorrows inflicted on the society such as the environmental problems are as a result of the humans’ desires to develop beyond the capacity of the environment. For these reasons, David concludes that scientific inquiries are not independent of the Buddhists assertions and fundamentals.[16] For instance, science seems to borrow its inquisitive nature from the Buddhists beliefs that knowledge must be hypothesized, tested through rigorous scientific inquiries and approved in laws and theories. In this way, therefore, we can deduce that both science and Buddhism seem to advocate for the same truth making them look like two rivers flowing towards the same direction and into the same sea. These findings justify Albert Einstein’s assertions that ‘science devoid of religion is lame’ and ‘religion without science is blind.’

Ethics play a key role in controlling the manner in which scientific inquiries are developed, performed and approved in the modern scientific inquiries. The ethical science tends to focus primarily on two key aspects, (1) scientists must be honest regarding the methodologies they use to collect their data and report findings, (2) scientists must adhere to the ethical connotations regarding the way they treat their subjects such as humans and animals when conducting research.[17] In the same way, it is apparently clear that ethics has often been the fundamental basis upon which the Buddhist beliefs operate. Ethics is a necessary pre-requisite towards the realization of wisdom acquired from the nirvana.

The differences between science and Buddhism

Aside from the similarities which have been registered with scientific knowledge and Buddhism, there exist serious differences too. In the same way, scholars have associated science with Buddhism, such arguments have also received a great deal of oppositions from the scientific community who have refuted the claims that science and Buddhism are quite distinct and separated from one another without any clear connection between the two. This section presents some of the arguments which have been put across to refute the linkage between science and Buddhism.

To begin with, although the Buddha directed that there is no god or belief in the existence of any such being, the Buddhists have always recognized Buddha as a god and considered Buddhism as a religious stream, a fact which makes Buddhism one of the religious affiliations associated with the Asian world. On the other hand, science dos not owe allegiance to any religious tag and have remained distinctly silent on matters of religion. Although analysts such as Albert Einstein have argued that science without religion is lame, various scientific inquiries and propositions have desisted from any religious debates and instead, have appeared to antagonize the religious beliefs and propositions consistently. It is for these observations that David concludes that science and religion antagonize each other on almost all aspects.

Another difference is noted by Thomas S Kuhn who observed that unlike the Buddhists fundamentals, science holds to certain dogmatic propositions which are spread and held across the scientific community across generations. These dogmatic propositions are exhibited in scientific paradigms which define the reasoning and the manner in which scientific inquiries are conducted at particular periods. Kuhn questioned the ability of science to uphold and enrich the progression of knowledge across generations[18]. Kuhn defines a paradigm as a way of thinking which informs scientific inquiries and understanding on various fronts. The paradigms are developed through a series of processes including hypothesis development, hypothesis testing, and formulation of laws and theories. One paradigm rules understanding and the principles of research for a period until another set of scientists challenge the veracity of the existing paradigm. During the existence of a particular paradigm, scientific researchers conducting researches must comply with the set paradigmatic views, quoting its laws and complying with its theories until the shift is completely undertaken. This compliance and consistency of scientific research with the ruling scientific paradigm at any point in time is what Kuhn observes to be a deterrent to the acquisition and development of knowledge. Unlike science which depends entirely on the ruling paradigms to question knowledge and understanding, Buddhism does not rely on any paradigmatic proposition but rather encourages independent and logical reasoning about various aspects of knowledge without necessarily making keen observance to a given way of thinking as science does.

Conclusion

To conclude, science and Buddhism has been linked to one another on various fronts. Until the 20th century when Buddhism gained significant contact with the world and especially the West, the logics behind its practice has been understood primarily from the religious point of view. A keen look into the principles of Buddhism and its logical reasoning about nature and the natural environment has confirmed that indeed science and Buddhism are premised entirely on the same grounds of reasoning. These connections have been observed mainly concerning the manner in which knowledge and understanding are derived from the perspectives of the two. Both science and Buddhism believe in testing knowledge to see if they hold substantial grounds to warrant their qualification as opposed to believing simply on the theoretical propositions common with religion. Despite these connections, stern differences have also been noted. For instance, TS Kuhn argues that scientific research follows the propositions of the dominant paradigm at any given time and thus is not independent to questioning new thoughts as does Buddhism at all times.

 

Bibliography

[1]Geoffrey, Samuel, 2014. “Between Buddhism and Science, Between Mind and Body.” Religions 5: 560–579. doi:doi:10.3390/rel5030560.

[2]Garfield, Jay. 2011. “Ask Not What Buddhism Can Do for Cognitive Science: Ask What Cognitive Science Can Do for Buddhism.” Bulletin of Tibetology (Gangtok) 47: 15–30.

[5]Geoffrey, Samuel, 2014. “Between Buddhism and Science, Between Mind and Body.” Religions 5: 560–579. doi:doi:10.3390/rel5030560

[7]Garfield, Jay. 2011. “Ask Not What Buddhism Can Do for Cognitive Science: Ask What Cognitive Science Can Do for Buddhism.” Bulletin of Tibetology (Gangtok) 47: 15–30.

[8]David, Barash, 2014. “Is Buddhism the Most Science-Friendly Religion?” Scientific American. February 11. Accessed December 13, 2016. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/is-buddhism-the-most-science-friendly-religion/.

[9]David, Barash,. 2014. “Is Buddhism the Most Science-Friendly Religion?” Scientific American. February 11. Accessed December 13, 2016. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/is-buddhism-the-most-science-friendly-religion/.

[10]Geoffrey, Samuel, 2014. “Between Buddhism and Science, Between Mind and Body.” Religions 5: 560–579. doi:doi:10.3390/rel5030560.

[11]Geoffrey, Samuel, 2014. “Between Buddhism and Science, Between Mind and Body.” Religions 5: 560–579. doi:doi:10.3390/rel5030560.

[12]Martin Verhoeven, J., 2001. “Buddhism and Science: Probing the Boundaries of Faith and Reason.” Religion East and West, 1: 77-97

[14]David, Barash, 2014. “Is Buddhism the Most Science-Friendly Religion?” Scientific American. February 11. Accessed December 13, 2016. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/is-buddhism-the-most-science-friendly-religion/.

[15]Goldacre, Ben. 2013. Bad Pharma: How Drug Companies Mislead Doctors and Harm Patients. New York: Faber and Faber.

[16]David, Barash, 2014. “Is Buddhism the Most Science-Friendly Religion?” Scientific American. February 11. Accessed December 13, 2016. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/is-buddhism-the-most-science-friendly-religion/.

[18]Martin Verhoeven, J., 2001. “Buddhism and Science: Probing the Boundaries of Faith and Reason.” Religion East and West, 1: 77-97

 

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