Buddhism, Science and Modern Science
By Dr. Granville Dharmawardena
Intuitive knowledge is acquired when one completely quietens the conscious mind stops the rational stream from functioning and allows knowledge to freely flow in through the subconscious mind. Since this stream of knowledge is not based on the sense organs it is not limited to the visualizable aspects the universe. Intuitive knowledge is holistic and when one develops his/her mind to a stage where he/she can completely stop the rational stream, intuitive knowledge flows in freely and effortlessly through the subconscious mind. It is a direct insight which lies outside the realm of the intellect and obtained by watching or observing by looking inside oneself rather than thinking. It is unrestricted knowledge of the reality of the universe .
After reading Prof. N. A de S. Amaratunga’s article on Mind, Matter and Nibbana in Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism in the recent Vesak issue of The Island I am writing this addendum to it. It is not possible to modify the word of the Buddha to suit any particular sect of Buddhism or any culture. Many books and articles have been written during the last few decades on Buddhism and Science comparing the concepts of Buddhism with those of science. One must be extremely cautious in making such comparisons because the terms used in Buddhism and science which may appear similar may represent different meanings. In doing so one must keep in mind that concepts in science change from time to time while what is taught in Buddhism never changes with time.
For example Prof. Amaratunga compares the 19th century science concept of the atom with the word paramanu that comes in Buddhist literature. Between the 19th and 21st centuries the science concept of the atom has changed a number of times. In the 19th century atom was an indivisible solid particle which is the smallest unit of matter. When J.J. Thompson, of Cambridge University, discovered the electron in 1897 the science concept of the atom changed to something like a miniature solar system with a nucleus at the centre with electrons orbiting it and with 99% of its volume empty space and it is divisible. When Chadwick, also of Cambridge University, discovered the neutron in 1932 atom became a compound miniature solar system consisting of three types of particles which is also divisible. Now in the 21st century modern science describes the atom and its constituent particles as energy vibrations in a quantum vacuum.
Buddhism is recognized as one of the main religions in the world. Terms used to describe the word ‘religion’ in dictionaries are, ‘a belief system, a system of faith and worship and human recognition of superhuman controlling power and especially of a personal God entitled to obedience’. Most of these terms do not directly apply to Buddhism. The term ‘faith’ is applicable to Buddhism only after adding the qualifying term ‘non-blind’. The term ‘worship’ applies with the qualifying phrase ‘as a form of respect to the Triple gem’. The terms used to describe the word ‘science’ are, ‘systematic formulated knowledge, knowledge dealing with phenomena and based on observation and experiment’. The first phrase here applies only to rational knowledge which is limited to the material aspects of the universe and is not relevant to Buddhism. The second phrase applies to Buddhism. This indicates that Buddhism is not just another religion but it has something more than a mere religion.
His Holiness Dalai Lama while talking at a conference on ‘Buddhism and Science’ said that in learning or acquiring knowledge on Buddhism there are four authentic agents of authority. They are the scriptures, commentarial texts, authentic teachers and oneown experience. Scriptures are the written records of the word of Lord Buddha, the Sutras or the Tripitaka. It is the most authentic agent of authority. This step is common to all religions and science. All religions have scriptures and science has theorems and laws documented in scientific journals. The agent of next level of authority is the commentarial texts. These are text books that give further and simpler descriptions of the material in original scripture written by persons who have reached very high levels of knowledge of Buddhism. This step is also common to all religions and science. In every religion there are explanatory texts and in science there are science text books. The agent of next level of authority is the authentic teacher. This step is also common to all religions and science. Anyone who wants to learn a religion or science would first start with an authentic teacher. One proceeds to study from textbooks once one is confident that one has got a foothold on the subject. Thereafter one may proceed to examine the original scriptures of the religion or the journal publications in science.
The fourth agent of authority is the one of great importance and it is the step that makes Buddhism different from other religions. It is one’s own experience or experiment and observation. This step is common to Buddhism and science.
Richard Feynman, Nobel Laureate for physics and one of the most eminent modern scientists, describes the modern science procedure for authenticating a new law in science as, “Now I am going to discuss how we would look for a new law. In general we look for a new law by the following process. First we guess it. Then we compute the consequences of the guess to see what would be implied if this law that we guessed is right. Then we compare the results of the computation to nature with experiment or experience and compare it directly with observation to see if it works. If it disagrees with experiment it is wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science.”
The last step, experiment or experience and observation, is most important. If observation shows that a law is not true, then after ascertaining the validity of the experiment and observation, the law gets rejected. This is the way science retains what is true and rejects what is not true. It prevents science from becoming an accumulation of loose statements. In this way, science has progressed and generated enormous material benefits to humankind. Same is the case with Buddhism.
Buddhism requires Buddhists to examine everything taught in Buddhism for their veracity before accepting (Kalama Sutra). Buddhists are required not to accept anything merely because it comes from an authoritative source, powerful source, tradition or scriptures until they are satisfied that it is true. Even the word of the Buddha is not to be accepted through blind faith without questioning, examining and finding that it is true.
Buddhism and science are the only knowledge systems that use this technique to weed out what is not true and maintain the knowledge free from untruths. This technique of questioning, examining, testing and verifying works well for Buddhism and science because both these knowledge systems are based on the factual nature of reality as observed through the two streams of knowledge. Both Buddhism and science teach knowledge generated by human beings. Other knowledge systems, as physicist Kafatos and historian Nadeau say, depend on the belief that the truths of spiritual reality can be known only through divine revelations or promptings. It is heretical to subject these truths to questioning. (The Non-Local Universe – Robert Nadeau and Menas Kafatos – Oxford University Press)
Any individual human being has the capability to become a Buddha and reach the same status as the founder. In fact, there can be many Buddhas, all of them having the same hierarchical status, like in science where there can be many topmost scientists. All Buddhas will teach the same knowledge about the reality of nature just in the same way that all scientists teach the same knowledge about the universe.
The visualizable and the unvisualizable;
Everything in the universe can be divided into two categories, from a human point of view, as things and phenomena that are visualizable and phenomena that are unvisualizable. Things and phenomena that we, human beings, can perceive with our five sense organs are visualizable and phenomena that are beyond their perception limits are unvisualizable. Visualizable things and phenomena are in visualizable realms. They are within the three familiar spatial dimensions, the length, breadth and the width or x, y and z dimensions. Phenomena that are beyond these limits are in unvisualizable realms. Phenomena described by Einstein’s theory of relativity in four spatial dimensions and those described by quantum science which extend even beyond that are unvisualizable and they happen in unvisualizable realms. Spiritual world lies in unvisualizable realms.
The two streams of knowledge;
It has been recognized throughout history that the humankind is endowed with two streams of knowledge. They are the rational stream of knowledge and the intuitive stream of knowledge. Rational knowledge is based on the conscious mind, left brain and the five sense organs. Intuitive knowledge is based on the subconscious mind and the right brain.
We keep in touch with the external world through the information we receive through our sense organs. Sense organs receive stimuli from the external world, convert them to electrical pulses and send them up to the brain. The brain processes them and presents the results to consciousness. The brain and consciousness interpret them and create a picture, sound, smell, taste or touch. We have built our world view using the interpreted versions of the electrical pulses received by the brain. Since this knowledge is acquired through the sense organs its scope is limited by the limitations of the sense organs. Perception through the sense organs is limited to three spatial dimensions or the visualizable realms. Rational knowledge is, therefore, limited to the material aspects of the universe. Science uses the rational stream of knowledge and, therefore, deals essentially with the visualizable or the material aspects of the universe.
Intuitive knowledge is acquired when one completely quietens the conscious mind stops the rational stream from functioning and allows knowledge to freely flow in through the subconscious mind. Since this stream of knowledge is not based on the sense organs it is not limited to the visualizable aspects the universe. Intuitive knowledge is holistic and when one develops his/her mind to a stage where he/she can completely stop the rational stream, intuitive knowledge flows in freely and effortlessly through the subconscious mind. It is a direct insight which lies outside the realm of the intellect and obtained by watching or observing by looking inside oneself rather than thinking. It is unrestricted knowledge of the reality of the universe.
Nuclear scientist Fritjof Capra describes intuitive knowledge as, “Absolute knowledge which is direct experience of undifferentiated, undivided, indeterminate suchness.”
Dr. Brian Weiss, a renowned professor of psychiatry in the USA, describes the subconscious mind as, “This is the part of our mind that lies beneath ordinary consciousness, beneath the constant bombardment of thoughts, feelings, outside stimuli and other assaults on our awareness. The subconscious mind functions at a level deeper than our usual level of awareness. In the subconscious mind mental processes occur without our conscious perception of them. We experience moments of intuition, wisdom and creativity when these subconscious processes flash into our conscious awareness. The subconscious is not limited by our imposed boundaries of logic, space and time. It can remember everything, from any time. It can transmit creative solutions to our problems. It can transcend the ordinary to touch upon a wisdom far beyond our everyday capabilities. “
Theologian Dr. Joseph Murphy describes the knowledge available through the subconscious mind as, “Many people are closed off to their own potential because they do not know about this storehouse of infinite intelligence and boundless love within themselves.. . Within your subconscious depths lie infinite wisdom, infinite power, an infinite supply of all that is necessary… . You can receive new thoughts and ideas, bring forth new inventions, make new discoveries and create new works of art. The infinite intelligence in your subconscious can give you access to wonderful new kinds of knowledge.”
Buddhists refer to rational knowledge as ‘conditional truth’ or ‘relative knowledge’ and intuitive knowledge as ‘transcendental truth’ or ‘absolute knowledge’. Upanishads refer to them as ‘lower knowledge ‘ and ‘ higher knowledge’ respectively. The faculty that acquires rational knowledge through the sense organs, left brain and the conscious mind is the intellect and that which acquires intuitive knowledge through the right brain and the subconscious mind is wisdom. Rational knowledge, therefore, is referred to as intellectual knowledge and intuitive knowledge as transcendental knowledge or wisdom.
Quietening the rational stream of knowledge is done by Vipassana meditation and how Vipassana meditation does it is explainable by quantum science. Complete shutting down of the rational stream of knowledge is referred to as attaining enlightenment. The first person who attained this state was the Buddha. The basic knowledge in Buddhism is knowledge acquired by the Buddha, who was in a state of enlightenment, through the intuitive stream of knowledge. Arahanths have followed suit and reached high levels of attainment along this path.
The only religion that is based on intuitive knowledge acquired by human beings is Buddhism. The Buddha, in this sense, is very exceptional because as a result of being trained as the heir apparent to the throne he had reached the peak of his intellect, the top of the rational stream of knowledge. Thereafter, he went for meditation and attained the peak of wisdom, the top of the intuitive stream of knowledge.
The primary thrust in both science and Buddhism was to understand the true reality of nature using the two streams of knowledge. The main interest in science is to use such knowledge to provide material benefits to human beings. Science knowledge is often used to create destructive technology used in warfare. Prince Siddhartha’s main interest was to find the causes of suffering and ways and means to alleviate it. Having reached the peak of the rational stream of knowledge, he realized that the answers to these problems were not found in visualizable realms and, therefore, cannot be accessed through the rational stream of knowledge. Most others who sought liberation looked for it only through this stream of knowledge. Prince Siddhartha, therefore, decided to leave lay life, develop the intuitive stream of knowledge and access the unvisualizable realms through it to find solutions to the problems that were lingering in his mind. He was very successful. He reached the peak of transcendental wisdom and found the answers to the problems in unvisualizable or transcendental realms.
The Buddha was not interested in looking at such problems as the origin of the universe, which were not relevant to human beings, except for the purpose of satisfying curiosity. In Buddhism reference to the material world is mainly for emphasizing the impermanence of all things. The main flavour in Buddhism is psychological. The doctrine of Buddhism, therefore, is not one of metaphysics, but one of psychotherapy. Buddhism is full of psychotherapeutic methods. After attaining enlightenment and understanding the main problems of human beings and the remedies, the Buddha presented them in the celebrated form of the Four Noble Truths. It is a compact presentation of the cause of suffering, that it can be alleviated and the way to alleviate it, not unlike the statement of a physician who first of all diagnoses the ailment, then affirms that the ailment can be cured and finally prescribes the remedy.
The problem of suffering described in Buddhism lies almost entirely in the mind or consciousness. Therefore, the solution to the problem lies in healing the mind. In Buddhism a sentient being is viewed as a ‘Nama-Rupa’, a combination of Nama and Rupa. Nama is the psychic personality and Rupa is the physical personality. The human being, therefore, is a psychophysical personality. The physical personality which is in visualizable realms comes into being at conception. When a psychic personality which is in unvisualizable realms arrives from outside and lodges itself in the physical personality it creates a new psychophysical personality or a new human being. Therefore, in a human being the physical aspects operate in the visualizable and the mental aspects operate in the unvisualizable. At death the psychic personality separates from the physical personality and the latter perishes thereafter. The psychic personality which departs at death carries with it the subconscious memory bank of the dying person and later lodges itself in a new physical personality in a mother’s womb to create a new human being. The memory bank carried with it by the psychic personality becomes the subconscious memory bank of the new human being. The new person that is born is not the same person who died because he/she has a different physical personality or body. He/she is not an entirely different person because he/she carries the subconscious memory bank of the deceased person. What we mean by consciousness is the psychic personality.
Buddhism mainly deals with beyond material aspects of human beings and is concerned with mind or consciousness. It teaches how to tame and heal the mind. A person who has tamed his/ her mind is a happy person living a meaningful life. The crucial feature in a human being, according to Buddhism, is consciousness. What is consciousness? Consciousness exists and operates in unvisualizable realms. There is no way for a human being who uses the rational stream of knowledge to perceive it or understand its nature. It is beyond the scope of sense organs. It is beyond the scope of familiar classical science which can examine only material things in visualizable realms. Then how can one understand the nature of consciousness?
It can be done only through a system of knowledge that can observe what happens beyond the curtain in unvisuslizable realms. Transcendental wisdom through which intuitive knowledge flows in can observe what is going on in these realms and quantum science can peep in and get an idea of some of the happenings there. The Buddha was the first person who could clearly see the happenings in these realms and he was followed by Arahants. Therefore we have to depend on these two sources of knowledge. The Buddha observed the phenomena in unvisualizable realms through transcendental wisdom. The nature of consciousness as seen through this source is found in Buddhist teachings. Quantum science is beginning to get a bird’s eye view of the nature of consciousness and what quantum science has so far found confirms the accuracy of Buddhist teachings. Basic tenets of Buddhism, impermanence at all levels, suffering and the absence of a self can be recognized by a modern psycho-scientific study.
In the sixth century, the Roman Emperor Constantine feared that if people believed in reincarnation they would try to achieve their own salvation and such people would be less obedient to the Emperor. This fear made him to ban the belief in reincarnation. The religions in Rome at that time accommodated the Emperor’s order by not only jettisoning the belief in reincarnation, but going further and teaching that it is not true. It is not possible to change the teachings of the Buddha in this manner because they are based on factual knowledge of the state of affairs in the universe or the reality of nature. For this reason they are valid for all times and under all circumstances.
With the development of quantum science information about unvisualizable phenomena became available to scientists. The Buddha looked clearly at what is going on in unvisualizable realms and described what was relevant to the condition of the human beings. Quantum science, although it cannot directly perceive what is going on there has developed mathematical techniques to peep in there and get an idea of some of the unvisualizable phenomena. All such knowledge so far has confirmed that how the Buddha described the reality of nature is very accurate.
For example, thirteen years ago in 1997 Nicolu Gisin of Geneva University conclusively proved that our universe is non-local in nature. Scientists believe that this discovery is the greatest discovery in the whole history of science. Henry Straps describes Gisin’s discovery as “the most profound discovery in all science.” The discovery of non-locality has revolutionised the way scientists look at the reality of nature. However, when looking for examples to illustrate the non-local nature of the universe, scientists hit a blank. There is nothing in the Western world that can be used to illustrate Gisin’s discovery. Therefore they use the Surangama Sutra in Buddhism to illustrate the non-local nature of the universe. Non-locality indicates a universal interconnectedness all throughout the universe. Surangama Sutra is the answer given by the Buddha to a question posed by Venerable Ananda on the reality of nature.
Buddhism teaches that the essential and fundamental nature of reality of everything is a ‘shunyata’ or an ‘emptiness’, or a’ void’. This void is not a state of mere nothingness, but is the source of all life and essence of all forms. The late twentieth century quantum science description of it is the same as the Buddhist description. The ultimate transcendental reality of everything described by quantum science is called the ‘quantum vacuum’. It is a ‘shunyata’. It is described as a still, silent ‘ocean’ on which everything appear as waves or oscillations of energy. All of us, all our belongings, our food and water are vibration patterns in the quantum vacuum. Quantum vacuum is not a state of mere nothingness. Numerous unvisualizable phenomena are going on in there. It cannot be perceived or measured directly, but is mathematically describable.
These modern science discoveries made many eminent scientists who had earlier shunned religions including their own, to look seriously at Buddhism and be satisfied that what is taught in Buddhism accurately describe the true reality of nature. Buddhism, in fact, is a guiding light even to modern science. The topmost scientist of all times, Albert Einstein said of Buddhism, “If there is any religion that would cope with modern scientific needs it would be Buddhism.”
Matters pertaining to human beings are so clearly described in Buddhism that such topics as family planning, abortion, euthanasia and stem cell research which have become very controversial issues in the Western world are not controversies for Buddhists. Buddhism clearly teaches which of these are right and which are wrong.
Uttar Pradesh CM orders stringent action against adulterator
Lucknow: The Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Ms. Mayawati said that those trying to play with people’s health would not be spared at any cost. She said that strict action should be initiated against those persons who were found guilty of adulteration after examination of their samples. She said that if the incidents of adultery were reported from any particular area then action should be initiated against the field level officer of that area.
Ms. Mayawati was reviewing the works of Food and Drug Administration Department at a high-level meeting held at her official residence here today. She said that she had set up separate Food and Drug Administration Department to check adulteration in edible articles and drugs. She said that the hurdles coming in way of taking action against the adulterators at the field level should be removed immediately. Besides, she also directed the officers to fill the vacancies, so that the functioning of the department could be bettered and made effective. She also directed to upgrade the labs, so that the samples could be examined quickly.
The Chief Minister said that there was a need to launch an awareness drive to prevent production and selling of below standard/spurious drugs to save the lives of the people in the State. Larger participation of the people should be ensured in this drive, she added. She said that the Government was committed to stop the incidents of adultery in food and drugs in the State. She said that the task force, formed to check the activities of the organized criminals/mafias indulging in the adulteration of food articles and drugs, should be made effective immediately and all the officers/employees should be posted in it. She said that the examination of the collected samples of the edible articles should be carried out quickly, so that cases against the criminals indulging in adultery could be filed in the courts.
During the meeting, the officers apprised the Chief Minister of the action taken against the guilty persons and the drive launched for prevention of adulteration in drugs. They said that raids were conducted in several districts of the State in the month of June.
During the raids, cases were lodged against 22 persons in the concerning police stations and 18 persons were arrested on the spot. Medicines for Government supply more than worth Rs. 89 lakh “physician sample not for sale” were confiscated. Action for registering cases was being taken against the guilty persons/firms after proper investigation.
During the meeting, it was told that food inspectors had made 88,904 inspections in the year of 2010, so far from the month of January to prevent adulteration in food items. During this period, 7075 raids were conducted and 7392 samples were sent for checking of adulteration, 1406 cases were filed in the court regarding adulterated samples. Imprisonment punishment was given by the Court to 208 persons and penalty worth Rs. 3,51,120 was slapped. FIR was lodged in the offence of 112 serious cases of adulteration and items worth Rs. 97,63,131 were confiscated.
Mayawati asks BSP leaders to strengthen party’s base
Lucknow, June 22 (PTI) Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and BSP supremo
Mayawati has directed office-bearers of Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal
and Orrisa units to strengthen party’s base in their respective
“The BSP supremo held a meeting with the leaders of four states and
directed them to strengthen the organisation and its base in their
regions respectively,” a party spokesman said here today.
During the meeting, Mayawati had a detailed discussion over party’s
preparations for the forthcoming assembly elections in Bihar and West
Bengal and issued necessary directives to the leaders, he said.
In the wake of the President’s rule in Jharkhand, the BSP supremo
asked the party unit to gear up for the assembly election in the
state, the party spokesman said.
President rule was imposed in Jharkhand on June 1.