Saturday, September 26, 2009

Buddhism and science

About 15 months ago (at the United Nations Day of Vesak celebration in Hanoi, 2008) I was asked to be a science advisor to the International Association of Buddhist Universities. I have finally got around to posting something on their website
Part of the reason I am happy to do this is because there seems such little understanding of science in the Buddhist world. I gave a talk in Bangkok on Buddhism and the environmental crisis in May 2009 and at the end I asked if anyone in the audience (about 60 people) had a science degree. Not a single person raised their hand.
This is an extract:
The best Buddhism (in my opinion) and the best science (in my view) have a lot in common. Both are concerned with understanding the nature of phenomena. Both are concerned with causes, and the causes of causes. Both can reach a profound level of understanding, and yet both also reach a point at which mystery is reached. Neither science nor Buddhism can explain everything; or perhaps Buddhism can but that understanding can never quite be put into words. Certainly with science there is a vast mystery remaining. Albert Einstein is supposed to have likened scientific knowledge to a grain of sand on a beach. What is unknown is the rest of the beach. Yet, he said, that one grain is very precious.
One thing I think science can learn from Buddhism is ethics .. I think the best science is ethical. I also think Buddhism can be a lot more ethical - but that is another story.
Just in case any of you don't think science is of any value to a good Buddhist, you might reflect that the fact that you can read this is because you have acquired secular knowledge. Or, put it this way. You have acquired knowledge, both secular and spiritual. The world needs both forms to thrive, and even if you may be a monk, some secular knowledge, including of science, can help you to be of more value. Now, if you perhaps think that being Buddhist and being of value are incompatible, then your understanding of Buddhism is different to mine. If, like me, you think Buddhism can help you practice metta, bodhicitta, or loving kindness, then you might reflect that science too - at its best - can also help this practice. After all, if you have ever had an antibiotic, or a vaccination, then you have benefited from ethical science.

I published a longer article, here.