Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Science and Spirituality: The Buddhist Link

To the western world, the smiling face of His Holiness the Dalai Lama is perhaps the most recognized symbol of Buddhism. Coupled with his ability to communicate well in English as evidenced by his writing, for example, the Art of Happiness, The Art of Happiness at Work, and most recently, The Universe in a Single Atom, the Dalai Lama is in a unique position to bridge not only the inter-faith divide, but also the apparent chasm between science and spirituality.

The byline of his latest literary achievement is a quote from the ancient Buddhist scripture, The Great Flower Ornament, which reads “In each atom of the realms of the universe, there exist vast oceans of world system.” As we know today, this ancient gem of wisdom is consistent with man’s discovery of the universe and speculation on the multiverse. His Holiness perceives the central question that emerges from the juxtaposition of science and spirituality as “how we can make the wonderful developments of science into something that offers altruistic and compassionate service for the needs of humanity and the other sentient beings with whom we share this earth.”

As eloquently put in the front flap of the book’s cover, the Dalai Lama ventures that “all avenues of inquiry – scientific as well as spiritual – must be pursued in order to arrive at a complete picture of the earth. Science shows us ways of interpreting the physical world, while spirituality helps us cope with reality. But the extreme of either is impoverishing. The belief that all is reducible to matter and energy leaves out a huge range of human experience: emotions, yearnings, compassion, culture. At the same time, holding unexamined spiritual beliefs – beliefs that are contradicted by evidence, logic, and experience – can lock us into fundamentalist cages.”

After a brief account of his encounter with science that set the stage for his continual interaction with science gurus throughout his globe-trotting travel, the Dalai Lama presents his insightful analysis of the parallels between the empirically-based scientific inquiry and the Buddhist philosophy of seeking truth based on experience, reason, and lastly, scripture, under the following chapter titles:

  • Emptiness, Relativity, and Quantum Physics
  • The Big Bang and the Buddhist Beginningless Universe
  • Evolution, Karma, and the World of Sentience
  • The Question of Consciousness
  • Toward a Science of Consciousness
  • The Spectrum of Consciousness
  • Ethics and the New Genetics

that run the gamut of many of the present-day scientific dilemmas.

“In essence, science and spirituality, though differing in their approaches, share the same end, which is the betterment of humanity,” concludes His Holiness. Definitely my kind of world.


Keng Hui said...

Thoughtful. I like "Science shows us ways of interpreting the physical world, while spirituality helps us cope with reality."

Say Lee said...

I think here spirituality refers to oneself, the inner being, and not some divine guardian who will absolve one of all wrongs and cleanse one of all ills.

Stay tuned for tomorrow's installment on buddhism and management.

Keng Hui said...

I remembered a Master telling me Buddhism is an education. Yes, I am waiting for your article.