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Buddhism and psychology
Buddhist psychology
Buddhist philosophy
Buddhism and psychoanalysis
Buddhism and psychotherapy

Four Noble Truths
Noble Eightfold Path
The Five Precepts
Nirvāna · Three Jewels

Key Concepts
Three marks of existence
Skandha · Cosmology · Dharma
Samsara · Rebirth · Shunyata
Pratitya-samutpada · Karma

Practices and Attainment
Buddhahood · Bodhisattva
Four Stages of Enlightenment
Paramis · Meditation

Buddhism by Region

Schools of Buddhism
Theravāda · Mahāyāna
Vajrayāna · Early schools

Pali Suttas · Mahayana Sutras
Vinaya · Abhidhamma

Comparative Studies
Culture · List of Topics

Dharma wheel 1

Buddhism has the characteristics of what would be expected in a cosmic religion for the future: It transcends a personal God, avoids dogmas and theology; it covers both the natural and the spiritual, and it is based on a religious sense aspiring from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity.
Albert Einstein

Buddhism and science are generally considered to be compatible with each other, especially compared to the conflict between science and the Abrahamic religions. Buddhism itself, being generally neutral on the subject of the supernatural, is open to scientific discoveries. With its focus on the nature of mind and its implications for the concept of reality, Buddhism offers explanations for metaphysical issues within psychology and studies of consciousness. Some popular conceptions of Buddhism connect it to discourse regarding evolution, quantum theory, and cosmology, though most scientists see a separation between the religious and metaphysical statements of Buddhism and the methodology of science[1]. Nevertheless, commonalities have been cited between scientific investigation and Buddhist thought. The Dalai Lama, in a speech at the meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, listed a "suspicion of absolutes" and a reliance on causality and empiricism as common philosophical principles shared between Buddhism and science[2]. As both Buddhism and science are open to criticism from within, there is some disagreement over whether one is being badly influenced by the other.

Parallels Edit

Attempts to link Buddhist concepts such as nondualism to concepts in physics such as wave-particle duality, while popularised through books like The Tao of Physics and The Dancing Wu Li Masters, have so far proved only suggestive. While there are instances where the pioneers of quantum theory such as Einstein, Heisenberg and Schrödinger mentioned Buddhist and eastern philosophical concepts and many indicated this influence in their thought, there is no evidence that these philosophies influenced the ideas and development of quantum theory or the mainstream scientific physical descriptions of natural processes. Despite this, a number of popular New Age and mystical gurus and authors have conflated the two in what has been termed by some skeptics as pseudoscience.

Einstein did comment that Buddhism "contains a much stronger element of [the cosmic religious feeling, by which] the religious geniuses of all ages have been distinguished."[3]

Erwin Schroedinger (1887-1961), Austrian theoretical physicist, best known for his discovery of wave mechanics, which won him the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1933, wished to see: "Some blood transfusion from the East to the West" to save Western science from spiritual anemia."

"In all the world," writes Schrödinger in his book, My View of the World (chapter iv), "there is no kind of framework within which we can find consciousness in the plural; this is simply something we construct because of the temporal plurality of individuals, but it is a false construction....The only solution to this conflict insofar as any is available to us at all lies in the ancient wisdom of the Upanishad."

David Bohm, who had a series of meetings with the Dalai Lama, was impressed with Eastern transcendental practices:

"[M]editation would even bring us out of all [the difficulties] we've been talking about. . . [S]omewhere we've got to leave thought behind, and come to this emptiness of manifest thought altogether. . . In other words, meditation actually transforms the mind. It transforms consciousness." (Pp. 103-104)

In 1974 the Kagyu Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa predicted that "Buddhism will come to the West as psychology". This view was apparently regarded with considerable skepticism at the time, but Buddhist concepts have indeed made most in-roads in the psychological sciences. Some modern scientific theories, such as Rogerian psychology, show strong parallels with Buddhist thought. Some of the most interesting work on the relationship between Buddhism and science is being done in the area of comparison between Yogacara theories regarding the store consciousness and modern evolutionary biology, especially DNA. This is because the Yogacara theory of karmic seeds works well in explaining the nature/nurture problem. See the works by William Walron on this topic.

During the 1970s, several experimental studies suggested that Buddhist meditation could produce insights into a wide range of psychological states. Interest in the use of meditation as a means of providing insight into mind-states has recently been revived, following the increased availability of such brain-scanning technologies as fMRI and SPECT.

Such studies are enthusiastically encouraged by the present Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso who has long expressed an interest in exploring the connection between Buddhism and science, and regularly attends the Mind and Life Institute Conferences. [4] However, some scientists are concerned by the popular coverage given to Buddhism's applications in neuroscience, believing that it will open up the field to mysticism.

Kalama Sutta Edit

The Kalama Sutta provides some support for the claimed synergy between Buddhism and science, by its insistence on a proper assessment of evidence, rather than a reliance on faith, hearsay or speculation:

"Yes, Kalamas, it is proper that you have doubt, that you have perplexity, for a doubt has arisen in a matter which is doubtful. Now, look you Kalamas, do not be led by reports, or tradition, or hearsay. Be not led by the authority of religious texts, not by mere logic or inference, nor by considering appearances, nor by the delight in speculative opinions, nor by seeming possibilities, nor by the idea: 'this is our teacher'. But, O Kalamas, when you know for yourselves that certain things are unwholesome (akusala), and wrong, and bad, then give them up...And when you know for yourselves that certain things are wholesome (kusala) and good, then accept them and follow them."

The general tenor of the sutta is similar to "Nullius in verba" - often translated as "Take no-one's word for it", the motto of the Royal Society.

Famous Scientists on Buddhism Edit

Niels Bohr, who developed the Bohr Model of the atom, said,

"For a parallel to the lesson of atomic theory...[we must turn] to those kinds of epistemological problems with which already thinkers like the Buddha and Lao Tzu have been confronted, when trying to harmonize our position as spectators and actors in the great drama of existence." 1958 Neils Bohr, Atomic Physics and Human Knowledge, (edited by John Wiley and Sons, 1958) p. 20.

British mathematician, philosopher and Nobel Prize winner Alfred North Whitehead (co-author, with Bertrand Russell, of Principia Mathematica, widely considered by specialists in the subject to be one of the most important and seminal works in mathematical logic and philosophy) declared:

"Buddhism is the most colossal example in the history of applied metaphysics."

Russell, another Nobel Prize winner, discovered a superior scientific method—one that reconciled the speculative and the rational while investigating the ultimate questions of life:

Buddhism is a combination of both speculative and scientific philosophy. It advocates the scientific method and pursues that to a finality that may be called Rationalistic. In it are to be found answers to such questions of interest as: 'What is mind and matter? Of them, which is of greater importance? Is the universe moving towards a goal? What is man's position? Is there living that is noble?' It takes up where science cannot lead because of the limitations of the latter's instruments. Its conquests are those of the mind.

The American physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer made an analogy to Buddhism when describing the Heisenberg uncertainty principle thusly:

If we ask, for instance, whether the position of the electron remains the same, we must say 'no;' if we ask whether the electron's position changes with time, we must say 'no;' if we ask whether the electron is at rest, we must say 'no;' if we ask whether it is in motion, we must say 'no.' The Buddha has given such answers when interrogated as to the conditions of man's self after his death; but they are not familiar answers for the tradition of seventeenth and eighteenth-century science. J. R. Oppenheimer, Science and the Common Understanding, (Oxford University Press, 1954) pp 8-9.
"The general notions about human understanding… which are illustrated by discoveries in atomic physics are not in the nature of things wholly unfamiliar, wholly unheard of or new. Even in our own culture they have a history, and in Buddhist and Hindu thought a more considerable and central place. What we shall find [in modern physics] is an exemplification, an encouragement, and a refinement of old wisdom." The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels Between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism - By Fritjof Capra p. 18

Buddhism and Cognitive Science Edit

The Buddhist ideas of emptiness, impermanence and dependent arising have much in common with ideas within the Cognitive Linguistics school of thought such as subjectivity, cognitive grammar ("meaning is conceptualization") and frame semantics.

Arthur Schopenhauer:

We find the doctrine of metempsychosis, springing from the earliest and noblest ages of the human race, always spread abroad in the earth as the belief of the great majority of mankind, nay, really as the teachings of all religions with the exception of that of the Jews and the two which have preceded from it: in the most subtle form, however, and coming nearest to the truth, as has already been mentioned, in Buddhism.
It almost seems that, as the oldest languages are the most perfect so also are the oldest religions. If I were to take the results of my philosophy as a yardstick of the truth, I would concede to Buddhism the pre-eminence of all religions of the world.

William James:

"This is the psychology everybody will be studying twenty-five years from now."

[5] James often drew on Buddhist cosmology when framing perceptual concepts, such as his term "stream of consciousness," which is the literal English translation of the Sanskrit vinnana-sota.

In the landmark text, Varieties of Religious Experience, James also breaks new ground for modern psychology by addressing the functional value of meditation. [6]

Buddhism and physics Edit

The quantum interpretations of the advaitin conception of Brahman are the same as those made of the Mahayana shunyata. Capra describes both as attempts to define the single entity underlying all physical phenomena, and Mu Soeng concurs.[7] However, Buddhists describe shunyata as being neither entity nor non-entity.[8]

Buddhism and Quantum Physics

What is reality? The mindsets of the modern world provide four answers to that question and oscillate between these answers: 1. The traditional Jewish, Islamic and Christian religions speak about a creator that holds the world together. He represents the fundamental reality. If He were separated only for one moment from the world, the world would disappear immediately. The world can only exist because He is maintaining and guarding it. This mindset is so fundamental that even many modern scientists cannot deviate from it. The laws of nature and elementary particles now supersede the role of the creator. 2. René Descartes takes into considering a second mindset, where the subject or the subjective model of thought is fundamental. Everything else is nothing but derived from it. 3. According to a third holistic mindset, the fundamental reality should consist of both, subject and object. Everything should be one. Everything should be connected with everything. 4. A fourth and very modern mindset neglects reality. We could call it instrumentalism. According to this way of thinking, our concepts do not reflect a single reality in any one way. Our concepts have nothing to do with reality but only with information. Buddhism refuses these four concepts of reality. Therefore it was confronted with the reproach of nihilism. If you don’t believe in a creator, nor in the laws of nature, nor in a permanent object, nor in an absolute subject, nor in both, nor in none of it, in what do you believe then? What remains that you can consider a fundamental reality? The answer is simple: it is so simple that we barely consider it being a philosophical statement: things depend on other things. For instance: a thing is dependent on its cause. There is no effect without a cause and no cause without an effect. There is no fire without a fuel, no action without an actor and vice versa. Things are dependent on other things; they are not identical with each other, nor do they break up into objective and subjective parts. This Buddhist concept of reality is often met with disapproval and considered incomprehensible. But there are modern modes of thought with points of contact. For instance: there is a discussion in quantum physics about fundamental reality. What is fundamental in quantum physics: particles, waves, field of force, law of nature, mindsets or information? Quantum physics came to a result that is expressed by the key words of complementarity, interaction and entanglement. According to these concepts there are no independent but complementary quantum objects; they are at the same time waves and particles. Quantum objects interact with others, and they are even entangled when they are separated in a far distance. Without being observed philosophically, quantum physics has created a physical concept of reality. According to that concept the fundamental reality is an interaction of systems that interact with other systems and with their own components. This physical concept of reality does not agree upon the four approaches mentioned before. If the fundamental reality consists of dependent systems, then its basics can neither be independent and objective laws of nature nor independent subjective models of thought. The fundamental reality cannot be a mystic entity nor can it consist of information only. The concepts of reality in Buddhism surprisingly parallel quantum physics . Expressed somewhat more fully, see the paper “Buddhism and Quantum Physics” by Christian Thomas Kohl: And in further detail recently in a forth coming book Dancing in Emptiness by Graham Smetham . Looking at the great works of Nagujuna, Chandrikirti, Shantarrakshita, Je songkapa and others.,

References Edit

  1. See for example, the petition opposing the speech given by the Dalai Lama to the Society for Neuroscience which cites various disputes between Buddhist beliefs and scientific understanding (e.g. regarding reincarnation)
  2. "The Neuroscience of Meditation." November 12, 2005 speech given by the Dalai Lama
  3. Albert Einstein, "Religion and Science". New York Times Magazine, 9 November 1930 reprinted in Ideas and Opinions, ISBN 0-517-00393-7, p. 36.
  4. Christina Reed, "Talking Up Enlightenment." Scientific American, 6 February 2006.
  5. David Scott, "William James and Buddhism: American Pragmatism and the Orient," Religion 30 (2000): 335.
  6. William James, Varieties of Religious Experience. (1902; New York: Viking Penguin, 1982).
  7. Mu Soeng, The Diamond Sutra, page iii.
  8. David Loy, PhD thesis at the University of Singapore,

Further reading Edit

  • B. Alan Wallace, Hidden Dimensions: The Unification of Physics and Consciousness (Columbia Univ Press 2007)
  • B. Alan Wallace (ed), Buddhism and Science: breaking new ground (Columbia Univ Press 2003)
  • Matthieu Ricard, Trinh Xuan Thuan, The Quantum and the Lotus (Three Rivers Press 2004)
  • Robin Cooper, The Evolving Mind: Buddhism, Biology and Consciousness, Windhorse (Birmingham UK 1996)
  • Daniel Goleman (in collaboration with The Dalai Lama), Destructive Emotions, Bloomsbury (London UK 2003)
  • A short introduction to the philosophy of Nagarjuna: Christian Thomas Kohl, Buddhism and Quantum physics
  • B. Alan Wallace, Choosing Reality: A Buddhist Perspective of Physics and the Mind, (Snow Lion 1996)
  • Rapgay L, Rinpoche VL, Jessum R, Exploring the nature and functions of the mind: a Tibetan Buddhist meditative perspective, Prog. Brain Res. 2000 vol 122 pp 507-15
  • Tenzin Gyatso, The Dalai Lama XIV, The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality, (Morgan Road Books 2005)

External links Edit

See also Edit

es:Budismo y ciencia

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