We talked in the previous post of a decline of the Roman Empire type of situation here in the West. Omitting economical and political aspects this time, we rather concentrated on some cultural aspects of today’s Western (America + Europe) decline which resemble a bit what was happening in the minds of the inhabitants of the Ancient Roman empire: new sects and religions gaining ground, void, ethical confusion etc. with, at the end, a winning new religion, Christianity, conquering the population’s hearts (with a little help from the Emperors) and soon becoming the official religion of the Empire.

(Needless to say, it is only for the sake of analysis that people usually separate economical, political, social and cultural phenomena. Actually they are tightly interrelated and belong to the same sphere: Man)

Let’s now zoom in on one of the non Western religions that are gaining ground, Buddhism. We will consider some of the reasons why this belief, compared with the Abrahamic religions, could be more endowed to confront with modern science, which might further favour its penetration (at the top of the page, a Buddhist temple at Fréjus, France; above, the current Dalai Lama).

In some books the current 14th Dalai Lama reveals his position on science and on the relationship between scientific rationality and religious irrationality. “If scientific analysis conclusively showed that certain beliefs of Buddhism are false – argues the Dalai Lama – it would be necessary to accept those scientific discoveries and abandon those beliefs.” Wow, what a big difference, we should be honest to admit, vis-à-vis the presumptions of infallibility asserted by our Catholic religion …

Buddhism seems better equipped in its approach to science since, as the Dalai Lama says, “it grants maximum authority to experience, secondly to reason and only lastly to scriptures” while the Religions of the revealed Books (the Abrahamic religions) seem to consider these elements in a reversed order.

Additionally the encounter between Science and Buddhism seems also favoured by a fundamental disposition common to both: they do not believe in God or even in a soul, since Buddhism prefers to concentrate, among other things, on conscience. Buddhism and science “share a fundamental reluctance to postulate a transcendent Being as origin of all things.” Basically it is the denial of any metaphysics.

A Rescue Guide in Times of Crisis

In general I believe this simple thing: science provides a lot of answers but still voids are left (what is the meaning of life? How do we choose between right and wrong? Are there any absolute values? etc.) that might progressively be filled up, although so far they are not, thus leaving those who rely on science only with questions unanswered and inner tranquillity precarious. Humanities are able in fact to make up for further answers (philosophy) and for reconciling our soul through beauty (art).

(The problem is complex and it is discussed in the debate regarding the two cultures – the sciences and the humanities – and regarding the so-called third culture)

As far as we are concerned, in fact, novels, poems, music, paintings, philosophy, all humanistic culture, in conclusion, can somehow fill these voids. And religion? Of course religion can fill these voids too, but, although we have a lot of respect for those who have a faith, we are not religious (agnostic, not atheist), our position being that of the Roman philosopher and poet Lucretius. So we are not disposed to easily believe in revealed things or tales – hope we do not hurt anyone’s feelings – which were satisfying for men living thousands of years ago but, frankly, not as much for today’s man.

Buddhism, being a philosophy and religion without a God seems more modern (even though some aspects of Mahayana Buddhism, for example, consider the Buddha as a God). Buddhism does not force us to believe in dreams in order to find a ubi consistam, namely a guide, a point of reference.

The truth is we are not even Buddhist. We have no parachute. But we like it this way.

References

Official Dalai Lama Web Site.

The Universe in a Single Atom
The Convergence of Science and Spirituality – by H.H. the Dalai Lama, Morgan Road Books, New York, 2005.

Mind Science
– An East – West Dialogue – by H.H. the Dalai Lama with Herbert Benson, Robert A. Thurman, Howard E. Gardner, Daniel Goleman, Wisdom Publications, USA, 1991.

See also www.mindandlife.org for reports on various confrontations between the Dalai Lama and various scientists.

30 thoughts on “Buddhism, Science and the Dalai Lama

  1. Riots in Tibet and Tibet temple

    Tibetan monks have been the pioneers of the past and current riots in Tibet. One reason for this phenomenon is owing to the influence from the Tibetan separatists abroad. Some senior monks abroad like Dalai Lama impose religious effects on those monks at home. The other reason is connected with Tibet temple system.

    It will be much clearer by comparing Tibetan temples with American churches.

    Few religious staff in US church and the routine work of the church is mostly undertaken by social volunteers.

    Most priests are invited from other churches.

    The fortune management, gardening, cleaning, and daily repairing are mainly in charge of professional workers. These volunteers and workers have little common standing on interest.

    While in Tibetan temple, thousands of monks are fed by temple. Monks have done nothing but take on religious affairs thus the temple gets bond with monks tightly. Monks are prone to be used by religion leaders and result in riots.

    According to American laws, preaching is a profession and children are forbidden to be recruited into churches as priests. Churches can set up schools, but they are all under the control of local educational institutions. Contents and requirements of courses are similar to other schools. Only quite a few church school graduates are involved in religious affairs. In the monasteries and temples, however, it’s common to admit children around ten years old as Lama. They are educated, trained and brought up by those temples and through over ten years’ “religious brainwashing”, some of the Lamas will develop some deep-rooted thoughts that differs from social norms. And even some temples may become the cradle for the new generation of “separatists”.

    Police offices are in charge of the security in American churches. Requests of assemblies or gatherings of more than thirty people need to be filed to police for approval and police officers will be responsible for the security according to rules. But in temples in Tibet, disciplinarians, also lamas, are in charge of the security. They are supported and trained by the temples and obedient to the abbots or leaders of the temples. In fact, they are an unofficial armed force of those temples.

    Seminaries in universities and colleges conduct theological researches in America, and clergymen all graduate from seminaries. But in Tibet, Lamas control the researches of theology, Tibetan medicine and calendar. Temples are both the place Buddhists worship Buddhas and research centers of Tibetan theology. As a result, Tibetan people take Lamas as sovereign authority and prestige and worship Lamas blindly. Temple abbots and Lamas also develop great influence and appeal day by day, which can be made use of and instigated by people of some political purposes.

    In the United States, the church is a kind of non-profit organizations, which should be registered with the state governments in the form of shareholding limited enterprises, but have no right in business operation, printing or publication. In China’s Tibet, however, temples, in addition to donations, admission revenues and government subsidies, could also engage in business operations, planting and breeding industries, and could even print and publish publicity materials, and are exempt from income taxes. Temples in Tibet enjoy the rights and “freedom” even the United States dares not to grant to their churches, and this, to a certain extent, promoted a small group of temple personnel to regard them as “privileged” groups.

    We could cite more similar cases.

    Therefore, temples of Tibetan Buddhism must be reformed. In this way, temples could become a positive factor to ensure social stability, instead of becoming a factor instigating social unrest and riots.

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  2. The Dalai Lama was here in Woodstock last year. His presence was kept quiet. Not advertised. He spoke in a grassy field, where, by word of mouth, some 200 or so people gathered. I had to work that day, but my son was able to attend.
    I always try to keep an opened mind.
    (glad you enjoyed my music) 😉

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  3. @woundmore
    My mentioning the Dalai Lama had no political purposes. It was only a reflection on some theoretical aspects of Buddhism. I had to erase your second comment because it was TOO BIG and because it was to me a little bit on the ‘political propaganda’ side also.

    If you allow me to read between the lines of your comment(s), I understand very well that China cannot let Tibet go (and in fact this Dalai Lama is realistic and is not for total autonomy from China). This is how power games go, and I accept that overcrowded China needs space, how can it be otherwise?. Only, people would like a more gracious attitude of the Chinese government vis-à-vis the local Tibetan population.

    Thanks for your interesting comment.

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  4. @Maryann
    Very interesting and it is good to keep an opened mind. I try my best too. Sometimes though people do not understand this openness. Yes, that is a type of music that really moves my heart so much….and I also adore all of Sinatra’s and Dean Martin’s movies!

    Ciao cara italiana americana

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  5. You must excuse me as I have little interest in the topic of religion… if you live in India, you will understand. 🙂 although I must point out that even though Buddhism was founded in India by Gautam Buddha, and endorsed by the great Ashoka, buddhists are treated like shit. Yes, that sentiment still prevails over a major part of the country…. Wait. I’m starting again. Darn. *zips mouth*

    Okay.. now, what was I saying? Yeah. You told me to try reading some poetry and stuff? well I have and written two short stories on my blog. Will love to hear your views on them so I can improve. 🙂

    Have a great day! 🙂

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  6. @Poonam
    @Ashish

    Non the less I like it that you two sweet Indian people have popped in!

    In this analogy ‘Decline of Ancient Rome = Decline of the West’ (nothing more than a simulation game, ok) Christianity in the past profited from Ancient-Roman spiritual unrest, so I was wondering if today another religion could again profit from contemporary Western unrest.

    I am not for religions neither, Ashish, much preferring philosophy & science. But if one religion must prevail here, I’d prefer it not to belong to the Abrahamic religions. I might be wrong, but the religions born in India (Buddhism, Hinduism etc.) seem to me best suited, more open, subtle and tolerant (at least in their doctrine: the priests could be another story).

    Why did I mention Buddhism here? Well, it came to my mind this way. Another time I might mention Hinduism – as you know, a person very close to me (actually my sister) embraced this faith.

    Poonam, even if you are silent, your silence has weight, dunno why.
    Ashish, I’ll read your two short stories and comment. But do not over evaluate my critical skills ah ah ah.

    Ciao

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  7. @Poonam
    @Ashish

    PS
    It can be out of context here, but I know you two belong to the youngest Indian generation who is concentrating rather on modernity and on what is non progressive of your heritage.
    Let me play tho the mummy again: it goes without saying that your backbone and strength come from your rich heritage, in spite of all.

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  8. I have read some books about buddhism and Dalai Lama. There are full of wisdom inside. We do not need to be a buddhist..we just need to learn/ know the wisdom and let us know how to face our daily life.

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  9. @AutumnSnow
    It is so true, dear AutumnSnow. We need wisdom for everyday life much more than organized religions.

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  10. “The truth is we are not even Buddhist. We have no parachute. But we like it this way.”

    But, perhaps, you are on the right track … 😉
    Have a nice day, MoR.
    Rob

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  11. @Wind Rose Hotel

    Trying to convert me Rob? ….

    Forgive this man that likes to joke too much 😉
    Have a nice day you too bud

    MoR

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  12. @man of Roma

    It’s all Latin and Greek to me (pun intended). I meean I couldn’t make head or tail out of it while you could ..make a post out of my comments…

    by the way,
    first the poetry, then religion… are these signs that old age is catching on you???
    lol 😛

    Well this what I could blabber here… And You know it’s impossible for me to keep my mouth shut unlike Poonam…

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  13. @Falcon

    first the poetry, then religion … are these signs that old age is catching on you???
    Yeah, probably. I had promised in my very first post that I’d not speak about religion, but I keep doing that ah ah ah.

    Although it is true I am not religious, no doubt about it. Am I close to conversion? Well, if I were, I’d join one of those crazy Pagan new religions (actually old), like Wicca or something, Mother Goddess type of thing, you know .. 😉

    How about you? And don’t tell me that you Hindus have contempt for Buddhism, ’cause I already know it.

    You know something? One of signs of old age is also I miss sometimes you popping here, despite your irreverence. Btw, I don’t forget you coming here for Christmas and saying good words to me……

    Stay tuned you miscreant nationalist! I am about to chant in a post the progress of your country….

    🙂

    Ciao

    PS
    you could ..make a post out of my comments…
    mmm…don’t count on it …

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  14. @man of Roma

    I never knew we Hindus ( Don’t count me…I believe in the creator but no God) contempt buddhism…

    I mean one of the reason why Buddhism became a minority religion from majority that Hinduism somewhere down the line accepted buddha as a deity.

    Just to prove my point we have common Indian names as Gautam, Siddhartha, Rahul…. while first two were names of the Lord Buddha himself, the last name is of his son who later on became his disciple.

    Contempt for BUDDHISM which you are speaking of is generally the contempt for “Jai Bhim” the Dalits, many of which are so called the lower strata of Hinduism or now Buddhism.

    Buddhism in north ie hilly regions is greatly revered…even now…

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  15. @Falcon
    Mmmm….interesting … since each of you Indian tell me opposite things, how can you think I can ever learn? 🙂
    One thing. Do you ever sleep, Falcon? It should be very late there by now ….

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  16. I would like to point out to Falcon [for whom I have respect] that Gautam Buddha was a Hindu himself and that Siddharta was his given name so rather it is Buddhism borrowing from Hinduism. 🙂

    One of the main reasons you hear conflicting views on this ManofRoma is because India is vast and there are different conditions everywhere. When I was in Goa, religion was sort of a sideline. People were PEOPLE, and no such things as caste etc. hindered it. Or at least it seemed so to my kid eyes.

    In Mumbai, nobody cares if you are hindu, muslim or buddhist, unless a riot breaks out. 🙂

    These are of course the developed regions. The place where I am now, is a rural area. On the top everything seems like an icing on the cake, but we are warned not to drink at a buddhists house, not to eat his food for fear of them converting us. This disgusts me.

    This hate of the buddhists is not just for that, caste [dalits] comes into this. I’ll give you my own example. I was trying to get admission in a college I wanted but despite scoring good marks, I couldn’t get admission although kids scoring LESS marks than me could because they were “reserved castes”. The reservation has led to many Hindu’s converting to Buddhism just to get jobs and it is these people who die hard hindu’s hate because they changed their faith.

    Contempt for BUDDHISM which you are speaking of is generally the contempt for “Jai Bhim” the Dalits, many of which are so called the lower strata of Hinduism or now Buddhism.
    The Jai Bhim is a slogan given by Dr.Babasaheb Ambedkar to the Dalits most of who converted to Buddhism. However they are the only ones left, in fact every buddhist is now considered a Dalit. [At least where I live, I can’t vouch for anywhere else although, this is the state of most rural areas.]

    I agree with Falcon on one thing though, Buddhism is revered in the North-East, plus it is close to Tibet.

    Maybe I see things with crooked eyes or need to find bad things in good ones, but I feel that these small issues go on to be big ones later on. The reservation quota being a recent example.

    Have a great day Man of Roma and Falcon! 🙂

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  17. Wow, its been a looooooooooooooooooooong long while since I have posted such a long comment. Very much thanks to both of you to get those juices flowing again. 🙂

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  18. @Ashish
    You mean lots of Dalits – low caste people or Untouchables – did convert to Buddhism to escape their condition? Very interesting …

    every buddhist is now considered a Dalit. At least where I live
    Religion, superstition, bias, they all go together, this is why I am so fond – pls allow this repetitive man – of our ancient Roman poet Lucretius who, 2000 years ago, equalled religion and superstition, condemned both and revered reason and science. Of course here there is also the social exploitation that religion and the caste ideology favours. Very complex topic. I’d better shut the hell up for lack of knowledge.

    Thanks for the long comment. I like long comments (when they are not propaganda, like someone above just did lol)

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  19. I should mention that most Dalits converted back in the time of Ambedkar. Back then even buddhists were = Dalits in condition, but it was because of Ambedkar that they embraced it – a new philosophy. The quote, reservations etc. came later.

    The conversion that I talked about is members of the higher castes converting NOW to escape their condition. I should also note that not all low caste members of the Hindus are or convert to buddhists as they believe as strongly in their faith as I don’t. 🙂

    The fact is, the game has radically shifted from a caste/religion debate to a survival of the fittest. With the population increasing, if changing your god gives you a permanent job in the govt. just when there’s so much competition, you’re a fool not to take it. My inner realist tells me so and so has that conquered these many people. Easy jobs, easy education and a whole lot of benefits while the hardcores bally-hoo and bang their proud chests saying they are Rajputs and Brahmins and whatnot. 🙂

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  20. @Ashish

    Ambedkar, you mean the Dalit (low caste) political leader who converted to Buddhism also because this religion didn’t foresee a caste system? Interesting…

    And by reservation I imagine you mean a given percentage of jobs and education seats reserved for lower castes in order to protect them. So you are saying that now, not at the times of Ambedkar (1950s), upper castes are downgrading themselves – or people are changing religion, for ex. embracing Buddhism – in order to profit from those reserved seats… darwinian selection of the fittest .. I see.

    It is very interesting, what you are saying, and I will add it is amazing how in India thousand-year old traditions & modernity are intertwined (and conflicting).

    The symbol of that to me, as you know, is still that executive I saw in Mumbai – a Sikh, you and Ish explained to me – very well dressed but carrying a *sword* while going to work in the morning. God was I stunned. I know this is a romantic way of seeing the whole thing and that there are tragic sides, still …
    You know, in Italy we have tragic sides too in some parts of this country that are hindering Italian modernity … no doubt about it.

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  21. Exactly, yes. You have got it. 🙂 Although it isn’t a mass-exodus or anything but many people do change their faith just for it. I remember an old lady who had once come to visit us when we were living in Goa [us not being well off then]. She had said that if we convert to christanity we would get some money and admissions in good schools. Needless to say my father told her to take whatever rest she wanted and go her own way but not talk of it. Not quite similar, but its the same way this new concept has spread. 🙂

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  22. @Ashish
    @Man of Roma

    Firstly Buddhism or what Buddha taught was not a religion but a reform…he did not lay down a religion… his disciple worshiped him as teacher (hinyana).. He advocated the theory of Karma… over heaven/hell concept…

    Secondly, Indians as a whole have a high degree of Passive resistance and very Lazy.
    Dr. Ambedkar laid down reservation for only 10 years…But most of the people want to continue this reservation for eternity. As per my information there were about 2100 caste in reserved a category initially and it has now been increased to over 4100. Till now not a single caste has been left out of the reserved category whenever the list has been updated.

    These “jai bHim ” in general though claim to be buddhist never follow what Buddha taught… Not the karma theory, they eat non veg, are very violent and always claim top be deprived. Not that many of them aren’t but many are reasonably well off. Again anything that happens to them is given the “anti-dalit” and “discrimination slogan”, even though the offender may not even know that the victim is dalit.
    These cry for minority in the country actually enjoy more freedom than majority. And It happens only in India.

    Jains one of the smallest minority in the country never asked for reservation and yet probably are the most well off community in India.

    Now it again looks like a soliloquy…or at best a post for yfemumbai.blogspot.com

    Sorry for my blabber…

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  23. @Falcon
    Now it again looks like a soliloquy… Sorry for my blabber…
    Don’t worry Falcon. You have provided your view and additional information, especially about these Dalit who turned to Buddhism and also a bit about these Jains who, as you say, never asked for reservations but seem well off. Some of these things I had studied a bit when I came to India many years ago, but most I have forgotten. It is nice to hear you guys talk about it, because it is an insider view of Indian culture and politics. Thank you!

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  24. Falcon and ManofRoma:

    Sorry for flogging a dead horse but I wished to point something out.

    I think we could argue all day about what makes a proper buddhist and yet we would not get a consensus. For even if he eats non-veg, doesn’t believe in Karma theory, officially he has converted or accepted Buddhism so for our debate he is one. Just the same as a Hindu who doesn’t believe in fasting and the like, or a Christian who considers that there is no god. For officially these people are of their respective religions. Infact debating this topics, we are crossing the fine line between open minded debaters [for whom exists no religion] and the religious fanatics who hold these very things against the converts as not being “pure”. 🙂

    I would also like to point out one thing, something Falcon said in his comment. These new Buddhists eating non-veg. This is especially one of the reasons why the Hindus hate them as they think that they eat Cow meat and most folks won’t have lunch with them.. just something that is happening here.

    Dr. Ambedkar laid down reservation for only 10 years…But most of the people want to continue this reservation for eternity.
    This is in fact correct. I think even Falcon would recall an incident where some woman was murdered on a railway platform and the security guards were nowhere to be found. The railway took action according to the ahem rules and they were suspended for 3 days and were fined Rs.21 each.. a rule made by the British in 1881 or something. 😉

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  25. @Ashish

    Friend I could not make out the context of your last para…If you could elaborate…

    And as for my pointing out the difference in teaching and practices of buddhism, I just wanted to highlight that these things does harm your repute and respect in the longer run since these so called “buddhists” go against the very basic of the religion “buddhism” and hence they are looked down upon as against the greatly revered “buddhist monks ” of the himalayan and northern India. However, I do not claim that we are totally unbiased against the Dalits.

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  26. Darn, copied the wrong line. I meant to show how much we lag to change are laws to reflect the current climate.

    freaking hard to type on a mobile…

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  27. @Ashish
    @Falcon
    It appears Buddhism is a very hot topic over there lol. Great debate guys, thank you. There is a lot of intertwining (religious, social, political, economical) and a lot to learn from your views. Listening wide-eyed, really, though my mind being totally flat because of devastating heat I cannot say more.

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  28. @Man of Roma

    >>I miss sometimes you popping here, despite your irreverence.

    I missed that part….. And I want you to know that I am really honoured….and somewhat embarrassed..

    >>Btw, I don’t forget you coming here for Christmas and saying good words to me……

    Now Sir, you are making me feel guilty… I did not do so…solely because of concern, (and the adjectives you attach to me!) I had my reasons too besides the cultural upbringing.

    I am not The gentle soul as you think of me.

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  29. @Falcon
    you are making me feel guilty…I am not The gentle soul as you think of me
    Don’t worry Falcon, relax, I sometimes too am hard, aggressive, everyone has faults … plus, I’ll tell you something, you seem to have the same … restlessness… tumult…. – don’t know how to phrase it – I had at your age. This might be a reason why I like you.

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