Nichiren Buddhist Association of America

Nichiren Buddhist Association of America
Discovering the unknown within through a revolution in religious thinking

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Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind. -- Albert Einstein

Why have information about science on a Buddhist web site? What's the connection? There are numerous reasons for Buddhists to keep each other informed of scientific research and knowledge and to be scientifically literate as a community.

Maybe the most superficial reason has to do with other religions. It's not just the opposition to evolution or stem cell research or global warming in particular coming out of the theistic religious teachings that are the biggest problem. As if it weren't bad enough that people are ignorantly denying the impact that any animal, even animals as technologically advanced as humans, has on the environment, or that obstructing and slowing stem cell research is wasting precious time in the march toward lifesaving medical advancements, or that our kids and our whole society will be woefully behind in understanding medicine and the workings of life and nature due to prevention of a proper education in the theory of evolution. Those are just details. Harmful details, yes, but merely a drop in a much larger ocean.

The more looming problem with denial of science is the denial of science. Science as a whole. The scientific method. Trust in people who have studied something their entire lives and might know a bit more about a subject than an accountant or an office manager who Wikipediaed some information on his lunch break. Worse than that is denial of the scientific method itself, evidence, and systematic research as a valuable tool in the development of humanity. People are even claiming that science is a competing religious belief. That could be true in a general, abstract sense, but often this comment comes out in discussions about specifics, such as the statement that it's a religious belief that the Earth is more than 10,000 years old.

The Poetry of Reality
An Anthem for Science

This attack on the enterprise of science is a serious problem that must be fought. We don't want to revert to the dark ages. We must side with the scientific community against this attack on reason and science.

Buddhism is on the side of science, reason, and the scientific method. We believe in reason and evidence. This is an aspect of Buddhism itself. Even should our own teachings be proven false, we must accept reality. An attack on the core aspects of science is literally an attack on Buddhism itself. It's an attack on reason. An attack on evidence. An attack on the very process of seeking honest truths about the nature of life and of ourselves.

That's one reason we have a science section on our web site. But that's not the only reason, or even the main reason. Using real world knowledge and understanding is a valuable tool in communicating with others and teaching people how to attain enlightenment. It's also a valuable tool in understanding how to attain enlightenment ourselves. We can use science.

There are many parallels between Buddhism and modern science that Buddhists might want to understand and be aware of. Here's a list of some we can think of.

1. The scientific method itself is very similar to the ancient Three Proofs. Documentary Proof. Theoretical Proof. Actual Proof. We can't evaluate something that hasn't been written down. This is an important aspect of science. Researchers must clearly define their research, put it in writing, and subject it to peer review. But it's probably even more important to have written documents in religion than in science. Take the case of disproving God. What is God? If you talk to a person individually, you'll get a different answer than the description from the written word of the Bible. And the person's definition will be different depending on what aspect of the theory of God they feel is the least likely to be full of holes. If we're going to evaluate a teaching, the only practical way to really evaluate it is to use the written word of the teaching. Hence, we have documentary proof. The importance of theoretical proof is easy to understand. Is the teaching reasonable? Does the theory make sense? And, as in science, actual proof, real life results, is the most important aspect of all. Does it "work"? Are the claims of the religion true in real life?

2. The theory of shakubuku is an appeal to critical analysis, reason, dialog, and intellectual honesty. It's essentially saying that we ought to draw some conclusions based on how well our ideas hold up in debate. Again, this is also how science progresses. As mentioned in the first point, every idea is subjected to peer review and critical analysis.

3. Karma. Cause and effect, the core of our religion, is also a critical element of science. Karma, as we understand it, also involves life condition, a concept that science is still a bit behind in even studying, much less understanding. However, they're coming our direction. It's valuable to keep up on the latest research in this area. Check into the combined sciences of psychology, neuroscience, morality and quantum physics.

4. When it comes to specifics, the readily obvious ties to Buddhist theories in science are found in cognitive science, psychology, neuroscience, studies on meditation, studies on compassion in humans, how to develop compassion, that we can develop our compassion, studies on suffering and happiness, well-being and ethics, quantum physics and our physiologically-based mental connection to the universe outside of ourselves, cosmology, we are literally one with the universe, just one aspect of a much larger natural world, and environmental science, the evidence that we really do have a powerful impact on our surroundings.

5. Buddhism is the original cognitive science. For the last 2500 or more years Buddhism has recognized and has been cataloging internal states of consciousness. We have developed and taught many methods of altering and improving these states, of developing ourselves as human beings. We've performed thousands and thousands, millions if you bring it down the the level of the individual, of psychological experiments to determine what methods work best toward accomplishing that goal. We've even developed a methodology for studying and evaluating such experiments, again, the Three Proofs. We've taught ourselves to try to remain as objective and unattached as possible to particular ideas and to seek out what's true rather than what we want to be true. This is even considered a goal in our development as human beings and a strict guideline of our religious teachings. We've developed theories of how the mind works, in humans and animals, which have now been corroborated by modern science. We've come a long way. Science is relatively new to this area of study and is still working on catching up to Buddhism. But at least they're acknowledging the reality of the existence of more abstract and subtle internal states of being, what we call life condition, as an influencer on our behavior, intellect, emotions, health -- a wide range of things.

6. Buddhism teaches us that the concept of individual self is an illusion, an object of temporary existence, whereas the self that is connected with the universe is real and eternal - our real selves. While we of course are distinct individuals, this state of separateness is only temporary and is not the more overriding factor defining who we really are. We are in fact a part of the universe. Chemically. Molecularly. Biologically. Actually.

7. In Buddhism, all life is precious. It is a religion that encourages the practitioner to spend as much time as possible in the act of intentionally focusing on the development of compassion. For most of us, that compassion almost uncontrollably extends out into the world of non-human animals. In Buddhism humans are considered part of nature, another animal in the animal kingdom. Other animals are no less worthy of empathy and concern than human beings. As an example, while not all Buddhists are vegetarians, a large, disproportionate number of us are. We care, and are strongly encouraged to care, about every living being. Even the well-being of bugs doesn't escape our notice.

"I have neither wife nor children, nor do I eat fish or fowl. I have been blamed merely for trying to propagate the Lotus Sutra. Though I have neither wife nor child, I am known throughout the country as a monk who transgresses the code of conduct, and though I have never killed even a single ant or mole cricket, my bad reputation has spread throughout the realm. This may well resemble the situation of Shakyamuni Buddha, who was slandered by a multitude of non-Buddhists during his lifetime." -- Nichiren

To a Buddhist, the fact that we are animals and that animals experience suffering and happiness just like we do might seem so obvious that it need not even be pointed out. But it isn't obvious to everyone. In some religions, the practitioners are taught that only humans have souls, meaning that only humans are worthy of our concern, and that animals were put here for human use, tools for our survival. People who view the world in this way have a hard time accepting the fact that animals have feelings. And once we've overpowered such people with so much evidence as to the facts of the matter, that animals really do have feelings, they still cling to the belief that animals don't experience spiritual feelings or concerns about death. This view has also been disproven, but it is taking a long time for some others to accept this reality.

All such delusions about life, that humans are not animals, that animals are innately undeserving of our compassion, have been dispelled by ethologists (animal behaviorists), biologists and psychologists. We are animals. And animals are very much like us. This has been proved already, and the evidence to that effect mounts every year.

8. Nichiren Buddhism and the Lotus Sutra teach us that the distinction between life and non-life is fuzzy. Where do we draw the line? Isn't there innate power in inanimate objects? Isn't a mountain, the ocean, the sky all worthy of respect and consideration? (Life and its environment are two but not two, esho funi.) Science teaches us the same thing. There's a cosmic interconnection between life and the physical universe. Within us is a tiny microcosm. We're the environment of our cells, and the universe is our environment. But in Buddhism it's even more than that, right? It's a deep relationship. A respect. A kind of reverence.

"Question: What authority do you have for stating that a plant, a tree, or a land manifests cause and effect, or the ten factors?
Answer: Volume five of Great Concentration and Insight says, 'The realm of the environment also has the ten factors. Thus an evil land has appearance, nature, entity, power, and so on.' Volume six of The Annotations on 'The Profound Meaning of the Lotus Sutra' states: 'Appearance exists only in what is material; nature exists only in what is spiritual. Entity, power, influence, and relation in principle combine both the material and the spiritual. Internal cause and latent effect are purely spiritual; manifest effect exists only in
what is material.' The Diamond Scalpel states: 'A plant, a tree, a pebble, a speck of dust—each has the Buddha nature, and each is endowed with cause and effect and with the function to manifest and the wisdom to realize its Buddha nature.'" -- Nichiren

This relationship between the world of the inanimate and the world of conscious beings is described by the theories of evolution and abiogenesis. Abiogenesis is the theory that the universe naturally gives rise to living beings without requiring mystical intervention. From a more philosophical point of view, it's also saying that living beings operate by purely mechanistic means. In other words, there is no need for a soul or a spark of life. Life is a mechanism by which DNA (or other) complex molecules replicate and evolve.

Buddhists already respect the inanimate, and if you've ever tried to explain Buddhism to a theist, you might know that this is a point of view that truly confounds them. While theists are struggling to figure out how to come to grips with these two theories, evolution and abiogenesis, Buddhists can be ecstatic about the fact that science has just turned our long held feelings of grand wonderment and appreciation of the environment, of mountains and pebbles and trees, into something that can also be expressed by the concrete reality of life. It's truly exciting for us! Why not point it out?

We hope to help our fellow Buddhists become better lay-scientists and in turn better Buddhists.

Click here to watch music videos for science and videos about modern scientific concepts, such as abiogenesis, evolution, and quantum physics.

Click here to read articles about scientific findings and explanations of scientific theories.



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