Parallels, Departures, and What Science Can Gain from Buddhism
According to our experience there is a tremendous variety of stuff which exists in the world. Furthermore, any specific sample of this stuff seems to be extremely active, constantly moving, interacting with and reacting against all the other stuff. How are we to explain this - both the stuff and the activity? How does it work, and what purpose does it serve in what appears to be a well-designed, functionally cohesive system? And where do we fit in; what is our relation to this stuff and our place in the system? These are some of the questions that underlie all spiritual traditions. Likewise, they are questions that drive modern science. In this paper I would like to examine the approach that modern science takes in answering these questions and compare it to the approach of the Buddhist tradition. I will support the claim that both approaches parallel each other in many ways. At the same time I will point out some fundamental differences between them. Finally, I hope to show that by borrowing from the Buddhist approach the scientific community could increase both the overall value of science and the benefits it offers.
Modern science and Buddhism are similar in approach in at least these four ways:
· Both are skeptical.
· Both are pragmatic.
· Expert training is important for each.
· For each a causal understanding is fundamental.
Both science and Buddhism can be said to be traditions of radical doubt. Neither tradition has been wholly comfortable with accepting our everyday experience of the world as being real. Instead, they hold the position that there is something fundamentally wrong with the way we normally view the world. Both science and Buddhism are concerned with coming to understand ultimate order, and for each a common sense view of the world is simply unsatisfactory because it doesn't provide a clear picture of what is real. That is to say, our common view of the world is somewhat distorted or clouded.
With the understanding that the two traditions maintain relatively negative positions regarding everyday experience we must also understand that both rely directly on experience to explain the nature things. As stated earlier both are pragmatic in their approaches; that is to say that the emphasis of each is to start from experience. This only seems natural. For what more logical place could one start than from his or her own experience? However, what is important for both science and Buddhism is to make the proper logical inferences about experience when relating them to the ultimate order of things. Unfortunately, this is a skill at which we do not ordinarily excel. This is precisely the reason why expert training is important to both traditions.
In science we have specialists, each trained in a particular field of study. For example, would one suffering from a sinus infection go to a physicist to receive treatment? Of course not. ...