Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda Maha Thera
in a Scientific Age
Religion without science is crippled,
while science without religion is blind.
we live in a scientific age in which almost every aspect of our lives has
been affected by science. Since the scientific revolution during the
seventeenth century, science has continued to exert tremendous influence
on what we think and do.
The impact of science has
been particularly strong on traditional religious beliefs. Many basic
religious concepts are crumbling under the pressure of modern science and
are no longer acceptable to the intellectual and the well-informed man. No
longer is it possible to assert truth derived merely through theological
speculations or based on the authority of religious scriptures in
isolation to scientific consideration. For example, the findings of modern
psychologists indicate that the human mind, like the physical body, work
according to natural, causal laws without the presence of an unchanging
soul as taught by some religions.
Some religionists choose
to disregard scientific discoveries which conflict with their religious
dogmas. Such rigid mental habits are indeed a hindrance to human progress.
Since the modern man refuses to believe anything blindly, even though it
had been traditionally accepted, such religionists will only succeed in
increasing the ranks of non-believers with their faulty theories.
On the other hand, some
religionists have found it necessary to accommodate popularly accepted
scientific theories by giving new interpretations to their religious
dogmas. A case in point is Darwin's Theory of Evolution. Many religionists
maintain that man was directly created by God. Darwin, on the other hand,
claimed that man had evolved from the ape, a theory which upset the
doctrines of divine creation and the fall of man. Since all enlightened
thinkers have accepted Darwin's theory, the theologians today have little
choice except to give a new interpretation to their doctrines to suit this
theory which they had opposed for so long.
In the light of modern
scientific discoveries, it is not difficult to understand that many of the
views held in many religions regarding the universe and life are merely
conventional thoughts of that which have long been superseded. It is
generally true to say that religions have greatly contributed to human
development and progress. They have laid down values and standards and
formulated principles to guide human life. But for al the good they have
done, religions can no longer survive in the modern, scientific age if the
followers insist on imprisoning truth into set forms and dogmas, on
encouraging ceremonies and practices which have been depleted of their
Until the beginning of the
last century, Buddhism was confined to countries untouched by modern
science. Nevertheless, from its very beginning, the Teachings of the
Buddha were always open to scientific thinking.
One reason why the
Teaching can easily be embraced by the scientific spirit is that the
Buddha never encouraged rigid, dogmatic belief. He did not claim to base
His Teachings on faith, belief, or divine revelation, but allowed great
flexibility and freedom of thought.
The second reason is that
the scientific spirit can be found in the Buddha's approach to spiritual
Truth. The Buddha's method for discovering and testing spiritual Truth is
very similar to that of the scientist. A scientist observes the external
world objectively, and would only establish a scientific theory after
conducting many successful practical experiments.
Using a similar approach
25 centuries ago, the Buddha observed the inner world with detachment, and
encouraged His disciples not to accept any teaching until they had
critically investigated and personally verified its truth. Just as the
scientist today would not claim that his experiment cannot be duplicated
by others, the Buddha did not claim that His experience of Enlightenment
was exclusive to Him. Thus, in His approach to Truth, the Buddha was as
analytical as the present day scientist. He established a practical,
scientifically worked-out method for reaching the Ultimate Truth and the
experience of Enlightenment.
While Buddhism is very
much in line with the scientific spirit, it is not correct to equate Buddhism
with science. It is true that the practical applications of science have
enabled mankind to live more comfortable lives and experience wonderful
things undreamed of before. Science has made it possible for man to swim
better than the fishes, fly higher than the birds, and walk on the moon.
Yet the sphere of knowledge acceptable to conventional, scientific wisdom
is confined to empirical evidence. And scientific truth is subject to
constant change. Science cannot give man control over his mind and neither
does it offer moral control and guidance. Despite its wonders, science has
indeed many limitations not shared by Buddhism.
Often one hears so much
about science and what it can do, and so little about what it cannot do.
Scientific knowledge is limitedto the data received through the
sense organs. It does not recognize reality which transcends sense-data.
Scientific truth is built upon logical observations of sense-data which
are continually changing. Scientific truth is, therefore, relative truth
not intended to stand the test of time. And a scientist, being aware of
this fact, is always willing to discard a theory if it can be replaced by
a better one.
Science attempts to
understand the outer world and has barely scratched the surface of man's
inner world. Even the science of psychology has not really fathomed the
underlying cause of man's mental unrest. When a man is frustrated and
disgusted with life, and his inner world is filled with disturbances and
unrest, science today is very much unequipped to help him.. The social
sciences which cater for man's environment may bring him a certain degree
of happiness. But unlike an animal man requires more than mere physical
comfort and needs help to cope with his frustrations and miseries arising
from his daily experiences.
Today so many people are
plagued with fear, restlessness, and insecurity. Yet science fails to
succor them. Science is unable to teach the common man to control his mind
when he is driven by the animal nature that burns within him.
Can science make man
better? If it can, why do violent acts and immoral practices abound in
countries which are so advanced in science? Isn't it fair to say that
despite all the scientific progress achieved and the advantages conferred
on man, science leaves the inner man basically unchanged: it has only
heightened man's feelings of dependence and insufficiency? In addition to
its failure to bring security to mankind, science has also made everyone
feel even more insecure by threatening the world with the possibility of
Science is unable to
provide a meaningful purpose of life. It cannot provide man clear reasons
for living. In fact, science is thoroughly secular in nature and
unconcerned with man's spiritual goal. The materialism inherent in
scientific thought denies the psyche goals higher than material
satisfaction. By its selective theorizing and relative truths, science
disregards some of the most essential issues and leaves many questions
unanswered. For instance, when asked why great inequalities exist among
men, no scientific explanation can be given to such questions which are
beyond its narrow confines.
The transcendental mind
developed by the Buddha is not limited to sense-data and goes beyond the
logic trapped within the limitation of relative perception. The human
intellect, on the contrary, operates on the basis of information it
collects and stores, whether in the field of religion, philosophy, science
or art. The information for the mind is gathered through our sense organs
which are inferior in so many ways. The very limited information perceived
makes our understanding of the world distorted.
Some people are proud of
the fact that they know so much. In fact, the less we know, the more
certain we are in our explanations; the more we know, the more we realize
A brilliant scholar once
wrote a book which he considered as the ultimate work. He felt that the
book contained all literary gems and philosophies. Being proud of his
achievement, he showed his masterpiece to a colleague of his who was
equally brilliant with the request that the book be reviewed by him.
Instead, his colleague asked the author to write down on a piece of paper
all he knew and all he did not know. The author sat down deep in thought,
but after a long while failed write down anything he knew. Then he turned
his mind to the second question, and again he failed to write down
anything he did not know. Finally, with his ego at the lowest ebb, he gave
up, realizing that all that he knew was really ignorance.
In this regard,
Socrates, the well-known Athenian philosopher of the Ancient World, had
this to say when asked what he knew: 'I know only one thing--thatI do
Buddhism goes beyond
modern science in its acceptance of a wider field of knowledge than is
allowed by the scientific mind. Buddhism admits knowledge arising from the
sense organs as well as personal experiences gained through mental
culture. By training and developing a highly concentrated mind, religious
experience can be understood and verified. Religious experience is not
something which can be understood by conducting experiments in a test-tube
or examined under a microscope.
The truth discovered by
science is relative and subject to changes, while that found by the Buddha
is final and absolute: the Truth of Dhamma does not change according to
time and space. Furthermore, in contrast to the selective theorizing of
science, the Buddha encouraged the wise not to cling to theories,
scientific or otherwise. Instead of theorizing, the Buddha taught mankind
how to live a righteous life so as to discover Ultimate Truth. By living a
righteous life, by calming the sense, and by casting off desires, the
Buddha pointed the way through which we can discover within ourselves the
nature of life. And the real purpose of life can be found.
important in Buddhism. A person who studies much but does not practise is
like one who is able to recite recipes from a huge cookery-book without
trying to prepare a single dish. His hunger cannot be relieved by book
knowledge alone. Practice is such an important prerequisite of
enlightenment that in some schools of Buddhism, such as Zen, practice is
put even ahead of knowledge.
The scientific method is
outwardly directed, and modern scientists exploit nature and the elements
for their own comfort, often disregarding the need to harmonize with the
environment and thereby polluting the world. In contrast, Buddhism is
inwardly directed and is concerned with the inner development of man. On
the lower level, Buddhism teaches the individual how to adjust and cope
with events and circumstances of daily life. At the higher level, it
represents the human endeavor to grow beyond oneself through the practice
of mental culture or mind development.
Buddhism has a complete
system of mental culture concerned with gaining insight into the nature of
things which leads to complete self-realization of the Ultimate
Truth--Nibbana. This system is both practical and scientific, it involves
dispassionate observation of emotional and mental states. More like a
scientist than a judge, a meditator observes the inner world with
Without having moral
ideals, science poses a dangerto all mankind.Science has
made the machine which in turn becomes king. The bullet and bomb are gifts
of science to the few in power on whom the destiny of the world depends.
Meanwhile the rest of mankind waits in anguish and fear, not knowing when
the nuclear weapons, the poisonous gases, the deadly arms--all fruits of
scientific research designed to kill efficiently--will be used on them.
Not only is science completely unable to provide moral guidance to
mankind, it has also fed fuel to the flame of human craving.
Science devoid of morality
spells only destruction: it becomes the draconian monster man discovered.
And unfortunately, this very monster is becoming more powerful than man
himself. Unless man learns to restrain and govern the monster through the
practice of religious morality, the monster will soon overpower him.
Without religious guidance, science threatens the world with destruction.
In contrast, science when coupled with a religion like Buddhism can
transform this world into a haven of peace and security and happiness.
Never was there a time
when the co-operation between science and religion is so desperately
needed in the best interest and service of mankind. Religion without
science is crippled, while science without religion is blind.
The wisdom of Buddhism
founded on compassion has the vital role of correcting the dangerous
destination modern science is heading for. Buddhism can provide the
spiritual leadership to guide scientific research and invention in
promoting a brilliant culture of the future. Buddhism can provide worthy
goals for scientific advancement which is presently facing a hopeless
impasse of being enslaved by its very inventions.
Einstein paid a tribute to Buddhism when he said in his autobiography: 'If
there is any religion that would cope with modern scientific needs, it
would be Buddhism'. Buddhism requires no
revision to keep it 'up to date' with recent scientific findings.
Buddhism need not surrender its views to science because it embraces
science as well as goes beyond science. Buddhism is the bridge between
religious and scientific thoughts by stimulating man to discover the
latent potentialities within himself and his environment. Buddhism is
Page Contents Next
Study and Practice Group, http://www.sinc.sunysb.edu/Clubs/buddhism/
Layout: Chan Duc - Nguyen Thao
Update : 01-11-2002