Role of Faith in
Science and Buddhism
Bhikkhu P. A. Payutto
Now let us take a comparative look at
some of the qualities related to Buddhism, science and other religions,
beginning with faith.
Most religions use emotion as the
driving force for attaining their goals. Emotion arouses belief and
obedience to the teachings, and emotions, particularly those which produce
faith, are a necessary part of most religions. In other words, because
faith is so crucial to them, emotion is encouraged. In contrast to other
religions, Buddhism stresses wisdom, giving faith a place of importance
only in the initial stages. Even then, faith is used with reservation, as
wisdom is considered to be the prime factor in attaining the goal.
In order to clearly understand
faith, it helps to analyze it into different kinds. Generally speaking,
faith can be divided into two main kinds:
The first kind of faith is that
which obstructs wisdom. It relies on inciting, or even enforcing, belief,
and such belief must be complete and unquestioning. To doubt the teaching
is forbidden, only unquestioning obedience is allowed. This kind of faith
does not allow any room for wisdom to develop. Faith in most religions is
of this variety. There must be belief and there must be obedience.
Whatever the religion says must go, no questions asked. This feature of
religion is known as dogma, the doctrine that is unquestionable,
characterized by adherence in the face of reason.
The second kind of faith is a
channel for wisdom. It stimulates curiosity and is the incentive for
learning. In this world there are so many things to learn about; without
faith we have no starting point or direction in which to set our learning,
but when faith arises, be it in a person or a teaching, we have that
direction. Faith, particularly in a person, awakens our interest and
encourages us to approach the object of that interest. Having faith in the
order of monks, for example, encourages us to approach them and learn from
them, to gain a clearer understanding of the teachings.
An example of this kind of faith can
be seen in the life story of Sariputta, the Buddha's foremost disciple. He
became interested in the teachings of the Buddha through seeing the monk
Assaji walking on alms round. Being impressed by the monk's bearing, which
suggested some special quality, some special knowledge or spiritual
attainment, he approached Assaji and asked for a teaching. This is a good
example of the second kind of faith.
The second kind of faith is a
positive influence, an incentive for learning. It also gives a point of
focus for that learning. Energies are motivated in whatever direction
faith inclines. A scientist, for example, having the faith in a particular
hypothesis, will direct his enquiry specifically in that direction, and
will not be distracted by irrelevant data.
These two kinds of faith must be
clearly distinguished. The faith that functions in Buddhism is the faith
which leads to wisdom, and as such is secondary to wisdom. Buddhism is a
religion free of dogma.
The second kind of faith is found in
both Buddhism and science. It has three important functions in relation to
1. It gives rise to interest and is
the incentive to begin learning.
2. It provides the energy needed in
the pursuit of that learning.
3. It gives direction or focus to
Apart from these main functions,
well-directed faith has a number of further characteristics, which can be
shown in the Buddhist system of practice. The goal of Buddhism is
liberation, transcendence, or freedom. Buddhism wants human beings to be
free, to transcend defilements and suffering. This freedom must be
attained through wisdom, understanding of the truth, or the law of nature.
This truth is as equally attainable by the disciples as it was by the
Teacher, and their knowledge is independent of him. The Buddha once asked
Sariputta, "Do you believe what I have been explaining to you?" Sariputta
answered, "Yes, I see that it is so." The Buddha asked him, "Are you
saying this just out of faith in me?" Sariputta answered, "No, I answered
in agreement not because of faith in the Blessed One, but because I
clearly see for myself that it is so." [Pubbakotthaka Sutta, Saim. S.V.
This is another of Buddhism's
principles. The Buddha did not want people to simply believe him or attach
to him. He pointed out the fault of faith in others, because he wanted
people to be free. This liberation, or freedom, the goal of Buddhism, is
attained through wisdom, through knowledge of reality.
But how is wisdom to arise? For most
people, faith is an indispensable stepping stone in the development of
wisdom. (For clear thinkers, those who have what is known as yoniso
manasikara,[*] the need for faith may be greatly reduced.)
In order to attain liberation it is
necessary to develop wisdom, and that development is in turn dependent on
faith. This gives us three stages connected like links in a chain:
Faith leads to Wisdom leads to
Faith is the initiator of the journey
to truth, which in turn leads to wisdom, which in turn leads to
liberation. This model of conditions is the defining constraint on faith
in Buddhism. Because faith is related to both wisdom and liberation, it
has two characteristics:
1. It leads to wisdom.
2. It is coupled with, and leads to,
Faith in Buddhism does not forbid
questions or doubts, nor demand belief or unquestioning committal in any
way. Both Buddhism and science use faith as a stepping stone on the
journey to truth. Now the question arises, what kind of faith is it which
leads to wisdom? It is the belief that this universe, or the world of
nature, functions according to constant and invariable laws, and these
laws are accessible to man's understanding. This faith is the impetus for
the search for truth, but because faith in itself is incapable of leading
directly to the truth, it must be used to further develop wisdom. At this
stage the faith of Buddhism and the faith of science look very similar.
Both have a belief in the laws of nature, and both strive to know the
truth of these laws through wisdom. However, the similarity ends here.
From this point on, the faith of Buddhism and the faith of science part
I have said that the source of both
religion and science is the awareness of problems in life, the dangers of
the natural world. In search of a remedy for this problem, human beings
looked on the natural environment with trepidation and wonder. These two
kinds of feeling led to both the desire for a way out of danger, and the
desire to know the truth of nature. From this common origin, religion and
science part their ways. Science, in particular, confines its research
exclusively to external, physical phenomena. Science does not include
mankind in its picture of the universe, except in a very limited,
biological sense. In other words, science does not consider the universe
as including mankind, and does not look at mankind as encompassing the
whole of the universe.
Looking at nature in this way,
science has only one object for its faith, and that is the physical
universe -- the faith that nature has fixed laws. In brief we could call
this "faith in nature."
But the objective of Buddhism is to
solve the problem of human suffering, which arises from both internal and
external conditions, with an emphasis on the world of human behavior. At
the same time, Buddhism sees this process as a natural one. For this
reason, Buddhism, like science, has faith in nature, but this faith also
includes human beings, because human beings are a part of nature, and they
encompass the whole of nature within themselves.
The faith of science has only one
object, but the faith of Buddhism has two objects, and they are:
In one sense, these two kinds of
faith are one and the same, because they are both beliefs in nature, the
first kind more obviously so. But the first kind of faith does not cover
the whole picture, it includes only the external environment. In Buddhism,
mankind is recognized as a part of nature. The physical human organism is
as natural as the external environment.
Moreover, human beings possess a
special quality which differs from the external manifestations of nature,
and distinguishes mankind from the world around him. This is a quality
peculiar to human beings. You could even say it is their "humanness." This
unique quality is mankind's inner world, that aspect of nature which has
an ethical dimension.
In Buddhism we believe that this
abstract quality of human beings is also a natural phenomenon, and is also
subject to the natural laws of cause and effect, and as such is included
in natural truth. In order to know and understand nature, both the
physical and the mental sides of nature should be thoroughly understood.
Bearing in mind that human beings
want to know and understand nature, it follows that in order to do so they
must understand the ones who are studying it. Mental qualities, such as
faith and desire to know, are abstract qualities. They are part of the
human inner world, and as such must come into our field of research and
understanding. If mental qualities are not studied, any knowledge or
understanding of nature is bound to be distorted and incomplete. It will
be incapable of leading to true understanding of reality.
Although in science there is faith in
nature and an aspiration to know its truths, nature is not seen in its
entirety. Science ignores human values and as a result has an incomplete
or faulty view of nature. The scientific search for knowledge is
inadequate and cannot reach completion, because one side of nature, the
internal nature of man, is ignored.
As in Buddhism, the faith of science
can be divided into two aspects, and has two objects. That is, firstly
there is belief in the laws of nature, and secondly, belief in the ability
of human intelligence to realize those laws, in other words faith in human
potential. However, this second aspect of faith is not clearly stated in
science, it is more a tacit understanding. Science does not mention this
second kind of faith, and pays little attention to the development of the
human being. Science is almost wholly motivated by the first kind of
Buddhism differs from science in this
respect, in that it holds the faith in human potential to be of prime
importance. Buddhism has developed comprehensive practical methods for
realizing this potential, and these have come to form the main body of its
teachings. Throughout these teachings, faith is based on three
the conviction that nature functions
according to fixed laws;
the conviction in human potential to
realize the truth of those laws through wisdom;
the conviction that the realization
of these laws will enable human beings to realize the highest good,
liberation from suffering.
This kind of faith makes a great
difference between Buddhism and science. In Buddhism the search for truth
is conducted in conjunction with training to develop human potential. The
development of human potential is what determines the way knowledge is
used, thus the probability of using knowledge to serve the destructive
influences of greed, hatred and delusion is minimized. Instead, knowledge
is used in a constructive way.
As for science, a one-sided faith in
the laws of nature is liable to cause the search for knowledge to be
unfocused and misdirected. There is no development of the human being, and
there is no guarantee that the knowledge gained will be used in ways that
are beneficial. Science's search for the truths of nature does not,
therefore, help anybody, even the scientists, to attain contentment, to
relieve suffering, to ease tension or to have calmer and clearer minds.
Moreover, science opens wide the way for undesirable values to subvert
scientific development, leading it in the direction of greed, aversion and
delusion. Thus, the drives to subjugate nature and to achieve material
wealth, which have guided scientific development over the last century or
more, have caused exploitation and destruction of the environment. If this
trend continues, scientific development will be unsustainable.
It should be stressed that human
beings have minds, or, more specifically, their actions are conditioned by
the mental factor of intention. Faith in the laws of nature, and the
desire to understand those laws, implies a value system, be it conscious
or otherwise. Beliefs and attitudes will condition the style and direction
of methods used for finding the truth, as well as the context and way in
which that truth is seen.
According to the Buddha's teaching,
the attainment of ultimate truth is only possible with a mind which has
been purified of greed, aversion and delusion. Such purification requires
training, a central concern of which are beliefs, attitudes and views. A
search for truth blind to the assumptions on which it is based will not
only be doomed to failure (because it ignores one side of reality) but
will be overwhelmed by inferior values.
Simply speaking, the knowledge of
scientists is not independent of values. A simple example of these
secondary values is the pleasure obtained from, and which lies behind, the
search for knowledge and the discoveries it yields. Even the pure kind of
search for knowledge, which is a finer value, if analyzed deeply, is
likely to have other sets of values hidden within it, such as the desire
to feed some personal need.
In summary, we have been looking at
two levels of values: the highest value and those intermediate values
which are compatible with it. The highest value is a truth which must be
attained to, it cannot be artificially set up in the mind. Scientists
already have faith in nature. Such conviction or faith is a value that is
within them from the outset, but this faith must be expanded on to include
the human being, which necessarily entails faith in the highest good,
simply by bearing in mind that the laws of nature are connected to the
With the proper kind of faith,
commensurate secondary values will also arise, or will be further
underscored by intentional inducement. This will serve to prevent values
from straying into undesirable areas, or from being overwhelmed by
Faith, which is our fundamental
value, conditions the values which are secondary to it, in particular the
aspiration to know. From faith in the truth of nature arises the
aspiration to know the truth of nature. Such an aspiration is important in
both science and Buddhism. From faith in the existence of the highest good
and in human potential arises the aspiration to attain the state of
freedom from suffering, to remedy all problems and pursue personal
The first kind of aspiration is the
desire to know the truth of nature. The second aspiration is the desire to
attain the state of freedom. When these two aspirations are integrated,
the desire for knowledge is more clearly defined and focused: it becomes
the desire to know the truth of nature in order to solve problems and lead
human beings to freedom. This is the consummation of Buddhism. With the
merging of these two kinds of aspiration, we complete the cycle, producing
balance and sufficiency. There is a clear definition for our aspiration
for knowledge. It is firmly related to the human being, and directed to
the express purpose of creating a noble life for the human race. This
direction defines the way knowledge is to be used.
As for science, from ancient times
there has been merely an aspiration for knowledge. When the aspiration for
knowledge is aimless and undefined, the result is a random collection of
data, an attempt to know the truth of nature by looking further and
further outward. It is truth for its own sake. The scientific search for
truth lacks direction. However, human beings are driven by values. Since
this aspiration for knowledge is without clear definition, it throws open
the chance for other aspirations, or lesser values, to fill the vacuum.
Some of these ulterior aims I have already mentioned, such as the desire
to subjugate nature and the desire to produce material wealth. These two
aspirations have created a different kind of process. I would like to
reiterate the meaning of that process: it is the aspiration to know the
truths of nature in order to exploit it for the production of material
wealth. This process has been the cause of innumerable problems in recent
times -- mental, social, and in particular, as we are seeing at present,
The thinking of the industrial age
has taken advantage of science's oversight, an undefined aspiration for
knowledge, and led to human action without consideration for the human
being. Looking closely, we will see that the reason science has this lack
of direction is because it looks for truth exclusively in the external,
material world. It does not search for knowledge within the human
individual. Science is not interested in, and in fact ignores, human
nature, and as a result has become an instrument of industry and its
selfish advances on the environment.
Ignorance of human nature means
ignorance of the fact that pandering to the five senses is incapable of
making humankind happy or contented. Sensual desire has no end, and so the
need for material resources is endless. Because material goods are
obtained through exploitation of nature, it follows that the manipulation
of nature is also without end and without check. Ultimately, nature will
not have enough to satisfy human desires, and in fact the exploitation of
nature in itself gives man more misery than happiness.
Man-centered versus self-centered
Just now I mentioned some important
common ground shared by Buddhism and science in regard to faith and
aspiration for knowledge. Now I would like to take a look at the object of
this faith and aspiration, which is reality or truth. Our aspiration and
our faith are rooted in the desire for truth or knowledge. Having reached
the essential truth of nature through knowledge, our aspiration is
In Buddhism the goal is to use the
knowledge of truth to improve on life, to solve problems and attain
perfect freedom. The goal of science, on the other hand, is the
utilization of knowledge for the subjugation of nature, in order to
provide a wealth of material goods. This is perhaps illustrated most
clearly in the words of Rene Descartes, whose importance in the
development of Western science and philosophy is well known. He wrote that
science was part of the struggle to "render ourselves the masters and
possessors of nature."
With different goals, the object of
knowledge must also be different. The prime object of Buddhist enquiry is
the nature of the human being, and from there all the things with which
the human being must deal. Mankind is always the centre from which we
study the truth of nature.
In science, on the other hand, the
object of research is the external, physical environment. Even though
science occasionally looks into the human being, it is usually only as a
physical organism within the physical universe. Mankind as such is not
studied. That is, science may study human life, but only in a biological
sense, not in relation to "being human."
So the field of the Buddhist search
for knowledge is the human being, while that of science is the external
world. With this point of reference, let us take a look at the respective
extents of the nature that science seeks to know, and the nature that
Buddhism seeks to know.
Buddhism believes that human beings
are the highest evolution of nature, and so encompass the entire spectrum
of reality within themselves. That is, a human being contains nature on
both the physical and mental planes. Therefore, only through studying
mankind is it possible to know the truth of all aspects of nature, both
the physical and the mental.
Buddhism puts mankind at the centre,
it is anthropocentric. Its express aim is to understand and to develop the
human being. Science, on the other hand, is interested primarily in the
external world. It seeks to know the truths of things outside of the human
being. Over the years, however, as science incorporated the intention to
conquer nature into its values, it once again put mankind at the centre of
the picture, but in a very different way from the way Buddhism does.
Buddhism gives human beings the central position in the sense of
recognizing their responsibilities toward nature, insofar as they must
develop themselves and redress problems. This outlook is of benefit, it is
aimed at the transcendence of suffering, freedom and the highest good.
Science, in incorporating the view of
the desirability of subjugating nature into its aspirations, places
mankind in the centre of the picture also, but only as the exploiter of
nature. Man says "I want this," from where he proceeds to manipulate
nature to his desires. Simply speaking, science's placing of man in the
centre is from the perspective of feeding his selfishness.
Having looked at the aim of enquiry,
let us now consider the means or methods for attaining that aim. In
Buddhism, the method is threefold.
1. Impartial awareness of sense data,
awareness of things as they are.
2. Ordered or systematic thinking.
3. Verification through direct
How can we ensure that the awareness
of sense data will be unbiased? In general, whenever human beings cognize
sense data, certain values immediately become involved. Right here, at the
very first arising of awareness, there is already the problem of whether
the experiencer is free of these values or not.
Buddhism stresses the importance of
seeing the truth right from the first arising of awareness: when eye sees
sights, ear hears sounds, and so on. For most human beings, this is
already a problem. Awareness is usually in accordance with the way we
would like things to be, or as we think they are, rarely as they really
are. We cannot see things the way they are because of distortions, biases,
and preferences. When there is awareness of a feeling, the workings of the
mind will immediately react with like or dislike. People build these
reactions into habits and they become extremely fluent. As soon as an
experience is cognized, these values of comfort, discomfort or
indifference immediately follow, and from there to love or hate, delight
or aversion. Once like and dislike arise, they influence the subsequent
thought process. If there is attraction, thinking will take on one form;
if there is repulsion, it will take another form. Because of this,
experience is distorted and biased, awareness is false; only some
perspectives are seen, not others. The knowledge that arises form this
sort of awareness is not clear or comprehensive, it is not awareness of
things as they really are.
In Buddhist practice, we try to
establish ourselves correctly from the beginning. There must be awareness
of things as they are, awareness with sati, mindfulness, neither
delighting nor being averse. Experiences must be perceived with an aware
mind, the mind of a student or the mind of an observer, not with a mind
that is liking or disliking. In brief, there are two ways to do this:
1. Cognizing by seeing the truth: to
be aware of things as they are, not to be swayed by the powers of delight
and aversion. This is a pure kind of awareness, bare perception of
experience without the addition of value-judgements. It is referred to in
the scriptures as "perceiving just enough for the development of wisdom
(ñana)," just enough to know and understand the experience as it is, and
for the presence of mindfulness (sati). Specifically, this is to see
things according to their causes and conditions.
2. Cognizing in a beneficial way:
that is, cognizing in conjunction with a skillful value, one that will be
useful, rather than one that caters to sense desires. This is to perceive
experiences in such a way as to be able to make use of them all, both the
liked and the disliked.
This second kind of knowing can be
enlarged on thus: experience is a natural function of life, but in order
for the mind to benefit from experiences, we must perceive them in the
proper way. There must be a conscious attempt to perceive experiences in a
way that is beneficial in solving problems and leading to personal
development. Otherwise, awareness will be merely a tool for either
satisfying or frustrating sense-desires, and any benefit will be lost.
With this kind of awareness, we perceive experiences in such a way as to
make use of them. Whether experiences are pleasant, unpleasant,
comfortable or not, they can all be used in a beneficial way. It all
depends on whether we learn how to perceive them properly or not.
In the context of this book, where
the object is knowledge of the truth, we will emphasize the first kind of
awareness. In this awareness, if the wrong channels are avoided, the
effects of delight and aversion do not occur, and awareness will be of the
Clear awareness of sense data is very
important. Learning must begin at the first moment of awareness --
cognizing in order to learn, not in order to indulge in like or dislike,
or to feed sense desires. Although science may not openly speak about or
emphasize this method, it is essential if the aim is to perceive the
The second factor in attaining
knowledge is right thinking. This means thinking that is structured,
reasoned and in harmony with causes and conditions. In Buddhist scriptures
many ways of thinking, collectively known as yoniso-manasikara, or
intelligent reflection, are mentioned. Intelligent reflection is an
important factor in the development of Right View, understanding in
accordance with reality. It is to see things according to their causes and
conditions, or to understand the principle of causes and conditions. Some
of the ways of intelligent reflection mentioned in the texts are:
a. Searching for causes and
conditions: This kind of thinking was of prime importance in the Buddha's
own enlightenment. For example, when the Buddha investigated the
experience of pleasure and pain, he asked himself, "On what do these
feelings of pleasure and pain depend? By what are they conditioned?" He
saw that sense contact is the condition for feeling. Then, asking himself,
"By what is sense contact conditioned?" the Buddha saw that the six sense
bases are the condition for sense contact, and so on. This is an example
of thinking according to causes and conditions.
b. Thinking by way of analysis: Life
as a human organism can be analyzed into two main constituents, body and
mind. Body and mind can both be further analyzed. Mind, for example, can
be analyzed into vedana (feeling), sañña (perception), sankhara
(volitional activities), and viññana (consciousness),[**] and each of
these categories can be further divided into even smaller constituents.
Feeling, for example, can be divided into three kinds, five kinds, six
kinds and more. Thinking in this way is called "thinking by way of
analysis," which is a way of breaking up the overall picture or system so
that the causes and conditions involved can be more easily seen.
c. Thinking in terms of benefit and
harm: This is to look at the quality of things, both their benefit and
their harm, rather than looking exclusively at their benefit or their
harm. Most people tend to see only the benefits of things that they like,
and only the faults of the things they don't like, but Buddhism encourages
us to look at things from all perspectives, to see both the benefit and
the harm in them.
These different kinds of thinking
(altogether, ten are mentioned in the scriptures) are known as
yoniso-manasikara, a very important part of the Buddhist way to truth. In
its broadest sense, thinking also includes the way we perceive things, and
so it also includes the level of first awareness, and, like those forms of
awareness, can also be divided into two main groups -- that is, thinking
in order to see the truth, and thinking in a way that is beneficial.
The third method for finding
knowledge used in Buddhism is that of verification through personal
experience. One of the important principles of Buddhism is that the truth
can be known and verified through direct experience (sanditthiko,
paccattam veditabbo viññuuhi). Note, for example, the Kalamasutta
mentioned earlier, in which the Buddha advises the Kalamas not to simply
believe in things, but, "when you have seen for yourself which conditions
are skillful and which unskillful, then strive to develop the skillful
ones and to give up the unskillful." This teaching clearly illustrates
practice based on personal experience.
The Buddha's life story recounts that
he used this method throughout his practice. When he first left his palace
in search of enlightenment, he practiced according to the methods
prevalent at that time -- asceticism, yoga, trances and the rest. When he
later went to live alone in the forest, the practices he undertook were
all ways of experimenting. For example, the Buddha is recorded as
recounting how he went to live alone in wild jungles so that he could
experiment with fear. In the deep hours of the night a branch would crack
and fear would arise. The Buddha would always look for the causes of the
fear. No matter what posture he happened to be in when fear arose, he
would maintain that posture until he had overcome the fear. (That is, if
he was walking he would continue to walk until his fear subsided; if he
was sitting, standing or lying down he would continue to sit, stand or lie
down until his fear subsided.) Most people would have run for their lives,
but the Buddha didn't run. He stayed still until he had overcome the
problem. Another example of the Buddha's experimenting was his
experimenting with good and bad thoughts until he was able to give up
The Buddha used the method of
personal experience throughout his practice. Later, when he was teaching
his disciples, he taught them to assess the teacher closely before
believing him, because faith must always be a vehicle for the development
of wisdom. The Buddha taught to closely assess teachers, even the Buddha
himself, both from the perspective of whether he was teaching the truth,
and also in the sense of the purity of the teacher's intentions.
The teacher's knowledge can be tested
by considering the plausibility of the teaching. The teacher's intentions
can be tested by considering the teacher's intentions in teaching: Does he
teach out of desire for a personal reward? Is he looking for anything
other than the benefit of the listener? Such assessment and evaluation
should continue through all the levels of the teacher-disciple
Then there is the teaching of the
Four Foundations of Mindfulness, which emphasizes insight meditation. When
we are practising insight meditation, we must always consider and reflect
on the experiences that come into our awareness, as they arise. Whether a
pleasant feeling or unpleasant feeling arises, whether the mind is
depressed or elated, the Buddha taught to look into it and note its
arising, its faring and its passing away.
Even in the highest stages of
practice, when assessing to see whether one is enlightened or not, we are
told to look directly into our own hearts, to see whether there is still
greed, hatred and delusion or not, rather than looking for special signs
Because the emphasis and field of
research in Buddhism and science differ in terms of observation,
experiment and verification, results in the two fields will differ.
Science strives to observe events solely in the physical universe, through
the five senses, with the objective of manipulating the external physical
world. In the language of Buddhism we might say that science specializes
in the fields of utuniyama (physical laws) and bijaniyama (biological
laws). Buddhism, on the other hand, emphasizes the study of the human
organism, accepting experiences through all the six senses, including the
mind. The objective of Buddhist practice is to attain the highest good and
an understanding of the truth of nature. Even before the objective is
reached, there is correction of problems and progress in human
development. In Buddhist terminology we would say that Buddhism has its
strength in the fields of kammaniyama (moral laws) and cittaniyama
If it were possible to incorporate
the respective fields of expertise of both science and Buddhism, to bring
the fruits of their labors together, we might arrive at a balanced way for
leading human development to a higher level.
Differences in methods
While on the subject of the three
methods for finding knowledge, I would like to look at the differences
between these methods in Buddhism and in science.
Firstly, science uses the technique
of amassing knowledge in order to find truth. This amassing of knowledge
is completely divorced from concerns of life-style, whereas in Buddhism,
the method of attaining knowledge is part of the way of life. Science has
no concern with life-style, it seeks truth for its own sake, but in
Buddhism, method is part of the way of life -- in fact it is the way of
life. Consider, for example, the effect of clear awareness, without the
bias of delight and loathing, on the quality of life. The Buddhist search
for knowledge has great worth in itself, regardless of whether or not the
goal is attained.
Science takes its data exclusively
from the experiences arising through the five senses, while Buddhism
includes the experiences of the sixth sense, the mind -- a sense which
science does not acknowledge. Buddhism states that the sixth sense is a
verifiable truth. However, verification can only really be done through
the respective senses from which that data arose. For instance, to verify
a taste we must use the tongue; to verify volume of sound we must use the
ear, not the eye. If we want to verify colors, we don't use our ears. The
sense base which verifies sense data must be compatible with the kind of
data that is being verified.
If the sixth sense is not recognized,
we will be deprived of an immense amount of sense data, because there is
much experience which arises exclusively in the mind. There are, for
example, many experiences within the mind which can be immediately
experienced and verified, such as love, hate, anger, and fear. These
things cannot be verified or experienced through other sense organs. If we
experience love, we ourselves know our own mind, we can verify it for
ourselves. When there is fear, or a feeling of anger, or feelings of
comfort, peace, or contentment, we can know them directly in our own
minds. Therefore, in Buddhism we give this sixth sense, the mind and its
thinking, a prominent role in the search for knowledge or truth.
Science resorts to instruments
designed for the other five senses, mainly the eyes and ears, such as the
encephalogram, to study the thinking process. Scientists tell us that in
the future they'll be able to tell what people are thinking simply by
using a machine, or by analyzing the chemicals secreted by the brain.
These things do have a factual basis, but the truths that they are likely
to reveal will probably be like Sir Arthur Eddington's "shadow world of
symbols." They will not be the truth, but shadows of the truth. Scientific
truth, like the scientific method, is faulty, because it breaches one of
the rules of observation: the instruments do not correspond with the data.
As long as this is so, science will have to continue observing shadows of
reality for a long time to come.
Now this sixth sense, the mind, is
also very important in science. The scientific method, from the very
beginnings right up to and including experimentation and conclusion, has
developed through this sixth sense. Before any other senses can be used,
the scientist must utilize thinking. He must organize a plan, a method of
verification, and he must establish an hypothesis. All of these activities
are mental processes, which are dependent on the sixth sense, the mind.
Even in practical application, the mind must be following events, taking
notes. Moreover, the mind is the arbitrator, the judge of whether or not
to accept the data that arise during the experiment.
The final stages of scientific
enquiry, the assessment and conclusions of the experiment, the formulation
of a theory and so on, are all thought processes. We can confidently say
that the theories of science are all results of thinking, they are fruits
of the sixth sense, which is the headquarters of all the other senses.
Buddhism acknowledges the importance
of the sixth sense as a channel through which events can be directly
experienced. The truth of the mind is a verifiable cause and effect
process. It is subject to the laws of nature. Even though it may seem very
intricate and difficult to follow, Buddhism teaches that the mind conforms
to the stream of causes and conditions, just like any other natural
phenomenon. In the material world, or the world of physics, it is
recognized that all things exist according to causes and conditions, but
in cases where the conditions are extremely intricate, it is very
difficult to predict or follow events. A simple example is weather
prediction, which is recognized as a very difficult task because there are
so many inconstants. The sequence of causes and conditions within the mind
is even more complex than the factors involved in the weather, making
prediction of results even more difficult.
Human beings are a part of nature
which contain the whole of nature within them. If people were able to open
their eyes and look, they would be able to attain the truth of nature as a
direct experience. Using scientific instruments, extensions of the five
senses, is a roundabout way of proceeding. It can only verify truth on
some levels, just enough to conquer nature and the external world (to an
extent), but it cannot lead mankind to the total truth of reality.
[*] Systematic attention, wise consideration,
critical reflection. [Back to text]
[**] These are the four mental khandhas which,
together with rupa, or material form, go to make up the whole of
conditioned existence. [Back to text]
3. Rene Descartes, quoted by Clive Ponting, A Green
History of the World, (St. Martin's Press, New York, 1992) p. 148. [Back
[Taken from Bhikkhu P. A. Payutto., Toward
Sustainable Science, A Buddhist Look at Trends in Scientific Development.
(Bangkok: Buddhadhamma Foundation, 1993), pp. 75-103].
Sincere thanks to
Ti.nh Tue^. for transcription of this article.