Contemplative Science

Contemplative Science: Where Buddhism and Neuroscience Converge

B. ALAN WALLACE
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/wall13834
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Contemplative Science
    Book Description:

    Science has long treated religion as a set of personal beliefs that have little to do with a rational understanding of the mind and the universe. However, B. Alan Wallace, a respected Buddhist scholar, proposes that the contemplative methodologies of Buddhism and of Western science are capable of being integrated into a single discipline: contemplative science.

    The science of consciousness introduces first-person methods of investigating the mind through Buddhist contemplative techniques, such as samatha, an organized, detailed system of training the attention. Just as scientists make observations and conduct experiments with the aid of technology, contemplatives have long tested their own theories with the help of highly developed meditative skills of observation and experimentation. Contemplative science allows for a deeper knowledge of mental phenomena, including a wide range of states of consciousness, and its emphasis on strict mental discipline counteracts the effects of conative (intention and desire), attentional, cognitive, and affective imbalances.

    Just as behaviorism, psychology, and neuroscience have all shed light on the cognitive processes that enable us to survive and flourish, contemplative science offers a groundbreaking perspective for expanding our capacity to realize genuine well-being. It also forges a link between the material world and the realm of the subconscious that transcends the traditional science-based understanding of the self.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51095-0
    Subjects: Health Sciences, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. 1 PRINCIPLES OF CONTEMPLATIVE SCIENCE
    (pp. 1-27)

    The very idea of proposing a discipline called “contemplative science” may arouse suspicion among those who value the triumphs of science, which have been won, in part, by divorcing its mode of inquiry from all religious affiliations. Such unease has a strong historical basis, so it should be taken seriously. But there are also historical roots to the principles of contemplation and of science that suggest a possible reconciliation and even integration between the two approaches.

    The Latin term contemplatio, from which “contemplation” is derived, corresponds to the Greek word theoria. Both refer to a total devotion to revealing, clarifying,...

  5. 2 WHERE SCIENCE AND RELIGION COLLIDE
    (pp. 28-49)

    In the american educational system and the general media, science is commonly presented as a body of empirical knowledge about the natural world, discovered by researchers who are relentlessly skeptical of all untested assumptions and beliefs, including their own. Religions, in contrast, are often presented as promoting beliefs about the universe and the meaning of human existence that are accepted by their adherents on the basis of divine authority. Thus, science and religion appear to stand for two incompatible mind-sets, and conflict between these two ways of viewing reality seems inevitable.

    While there is some truth in this depiction, in...

  6. 3 THE STUDY OF CONSCIOUSNESS, EAST AND WEST
    (pp. 50-64)

    The achievements of scientific inquiry fill us with wonder as researchers probe the inner core of atomic nuclei, galactic clusters billions of light-years away in space, and events during the first nanoseconds after the Big Bang, 13.8 billion years away in time. But for all its marvelous success in illuminating the objective world, from the extremely minute to the extremely vast and distant in space and time, science has kept us in the dark regarding the origins, nature, and potentials of our own subjective consciousness. Progress in understanding the natural world as a whole—including its objective and subjective aspects...

  7. 4 SPIRITUAL AWAKENING AND OBJECTIVE KNOWLEDGE
    (pp. 65-93)

    I will begin this discussion with an overview of the Buddhist ideal of objectivity, citing a well-known verse from the treatise Four Hundred Stanzas by the Indian Buddhist scholar and contemplative Āryadeva (170–270 c.e.):¹

    A suitable listener is said to be one who is

    Objective, intelligent, and earnest.

    Such a one will not misconstrue the qualities

    Of either the speaker or the listener.

    A “suitable listener” is an individual fit to follow the Buddhist path to spiritual awakening. Such a person must be objective in the sense of being unbiased, not demonstrating an irrational preference for their own views...

  8. 5 BUDDHIST NONTHEISM, POLYTHEISM, AND MONOTHEISM
    (pp. 94-108)

    For a variety of reasons Buddhism is usually referred to as a nontheistic religion, and this sets it radically apart from Christianity and all other theistic religions. Scholars may classify Buddhism in this way simply to point out one of its differences. Theists may do so to show the inferiority of Buddhism compared to their own creed; conversely, Buddhists may emphasize its nontheistic status as a means of demonstrating its superiority. There are certainly plenty of experts in the field of Buddhist studies who express this view. For instance, shortly after his conversion from Buddhism to Christianity, Buddhologist Paul Williams...

  9. 6 WORLDS OF INTERSUBJECTIVITY
    (pp. 109-134)

    Intersubjectivity lies at the very heart of the Buddhist worldview and its path to spiritual awakening. According to this theory, each person exists as an individual, but the self, or personal identity, is not an independent ego that is somehow in control of the body and mind. Rather, the individual is understood as a matrix of dependently related events in a state of flux. There are three aspects to this dependence: 1) the self arises in dependence upon prior contributing causes and conditions, such as parents and all others who contribute to one’s survival, education, and so on. In this...

  10. 7 ŚAMATHA: THE CONTEMPLATIVE REFINEMENT OF ATTENTION
    (pp. 135-148)

    Buddhist inquiry into the natural world proceeds from a radically different point of departure than Western science, and its methods differ correspondingly. As discussed previously, the pioneers of the scientific revolution, including Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo, expressed an initial interest in the nature of the physical objects farthest removed from human subjectivity, such as the relative motions of the sun and earth, the surface of the moon, and the orbits of the planets. And a central principle of scientific naturalism is the complete objectification of the natural world, free of any contamination of subjectivity. This principle of objectivism demands that...

  11. 8 BEYOND IDOLATRY: THE RENAISSANCE OF A SPIRIT OF EMPIRICISM
    (pp. 149-170)

    The primary obstacle to the spirit of empiricism in both religion and science is the deeply ingrained human tendency toward idolatry. My use of the term here is based on Francis Bacon’s notion of an idol as a false absolute resulting from reification, in which we grasp for an absolute entity where there is none. One sign of idolatry is a nonreciprocal coupling, or interaction, between two entities, in which the unaffected partner is identified as an idol. “Idols of the tribe,” according to Bacon, are those common to a whole community, and historically they have cropped up in both...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 171-188)
  13. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 189-196)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 197-212)