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Buddhism and Science

Buddhism and Science: Breaking New Ground

B. Alan Wallace editor
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 432
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  • Book Info
    Buddhism and Science
    Book Description:

    Buddhism and Science brings together distinguished philosophers, Buddhist scholars, physicists, and cognitive scientists to examine the contrasts and connections between the worlds of Western science and Eastern spirituality. This compilation was inspired by a suggestion made by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, himself one of the contributors, after one of a series of cross-cultural scientific dialogues in Dharamsala, India, sponsored by the Mind and Life Institute. Other contributors such as William L. Ames, Matthieu Ricard, and Stephen LaBerge assess not only the fruits of inquiry from East and West but also shed light on the underlying assumptions of these disparate worldviews. Their essays creatively address a broad range of topics: from quantum theory's surprising affinities with the Buddhist concept of emptiness, to the increasing need in the West for a more contemplative science attuned to the first-person investigation of the mind, to the important ways in which the psychological study of "lucid dreaming" maps similar terrain to the cultivation of the Tibetan Buddhist discipline of dream yoga.

    Reflecting its wide variety of topics, Buddhism and Science is comprised of three sections. The first presents two historical overviews of the engagements between Buddhism and modern science or, rather, how Buddhism and modern science have defined, rivaled, or complemented one another. The second describes the ways Buddhism and the cognitive sciences inform each other; the third addresses points of intersection between Buddhism and the physical sciences. On the broadest level this work illuminates how different ways of exploring the nature of human identity, the mind, and the universe at large can enrich and enlighten one another.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50735-6
    Subjects: General Science, Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Contributors
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. Introduction: Buddhism and Science—Breaking Down the Barriers
    (pp. 1-30)
    B. Alan Wallace

    The publication of a volume of essays on Buddhism and science presupposes that these two fields are commensurable and that the interface between Buddhist theories and practices and scientific theories and modes of inquiry can somehow be fruitful. But serious objections to this presupposition can be raised from the outset, so I would like to introduce this work by presenting arguments against such a coupling of Buddhism and science together with my responses to those arguments. The first idea to be considered is the view that religion and science are autonomous, their domains of concern mutually exclusive, so they really...

  6. Part 1 Historical Context

    • Buddhism and Science: On the Nature of the Dialogue
      (pp. 35-70)
      José Ignacio Cabezón

      It is the purpose of this essay to consider some of the ways in which Buddhism and science have engaged each other: to take stock of the historical interaction of these two spheres, and to suggest, by way of conclusion, some directions for future engagement. Some caveats are in order at the outset, however. Although I use the terms Buddhism and science throughout, I am not unaware of the problems involved with the use of such generalities. Both Buddhism and science are of course highly internally differentiated categories. At times I will resort to evoking some of that internal structure...

    • Science As an Ally or a Rival Philosophy? Tibetan Buddhist Thinkers’ Engagement with Modern Science
      (pp. 71-86)
      Thupten Jinpa

      Around the end of his twelve-year travel through central Asia, India, and Sri Lanka, the Tibetan philosopher and historian Gendün Chöphel wrote a passionate oeuvre appealing to his fellow Tibetan thinkers to engage positively with modern science. The piece opens with the following lines: “Now, I shall, from the depth of my heart, make the following suggestion to my colleagues—who belong to the same spiritual community as myself—those who are objective and far-sighted.”² This was back in the 1930s or early 1940s. What follows is a brief attempt to trace the trajectory of the path of Tibetan thinkers’...

  7. Part 2 Buddhism and the Cognitive Sciences

    • Understanding and Transforming the Mind
      (pp. 91-106)
      His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama

      The topic of this presentation is the mind, the essential nature of which is luminosity and cognizance.¹ In fact I feel there will be great value in longterm dialogue and collaboration between Buddhists and neurobiologists, those who are studying the nature and functioning of the brain. In this regard, topics for collaborative research and discussion might include the relationship between the body and mind and the ways in which memory operates. Another topic is the manner in which habitual propensities in the mind manifest in experience. Up till now I have been able to participate in dialogues with various groups...

    • The Concepts “Self,” “Person,” and “I” in Western Psychology and in Buddhism
      (pp. 107-144)
      David Galin

      1. The goal of this collection of essays is to deepen the dialogue between Buddhism and Western science, two very different systems of thought, by focusing on areas where their core concerns intersect.¹ The concept of self is certainly at their core, pervading daily life and theoretical writings for millennia. Yet, for both systems, self remains problematic; there is much confusion over exactly what self means, for ordinary folk and for the academics and professionals who are supposed to be experts on it. Thus self is a promising meeting area to explore.

      2. My purpose here is to map the relations and...

    • Common Ground, Common Cause: Buddhism and Science on the Afflictions of Identity
      (pp. 145-194)
      William S. Waldron

      It is no small task to understand the vast, variegated world we humans have carved out for ourselves on this small planet. How does one know where to begin, what to interrogate, and to what end? Events, however, have a way of imposing themselves. As the cold war melts down and bitter ethnic and religious conflicts heat up the world over,¹ as endless images of death and violence flash daily across the globe, the multiple faces of human evil and suffering stare steadfastly into our own, intimating, we fear, an inescapably inhumane reality. Our task then, our moral imperative, is...

    • Imagining: Embodiment, Phenomenology, and Transformation
      (pp. 195-232)
      Francisco J. Varela and Natalie Depraz

      Imagination is one of the quintessential qualities of life and our being. Its central attribute is the manifestation of vivid, lived mental content that does not refer directly to a perceived world but to an absence that it evokes. It is fair to say that imagination is emblematic, in fact, of a cluster of human abilities: imagining proper, or mental imagery, remembrance, fantasy, and dreaming. Imagination is an inexhaustible source in all these dimensions, explored and praised by human cultures throughout the world, a witness to its centrality.

      Our purpose in this essay is to let imagination be a guiding...

    • Lucid Dreaming and the Yoga of the Dream State: A Psychophysiological Perspective
      (pp. 233-260)
      Stephen LaBerge

      Until very recently Western science regarded “lucid dreaming”—dreaming while knowing that one is dreaming—as no more than a curiosity: at best a metaphorical unicorn, rare to the point of being mythical, at worst, an oxymoron (i.e., “How can one be conscious while asleep?”). Indeed, before eye-movement signaling (LaBerge et al. 1981; see LaBerge 1990 for more references) provided objective proof of its existence, few sleep and dream researchers were willing to credit subjective reports of lucid dreaming. Probably the main reason was a widespread theoretical assumption that being asleep meant being unconscious; thus, claiming to be conscious of...

    • On the Relevance of a Contemplative Science
      (pp. 261-280)
      Matthieu Ricard

      What is it that might best fulfill human needs? Science? Spirituality? Money? Power? Fame? Pleasure? No one can answer such questions without asking themselves what mankind aspires to most deeply, and what the very purpose of life might be. Buddhism’s answer to that question is to point out that, finally, what we all seek in life is happiness. But it is important not to misunderstand the apparent simplicity of that observation. Happiness, here, is not just some agreeable sensation but the fulfillment of living in a way that wholly matches the deepest nature of our being. Happiness is knowing we...

  8. [Part 3 Introduction]
    (pp. 281-284)

    In this wonderfully succinct essay William Ames presents a comparative analysis of Buddhism and physics, from the philosophical realism of the Abhidharma to the ontological relativity of the Madhyamaka, and from the classical physics of Newton and Maxwell to the breakthroughs of relativity theory and quantum mechanics. While the philosophical premises of early Buddhist thought and classical physics are remarkably similar in some respects, they are crucially different in others. Perhaps most important, Buddhism is concerned with qualitatively understanding the world of experience (loka), including both mental and physical phenomena, as a means to eradicating the sources of suffering and...

  9. Index
    (pp. 423-444)