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The Scientific Buddha: His Short and Happy Life

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 160
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  • Book Info
    The Scientific Buddha
    Book Description:

    This book tells the story of the Scientific Buddha, "born" in Europe in the 1800s but commonly confused with the Buddha born in India 2,500 years ago. The Scientific Buddha was sent into battle against Christian missionaries, who were proclaiming across Asia that Buddhism was a form of superstition. He proved the missionaries wrong, teaching a dharma that was in harmony with modern science. And his influence continues. Today his teaching of "mindfulness" is heralded as the cure for all manner of maladies, from depression to high blood pressure.

    In this potent critique, a well-known chronicler of the West's encounter with Buddhism demonstrates how the Scientific Buddha's teachings deviate in crucial ways from those of the far older Buddha of ancient India. Donald Lopez shows that the Western focus on the Scientific Buddha threatens to bleach Buddhism of its vibrancy, complexity, and power, even as the superficial focus on "mindfulness" turns Buddhism into merely the latest self-help movement. The Scientific Buddha has served his purpose, Lopez argues. It is now time for him to pass into nirvana. This is not to say, however, that the teachings of the ancient Buddha must be dismissed as mere cultural artifacts. They continue to present a potent challenge, even to our modern world.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15913-4
    Subjects: Religion, Philosophy, History of Science & Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. CHAPTER ONE A Purified Religion
    (pp. 1-20)

    It is a great honor to be invited to deliver the Terry Lectures, and to be the first lecturer in their long history to address the topic of Buddhism. That history extends over more than a century, going back to Dwight Terry’s original bequest in 1905, and the detailed instructions he provided for them in 1911. And the Terry Lectures are themselves part of a larger history of endowed lectures on religion.

    These lectures on religion are each the products of their age, representing the concerns, and sometimes the prejudices, of their founders. Some of those concerns seem obscure and...

  6. CHAPTER TWO The Birth of the Scientific Buddha
    (pp. 21-46)

    When and where was the Scientific Buddha born? To answer this question, we begin with the story of the European encounter with the Buddha, and then go on to consider some elements of the Buddha’s person that are not often mentioned in popular portrayals. My purpose is not to describe an original Buddha, and then a European deviation from it. Nor is it to suggest that there is a Western Buddha and an Eastern Buddha who are utterly unrelated. The situation is more complicated and more interesting.

    European references to the Buddha go back to Clement of Alexandria in the...

  7. CHAPTER THREE The Problem with Karma
    (pp. 47-80)

    In his bequest, Dwight Terry asked that lectures be given “on ethics, the history of civilization and religion, biblical research, all sciences and branches of knowledge which have an important bearing on the subject, all the great laws of nature, especially of evolution.” The last term in his list should not surprise us, for in the debates about the relation between religion and science at the beginning of the twentieth century, evolution was clearly a charged topic. And one hundred years later, the power of Darwin’s theory remains strong, so strong that, at least in the United States, all manner...

  8. INTERLUDE. A Primer on Buddhist Meditation
    (pp. 81-100)

    An essential element in the modernization of meditation is the claim that a particular form of practice is not “religious.” It may be “Buddhist,” in the sense that its origin is attributed to the Buddha himself, but it is not part of a religious practice, not bound by time or by culture. Yet, although meditation may seek the timeless, its practice originated in time. As meditation, and especially what is described as Buddhist meditation, becomes an increasing focus of scientific research, it is perhaps useful to pause for a few moments to consider what meditation has meant in the history...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR The Death of the Scientific Buddha
    (pp. 101-132)

    Chapter 79, entitled “The Prairie,” is one of the cetological chapters ofMoby-Dick. Here, Melville, in the voice of “unlettered Ishmael,” describes the head of the Sperm Whale:

    To scan the lines of his face, or feel the bumps on the head of this Leviathan; this is a thing which no Physiognomist or Phrenologist has as yet undertaken. Such an enterprise would seem almost as hopeful as for Lavater to have scrutinized the wrinkles on the Rock of Gibraltar, or for Gall to have mounted a ladder and manipulated the Dome of the Pantheon. Still, in that famous work of...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 133-138)
  11. Index
    (pp. 139-148)