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Chapter 2: The Research Spirit of Buddhism

11/03/201417:18(Xem: 1475)
Chapter 2: The Research Spirit of Buddhism
The Scientific
Outlook Of Buddhism

By Wang Chi Biu
English Translation By P. H. Wei

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Chapter 2

The Research Spirit of Buddhism

Buddhism teaches us not only to believe, but also to doubt, thus the Sutra says: "The greater doubt, the greater understanding, the less doubt, the less understanding, and no doubt, no understanding."

If a theory can be explained verbally or in writing, it may be believable; if it is inexplicable or inexpressible, it is doubtful. According to Ch’an Buddhism, once you are in doubt, keep it up incessantly with full attention, until at the advanced level of development, your mind is unobscured and completely clear. The research work of Buddhism is extraordinary and broadly extensive for it covers both the material and psychological phenomena of the world. Ordinarily people have the notion that scientists are the most critical people who ask mostly "Why" questions. Actually this is not ture, for scientists are not so much concerned with "Why" as with "What" questions; it is noteworthy that nowhere the bold question-word "Why" may be seen so oftentimes as in the Buddhist Texts. For example, while as Electrical Science says that particles of iron, if arranged in good order, would produce magnetism, it never asks, "why is magnetism produced?" or "why would particles of copper, if systematically arranged, not produce similar effect?" Again, science tells us that water boiled at 100 degree c. would turn into steam, but it does not explain why water should absorb the latent heat before it becomes steam nor would it ask "why is it possible for latent heat to be dormant in the steam?" Regarding Newton’s discovery of the gravitation of the earth, so far, there is still no answer to this question: "Why is the earth in possession of the gravitational force?" In view of the fact that even on material things, numerous "Why" questions have been left out by science unanswered, nor have scientists ever attempted to discuss them openly among themselves, therefore, to say that science has covered practically all the "why" questions about the phenomena of the world and that scientists have satisfactorily dealt with them all is utterly untrue. Buddhists, however, like a lion wounded by an arrow, are wiser and more courageous, for not only they would cure the wound, they would also find out who shot the arrow and why he did it. In dealing with every question, Buddhism is on the look-out for the cause; in other words, Buddhism raises the bold question "Why" every time without fail. If the vital question of life and the universe was confined to material phenomena alone, never could we arrive at any satisfactory solution at all. Therefore, it is only by studying both the spiritual and material aspects of the question that we may tackle it in the right way. Now we can see that as far as the spirit of research is concerned, science is incomparable to Buddhism.


(A) Research Methods

In science there are two research methods of Logic, namely, Induction and Deduction. Induction is to discover general laws or commonly accepted theories by inferring from the phenomenal change of a particular case or thing. On the other hand, Deduction, a priori reasoning, is to infer from general truths and proved theories to arrive at a particular theory or conclusion. Although scientists take every care to work out their experiments by these two methods, nevertheless, some conclusions reached by deductive reasoning are not absolutely reliable. For instance, in Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation, the speed of movement of things was left out. Also, in the old Physics, two Laws, "Conservation of Matter" and "Conservation of Energy" were repudiated by modern science because of their fallacy. However, Mathematics, based on Deductions, are free of those errors; for in Maths. Although the way it infers general truths by deduction is different from the Buddhist Method of Direct Inference by Wisdom and Pure Mind, nevertheless, it is in conformity with direct apprehension of the reality of the world. Hence, in the eyes of Buddhists, all the theorems and conclusions of Mathematics are correct and true.

In comparison, the research methods of Buddhism are more rigid than those of science. According to Adhyatmavidya (a Treatise On the Inner Meaning of Buddhism), it is only by eliminating both vexation-and-passion-hindrances by wisdom and pure mind that the reality of all mental and physical phenomena may be clearly perceived. In order that this vital question may be more easily understood, Buddhism offers us the aid of Hetuvidya (the Science of Understanding the Cause), which incorporate Preposition, Reason and Example in tri-form of reasoning; the method of reasoning for the second form is Direct Inference and that for the third form is Comparison of the Known and Inference of the Unknown; both of these methods not only are in line with the logical reasoning of scientists, but are also accepted as general truth. Identically, the tri-statement formula of Hetuvidya corresponds to the three syllogisms of logic but in reverse order. In Hetuvidya, the first statement is the preposition, the second is the cause and the third is examples subdivided into (a) analogy and (b) opposite; in Logic, the major premise comes first, then the minor premise and the last is conclusion. For illustration, two charts are given below:

A) The Chart of Syllogism In Logic
1. The major premise: All metals conduct electricity.
2. The minor premise: Aluminum is a metal.
3. Conclusion: Therefore aluminum can also conduct electricity.

B) The Chart of Tri-statement Formul of Hetuvidya
1. Preposition: Aluminum can conduct electricity.
2. Cause: because aluminum is a metal.
3. Examples:
a) analogy: as far as they are known up to date, other metals can also conduct electricity. e.g. copper.
b) contrast: as far as they are known up to date, those things which cannot conduct electricity are non-metals. e.g. glassware.

Apart from some slight difference between the major premise and the example statement, the other parts of these two systems of deductive reasoning are correspondingly the same. However, in Chart B, examples, classified into a. analogy and b. contrast, compared with what is given in Char A, are more comprehensive; moreover, the conditional clause "as far as they are known." Indicates that the example statement is sound and flexible. On the other hand, in Chart A, the major premise is arbitrary and weak, as far as deductive reasoning is concerned; pending a conclusion whether aluminum can conduct electricity or not, to say that ALL metals can do so is illogical and contradictory. From this, it can be seen that as far as Logic is concerned, the Syllogistic Method is incomparable to Hetuvidya. In short, because of its exactitude, the research method of Buddhism is unsurpassable.


(B) Research Tools

Research tools are fundamentally important for research work of science: in view of the inadequate and limited powers of eyes, ears and the body to detect the intensity of light, sound, heat and hardness accurately, apart from the lack of a standard of visibility, audibility and sensitivity of those sense-organs to go by, scientists have invented numerous apparatus and instruments which not only can function more effectively and more extensively than the sensory organs of human beings but also can be free of errors of the subjective mind. By means of those ingenious instruments, quantitative measurements of various units may be obtainable, and from this information, not only the quantitative inter-relationships of all units may be inferred by mathematical deduction, but also the transformations of various material phenomena may be discovered. This, however, may mislead us to think that all scientific appliances are perfect and entirely free from error. No, they are not. In fact, this is the reason why scientists always do their utmost to improve appliances in every way. Here are some fundamental questions, which may be noteworthy for scientists to ask themselves: "WHO directs them to deal with the question of research tools in such ingenious manner?, and , if WHO goes wrong, what should be done to rectify the error?" Apparently, those questions are out of their mind, for so far, among themselves they have hardly gone into discussion of those hypothetical questions at all; moreover, apart from their indifferent attitude, they deem it best to let philosophers to speculate wildly, and religionists to talk devils, about it.

In the eyes of Buddhism, however, this fundamental question is the Fundamental Tool of all tools, and the Standard Implement of implements: it is an all-illuminating Mirror, by which all phenomena of the universe can be perceived; on the other hand, if the Tool is unworkable, or if the Standard Implement lacks accuracy, or if the Mirror is defiled with dust, then the reality of all phenomena and all things would not be correctly perceived. According to Buddhism, the Essence of mind of all sentient beings does not differ from that of Buddha, but like a dirty mirror, its function to shine does not work for the time being, thus it is only by cleaning and polishing that its bright Essence would be reverted to its original purity. All is said in the stupenduous volumes of the Tripitaka is nothing but an elucidation of different ways and means to eliminate various defilements to restore the mind to purity so that in this way the truths of life and the universe may be clearly comprehended. However, the cleaning work is by no means an easy thing to do, for not only we need the tools, but also the "Know-How" to do it well. Contrary to the conventional misconception that the Buddha’s image, the dru, the bell, flowers, pennants etc., are but symbols of superstition, we should realize that all those things and everyone of them are nothing but cleaning tools. Again, one may be seized with a sense of mystery about the odds and ends exhibited at a ritual ceremony of Tantric Buddhism in the monastery, but in Buddhism, there is no mystery at all, for, though its profound theories may not be comprehended by people generally, yet whatever it says of the phenomena and things of the world is based on Wisdom and Reason. If we observe the devotees of the Pure Land Sect zealously reciting the Buddha(chanting the name of Buddha), the serene Ch’an Buddhists sitting in meditation with one-pointed mindfulness, and devoted monks, nuns and lay Buddhists receiving Discipline and reciting sutras wholeheartedly, then we may realize that all these methods of cultivation aim to accomplish but one thing – To Clean The Mind and Keep it Clean. It cannot be too strongly stressed that there is nothing superstitious or mysterious in Buddhism; on the contrary, in Buddhism, every act, every move, and everything, come from the inflow of Purity and Wisdom of Supreme Perfect Enlightenment. Hence, Buddhism is said to be invaluable like the Mori Pearl, illuminating on all sides, but this can be realized only by self-experiencing.


(C) The Objects of Research

The Phenomena of scientific research comprise the structure of material things, changes of their movement, their mutual influence and transformations, and, as a result of these changes, their various quantitative relationships. At best, those phenomena may be said to be within the scope of a small part of the "Dharma of Matter vis-à-vis Time, Space, Speed, Graduation, etc." under the category of "Dharmas of Non-Associated Mental Activities", (see the Sastra on One Hundred Divisions of Mental Qualities) but have not touched the Dharmas of Mind and Mental Associates of Buddhism at all. Comparatively speaking, the Dharma of Matter is considerably more stagnant than the Dharma of Mind; in the sequence of its arising and passing out, thought undergoes changes so quickly and so suddenly that it is far more difficult to be aware of such changes than material transformations. Although the research of matter is comparatively easy and simple, yet scientists, by and large, cannot make a study of material transformations either separately or as a whole. If a change of a thing (A) is affected by several cause, B, C, D etc., they keep only B for research but leave out C, D, etc. altogether; in this way, the cause-and-effect relationships based on the transformations of A and B phenomena may be deduced and perceived. For example, the intensity of electric current is influenced by the voltage of electric pressure and resistance. In order to understand the relationship between electric current and pressure, the electric resistance must be kept stable without change; to understand the relationship between electric current and resistance, the electric pressure also should remain unchanged. From this, it can be seen that inasmuch as it is impossible for scientists to do their research of all phenomenal changes simultaneously, what they can best do is to simplify those complicated objects as much as possible.

The method of simplifying the research objects is also adopted by Buddhism. However, in Buddhism, the objects of research include not only material things but also the phenomena of matter and mind combined, furthermore, as the transformations of the latter are far more complex than those of the former, it is all the more necessary that Buddhism should resort to the scientific method of simplification. By the popular Dharma of Reciting Buddha, one concentrates intensively on reciting "Namo Amitabha" with unperturbed mind. Ch’an Buddhism asks us to look with undivided attention into a nonsensical and totally inexplicable question, e.g. "What is the Fundamental Face before one is born?" Likewise, other meditational practices also stress one-pointed concentration, as does the Reciting Method. Once advanced meditation is realized, the mind would be as calm as subsiding waves or would brighten up like a mirror, and then one would be able to see the reality of everything, but if one sees with a perplexed mind, then it would be a different picture altogether. A perturbed mind, like turbulent wave, can never perceive truth.

While it may do well to apply simplification method to material things, to extend its application to living beings, however, is entirely a different matter, because to research the multifarious physiological and psychological reactions would surely entail considerable difficulties. Though Anatomy enables us to know the functioning of every organism of the body, nevertheless, it is a study of a dead body, and not the body of a living being. Moreover, in the research work, apart from the complex material elements of the body, its numerous mental components should be reckoned with as well. However, as long as that being is alive, it is physically impossible to bring those material elements and mental components, or any one of them, to a halt for research of their causal relationships. If the research objects cannot be simplified, the phenomena of matter and mind combined would not be correctly perceive at all. Under the circumstances, scientists can only turn to Buddhism and its way of cultivating Meditation and Wisdom, for an answer.
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