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Stephen Hawking, Buddha & Western Religion: An Unlikely Friendship

31/07/201311:06(Xem: 4131)
Stephen Hawking, Buddha & Western Religion: An Unlikely Friendship

stephen hawking
There is an ongoing mistake that people seem to make that spirituality is a religion.

But, spirituality is not about faith (or spirits, or ghosts or anything paranormal).

Those interested in spirituality might also be interested in other things “out of the ordinary,” too, but spirituality is science—with the very important added value of real human experience.

I recently watched the documentary “The Story of Everything” in which famous physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking explains the amazing creation of everything.

It is a beautifully made and highly interesting documentary, which I will now use to demonstrate how science, spirituality and religion can all live harmoniously together.

A scientist can have religious faith or not, and still be a scientist, just as someone can have religious faith or not, and still be spiritual.

Also I will show how spirituality actually contributes to science thanks to the fact that it is based on human experience—or commonsense.

This is the ultimate story of creation—the creation of everything…Buddha-style!

Everything is Energy

In spirituality, we talk about the importance of energy. We say that everything is made up of energy and everything is connected because it comes from one holistic energy source. We talk about chakras and the flow of energy and how it directly affects us.

Some people struggle with this idea. How can everything be energy? How can energy be flowing and mixing and joining—it sounds like hippy nonsense!

But Stephen Hawking explains in simple terms why we are all energy:

As a car speeds towards us, the sound rises, and as it passes, the sound falls. This is called the Doppler Shift and theeffect can be observed for any type of wave—sound wave, water wave, radio wave, light wave, etc.

Light waves have a blue shift as the object approaches—the upward shift in frequency makes the object appear blue. A red shift takes place as the object moves away.

Observed from Earth, all these distant galaxies in the cosmos are seen slightly red in colour. They are all moving away, and this tells us that the universe is expanding like a balloon inflating.

Therefore, in order to see where everything came from, we just need to run this in reverse. As all the galaxies, in fact everything, converge to a single point—the start of everything 13.7 billion years ago—everything begins with a very tiny ultra-hot fog of energy which simply burst into existence. An event called the Big Bang.

Stephen Hawking goes on to say,

“This early universe was a very strange thing indeed. There’s still much I’d dearly love to know about it, but standard concepts of time or space don’t really apply. Then it expanded with a tremendous flash of radiation. From smaller than an atom, the universe simply inflated into existence.

While this was happening, the pure energy of the cosmos began to cool and create matter in the form of countless trillions of subatomic particles—the first stuff there ever was.”

This means that the very particles that make up our atoms and form our physical world are nothing but energy, and all physical matter is a manifestation of that energy condensed. E=mc² is the famous equation by Albert Einstein showing that energy and mass are interchangeable.

Therefore, the fact that we are all energy and all from the same source is not in question.

Nevertheless, whereas science explains this through observation and experimentation, spirituality explains the reality of the world through experience.

Gautama the Buddha identified the energy source thousands of years before scientific experiments through deep meditation. I even experienced this myself on the second from last day of my first 10-day Vispassana meditation course. I was concentrating so much on the minute detail of my face that I experienced the tingling bits of energy (the subatomic particles) that formed my face rising and passing away.

But how can all energy be connected? This is where the story of creation becomes really incredible!

lo den vu tru

Everything is Connected

Stephen Hawking explains that half the subatomic particles were made of matter, and the rest with the opposite of matter—anti-matter. When they met, they destroyed each other, but there just happened to be more matter than anti-matter so matter remained and spread out throughout space and cooled.

Over the next 200 million years, gravity pulled the gas back together, and since some parts of gas just happened to be slightly thinner than others, the denser parts clumped together. This gas was mostly hydrogen, and as gravity compacted the gas, the atoms of gas started to bounce off each other and the temperature began to rise. Once compacted to the size of a football, hydrogen reaches 10 million degrees, and nuclear fusion takes place.

The hydrogen fused together to make a denser material—helium—and then exploded into pure energy. A star was created, and stars just happen to be giant celestial factories.

Helium just happens to be slightly heavier than hydrogen and so sinks to the centre of a star. Eventually the helium atoms fuse together, and create even more energy and form carbon. The process repeats and the inside of the star becomes layered like an onion with ever denser elements like neon, oxygen and iron. Iron does not produce energy when it fuses, so more and more iron is produced making it ever denser until eventually almost all the star’s remaining fuel runs out.

At this point gravity squashes the star completely in on itself.

The core compresses and its temperature sores until the star collapses and explodes. This is a supernova—the death of a star. The shock wave during the supernova just happens to cause iron to fuse into even heavier elements such as gold or platinum or lead.

Nebuli are fields of star dust that contain all the elements created before and during the explosion of a star. The planets in our solar system were made during the next 6 billion years by a nebula that just happened to contain just the right amount of oxygen, nitrogen, iron and silicone and other stuff needed to make our solar system, as gravity started pulling it all back together to form our planets.

100 billion years later, the Earth was still just a rock of metals and minerals until 93 million miles away another star, our sun, started to fuse. The sun just happens to be the right size to be able to burn consistently for the next eight billion years. It also just happened to be the right distance away from Earth for liquid water to be able to form. This allowed life to develop on Earth.

Life is one of the strangest phenomena known. We have yet to discover how life itself began, but Stephen Hawking states that the most likely explanation is that some molecules bumped together by random until finally one just happened to form that could copy itself.

Then began the slow process of evolution.

Stephen Hawking goes on to say,

“Life seems to just be what matter does given the right conditions and the right amount of time…It never ceases to amaze me that our bodies are constructed of the stuff of stars, and that our hearts beat because of the energy given off as those materials are made.”

As I already explained, spirituality is the understanding that everything is made up of energy, and nature, life, the universe—everything—is connected by this energy.

Again people have problems here. Just because we came from the same energy source, how can we now be connected? I am over here and you are over there.

But science does not question this fact either. Not only is it true that when we go back to the source of everything (the Big Bang) we are all one and the same thing, but also the particles that create our physical world are constantly splitting, bouncing, dividing and merging together.

Amazingly, the very atoms that make you and me are constantly swapping with a table, or another person, even though we keep our physical form.

Stephen Hawking explains that,

“Even long after our sun has died, new stars will be born, some of which will have new planets around them made of the same atoms that make you and me. … What is true is that we are only the temporary custodians of the particles which we are made of. They will go on to lead a future existence in the enormous universe that made them.”

Everything is Alive

The fact is that spirituality might sound like science fiction, but only because science fact is so hard to believe!

Experiments in quantum mechanics show that when we observe particles, they stop moving in random directions, as if they notice that they are being observed.

Both spirituality and science do now agree that we are a part of one holistic energy source that alters depending on how we observe the world.


For thousands of years before quantum mechanics, people have experienced this and called it the law of attraction; namely that our perceptions and emotions, whether coming from our Higher Self (the best of us) or a much lower self, are directly shaping the reality of the world we are experiencing.

Stephen Hawking states,

“So what drove this cosmic clockwork? I’d say it was the force of gravity. All objects attract each other. All things come together through the power of gravity. Gravity was created in the Big Bang and has been at work ever since.”

In spirituality, what we attract is said to depend on our karma; namely that choosing to spread positive energy will bring positivity into our lives (or choosing to spread negative energy will bring negativity into our lives); ergo the more compassionate (loving and kind) our intentions, the more compassion (love and kindness) we will receive.

This is the point where spirituality finally moves into the (as yet) scientifically unexplained. The Self, that intuitive part of us that tells us what we want and what we need, seems to be our direct connection to this holistic energy.

So when we listen to our intuitive spirit and flow positively and in harmony with the energy all around us, rather than against it, we can experience the universe actually connecting with our desires and doing its best to help us out.

It is when we truly experience this connection with everything, that the Buddha says we experience a love for all life, and our love becomes unconditional and universal. We experience complete inner peace. This is when we are truly enlightened (‘awakened’) to the natural way of things—the path which the Buddha called dharma.

This is something that can only be experienced spiritually and, as yet, not observed scientifically, but just as spirituality explained how to experience the holistic energy source and the rising and passing of subatomic particles before science ever observed them, I am sure that the law of attraction that spirituality describes will one day alsobe observed by science.

Everything was created

It is important to emphasise once again as I conclude this article that spirituality is not a religion. This is because, just like science, it does not claim to answer how this is happening or what this energy is—other than the origin of all life as we know it (that’s a ‘wow’ already!)

Stephen Hawking says,

“But without a doubt, the most remarkable fact of all is that the entire enormous universe, all the innumerable galaxies, even time and space and the forces of nature themselves simple materialized out of nothing.”

On the face of it, life does seem to be too unlikely to be just coincidence. Think about all the things that ‘just happened to be exactly right’ that I have already mentioned in this article:

The Earth just happens to lie at exactly the right distance from the sun to allow liquid water to exist on its surface, and the sun just happens to be the right size to burn for billions of years long enough for life to have evolved. The solar system just happens to be littered with all the elements needed for life, and life itself exists because two molecules just happened to join and multiply. Stars themselves just happen to exist because of a tiny unevenness in the early primordial gas that was itself produced by a one in a billion imbalance in the sea of particles that came from the big bang.

So, is there a grand designer who lined up all this good fortune?

Stephen Hawking diplomatically answers,

“In my opinion, not necessarily. Look at it this way. What if there were other universes. Ones not as lucky as ours. Each of these universes could have come from its own Big Bang with different laws of physics and different conditions.”

Maybe there are “big bangs” constantly taking place as Stephen Hawking proposes, and our Big Bang just happened to be the correct one from infinite other attempts. Yet, whether our own universe is the only one or not, when we look at our own universe we find that the nearest Earthlike planet that could sustain life similar to life like ours is Gliese at around 20.5 light-years from Earth. Travelling at 11 miles a second (the speed of our fastest man-made object, the space probe Voyager 1) the journey to Gliese would still take over 350,000 years.

Gliese is in the 87th closest known star system to us and so if there are endless other galaxies in our own universe containing endless other planets that do not have the conditions to support life as we know it, is it therefore so miraculous that the occasional planet does find itself in the right conditions for life?

These are both good arguments. But this still does not explain where “big bangs” come from, nor does it explain where the original energy source or the force of gravity came from when they were released at the moment of our Big Bang, or were they always there?

Maybe this energy and gravity force always is and always was. Maybe it was created by some Higher Power, or maybe it really was created from nothing at the very moment of the Big Bang and our tiny little brains simply cannot make sense of this—just like the ant trying to make sense of a human hand.

The reason that both science and spirituality do not make a claim on where this energy comes from is because, unless a Creator actually personally tells us that she/he/it did it (which some people claim has happened), how can we actually know that we are not just putting our faith into some God blindly because someone else has convinced us it must be true?

If you have experienced a Creator or Higher Power who has contacted you then who am I to say that this is not true.

However, I do think that we should all be very wary about believing something blindly. The Buddha taught that you must never believe anything he says or anyone says blindly. You must always experience it for your Self and only then can you make a judgement.

Perhaps spirituality and science have revealed a higher authority at work setting the laws of nature so that our universe, and we, can exist? But this is really a question of individual faith.

Me, personally, I have no idea if there is a Creator or Higher Power, but from my experiences so far, all I know is that the more I listen to my intuition and follow the flow, the more “coincidences” that occur in my life, and the more that everything seems to work out for me.

I do not need a religion to actually experience this. I call it my positive bubble, and until I have experienced something that gives me a clearer picture about my positive bubble, I prefer to keep my mind completely open to any possibility.



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Repay the four great kindnesses above, andrelieve the suffering of those on the three paths below,
may those who see or hear of these efforts generates Bodhi Mind, spend their lives devoted to the Buddha Dharma,
the Land of Ultimate Bliss.

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Tu Viện Quảng Đức | Quang Duc Monastery
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