Study of Buddhism and Science
I would like to suggest some areas in which science could be improved upon, beginning with a discussion of "insufficiency." Science is not sufficient to remedy the problems of the modern day world. To illustrate, let us look at the situation in the environment. The problem of conservation is one of the major issues of our time, and science must play a leading role in dealing with this problem, especially in terms of research and proposals for solutions.
Scientific knowledge is invaluable. It can warn us of the dangers that exist, their causes, and the ways in which we have to deal with them. Technology is an essential tool in this work. But such valuable tools alone are not enough to solve the problem. Indeed, we may find that the problems have largely arisen from science and technology.
Science and technology are not able to correct their own handiwork. In spite of having the necessary knowledge at our disposal, we do not use it. In spite of having the technical capability to solve problems, we continue to use the kind of technology which aggravates them. Scientific knowledge is incapable of changing human behavior. Attempts to solve these problems always flounder on indecision. Science may have to open up and work in conjunction with other disciplines, by providing them with data for use in a collective effort to address these problems.
From a Buddhist perspective, any attempt to solve human problems, regardless of type, must always be implemented on three levels.
To give an example, environmental problems must be addressed on three levels:
2. the mind
These three levels must be integrated in the process of problem solving, thus:
1. On the level of behavior, there must be social constraint, that is, restraint on the outward manifestations of bodily and verbal behavior.
There are two ways to constrain behavior in society:
Firstly, restraint from without, through regulations and laws, including punishment for lawbreakers and so on. In Buddhism this is called "vinaya." The second way is restraint from within the individual, through intention. Usually such intention arises from religious faith. With belief or confidence in religion, there is a readiness and willingness to restrain behavior. In Buddhism such internal restraint is called sila.
In short, the first way is vinaya -- regulations and standards for constraining destructive actions, and the second way is sila -- the conscious intention to be restrained within the restrictions thus imposed.
Both of these levels are related in that they are concerned with the control and training of behavior. On a social level it is necessary to establish regulations, but alone they are not enough. There must also be sila, restraint from within, moral conduct that is fluent and regular.
2. In terms of the mind, since it is one of the factors involved in causing problems, solving problems by control of behavior alone is not enough. We must also deal with the mind. In our example, our aim is to conserve nature. If we want all people to contribute in the conservation of nature, we must first instill into them a desire to do so. So from "conservation of nature" we arrive at "wanting to conserve nature."
A desire to conserve nature is dependent on a love of nature. With an appreciation of nature, the desire to conserve it will naturally follow. But that's not the end -- people will only appreciate nature when they can live happily with nature. It seems that most people have realized the importance of appreciating nature, but if that is all they see they are not seeing the whole chain of conditions. Failing to see all the factors involved, their attempts to address the problem will also fail. We must search further down to find the beginning of the chain, to see what needs to be done to encourage people to appreciate nature.
A love of nature will arise with difficulty if people are not happy living with nature. Our minds must be at ease living with nature before we can love nature, and we must love nature before we can a develop a desire to conserve nature, which is a necessary prerequisite for the actual work of conservation.
Even though there may be other factors, or some discrepancies, in our chain of conditions, this much is enough to convey the general idea. It seems, though, that so far scientific work has obstructed this process from taking place. The desire to seek happiness from the exploitation of nature has caused people to feel, deeply within, that they can only be happy through technology, and that nature is an obstacle to this happiness. Many children in the present day feel that their happiness lies with technology, they do not feel at all comfortable with nature. They may even go so far as to see nature as an enemy, an obstacle to their happiness. Nature must be conquered so that they can enjoy the happiness of technology. Take a look at the minds of people in the present age and you will see that most people in society feel this way. This is a result of the influence of science in the recent Industrial Age.
The beliefs in conquering nature and seeking happiness in material goods, which are represented and advocated by technology, have held sway over the minds of human beings for such a long time that people have developed the feeling that nature is an enemy, an obstruction to human progress. As long as this kind of thinking prevails, it will be very difficult for us to love nature. Our ways of thinking must be changed. If we are to continue living in a natural world we must find a point of balance, and in order to do that we must develop an appreciation of nature, at least to see that nature can provide us with happiness. There is much beauty in nature, and technology can be used to enhance our appreciation of it.
In order to be more effective, constraint of behavior needs to be supported by mental conviction. If there is appreciation of skilful action and a sense of satisfaction in such behavior, self-training need not be a forced or difficult process.
3. In terms of understanding, wisdom refers to an understanding of the process of cause and effect, or causes and conditions, in nature. This is of prime importance. In order to understand the pro's and cons of the issue of conservation we must have some understanding of the natural order. In this respect Pure science can be of immense benefit, providing the data which will clarify the relevant factors involved in the deterioration of the environment, in what ways the environment has deteriorated, and what effects are to be expected from this deterioration.
An understanding of the situation will open people's minds and make them receptive. If there is understanding that a certain action causes damage to the environment, and that this will in turn have a detrimental effect on human beings, there will be an incentive to change behavior.
Sometimes, however, in spite of understanding the ill-effects of something, we cannot change our behavior because the mind has not yet accepted the truth on a deep enough level. That is why it is important for the mind to have both an understanding of the situation on an intellectual level, and also an emotional feeling, an appreciation, an ability to be happy with nature. Scientific knowledge alone is not enough to induce people to change their ways, because of attachment to habits, personal gains, social preferences and so on. With enjoyment of nature as a foundation, any intellectual understanding of the ecological system will serve to deepen or fortify all qualities on the emotional level.
The methods of Buddhism are a comprehensive solution to the problem at all levels. There are three prongs or divisions of the Buddhist path. In Buddhism we call the first level sila, the constraint or control of moral behavior through vinaya, laws and regulations. Restraint of action is achieved through intention, which is the essence of sila. Both these levels, regulations and moral intention, are included under the general heading of sila, training in moral conduct.
The second level concerns the mind, training the feelings, qualities and habits of the mind to be virtuous and skillful. This division is known as samadhi, the training of the mind.
The third level is wisdom, pañña, or knowledge and understanding. Wisdom is the quality which monitors the activities of the first and second levels and keeps them on the right track. On its own, wisdom tends to be inactive. It must be supported by training in moral conduct and meditation.
Wisdom not only supervises the practice of moral restraint and meditation, but also examines the negative side of things, seeing, for example, the harmful effects of unskillful behavior patterns, even when such behavior is enjoyable or profitable. If such pleasure is seen to be in any way harmful, wisdom is the voice which tells us that such behavior should be given up or corrected, and in which ways it can be done.
These three divisions work together and are interdependent. Initially we train our actions, cultivating skillful behavior and giving up the unskillful. At the same time we train the mind, instilling in it skillful drives and a feeling of joy or satisfaction in the practice. We also develop understanding of reality and the reasons for practice, seeing the benefit and harm of our actions as they are. As we train and the practice becomes more and more consistent, the mind takes joy in the practice, which causes faith to increase. When faith increases, the mind is keen to contemplate and understand our actions. When wisdom or understanding arises, seeing the benefit in practicing skillfully and the harm of not practicing, faith is enhanced once again. When faith is increased, we are more able to control and adapt our behavior and make it more in accordance with the right path.
Now we come to the quality of "too late." I would like to give an illustration of what I mean by this statement to show what it has to do with science. As an example I would like to compare the attitudes of Buddhism with the attitudes of science, which have some strong similarities.
In science we have scientific knowledge on one hand, and scientific attitude on the other. In many cases the scientific attitude is more important than scientific knowledge. Why is this? Because the data or knowledge obtained by science has sometimes proven to be wrong and had to be corrected. This tends to be an ongoing process. This scientific attitude or objective is a constant principle, one which has been of immense benefit to human beings. Whether individual pieces of knowledge can actually be used or not is not a sure thing, but this attitude is a condition that can be used immediately and is of immediate benefit. However, the attitudes of science and Buddhism have some slight discrepancies.
Firstly, let us define our terms. What are the attitudes of Buddhism and science? Both attitudes have the same objectives, and that is to see all things according to cause and effect, or causes and conditions. On encountering any situation, both the Buddhist attitude and the scientific attitude will try to look at it according to its causes and conditions, to try to see it as it really is.
For example: You see your friend walking towards you with a sour look on his face. For most of us, seeing a sour expression on our friend's face would normally be an unpleasant sight. We would think our friend was angry with us, and we would react in negative ways. An awareness of unpleasant experience has taken place, and a reaction of dislike arises. Thinking, "He can get angry, well so can I," we wear a sour expression in response.
But with a Buddhist or scientific attitude, when we see our friend walking towards us with a sour expression, we do not look on it with an aggravated state of mind, through liking or disliking, but with the objective of finding out the truth. This is the attitude of looking at things according to causes and conditions ... "Hmm, he's looking angry. I wonder why my friend is looking angry today. I wonder if something's bothering him. Maybe somebody said something to upset him at home, or maybe he's got no money, or maybe ..." That is, we look for the real causes for his expression. This is what I call the Buddhist attitude, which is applied to mental phenomena, and which correlates with the scientific attitude, which applies to the material plane. It is an attitude of learning, of looking at things according to causes and conditions.
If we look at the situation in this way no problem arises. Such an attitude leads to the relief of problems and the development of wisdom. Searching for the causes and conditions for our friend's sour expression, we might ask him the cause or act in some other intelligent way, initiating a response which is attuned to solving the problem.
This is an example of an attitude which is common to both Buddhism and science. But how do their attitudes differ? The scientific attitude is one that is used only to gain knowledge, but the Buddhist attitude is considered to be part and parcel of life itself. That is, this attitude is part of the skillful life, it is a way of living harmoniously in society. In short, it is ethics.
The scientific attitude is one clear example of how science avoids the subject of ethics or values while in fact containing them. That is, the scientific attitude is in itself an ethic, but because science does not clearly recognize this, it fails to fully capitalize on this ethic. More importantly, science fails to see ethics as an essential factor within the process of realizing the truth of nature.
Buddhism does not use its attitude simply for the acquisition of knowledge, but incorporates it into daily life, in the actuality of the present moment. This brings us to the quality I call "too late." Because the scientific attitude is an attitude and means simply of finding knowledge, any practical application must wait until science finds out all the answers. As long as we don't know the answers our hands are tied. If we don't yet know what something is, we don't know how we should behave towards it.
But in this world there are so many things that science does not yet have the answers for, and there's no telling when science will have the answers. In the meantime, mankind, both as an individual and as a society, must conduct life in the present moment. To put it simply, the conduct of life for human beings in a skillful and proper way, within the space of one individual life-span or one society, in real time, cannot wait for these answers from the scientific world.
The Buddhist attitude is to search for knowledge in conjunction with living life, holding that to look at things according to cause and effect is part and parcel of the process of living a good life, not simply a tool to find knowledge. Therefore, with the Buddhist attitude, whenever we meet something that is not yet known clearly to us, or has not yet been verified, we have an outlook which enables us to practice skillfully towards it. We do not lose our standard in life.
The scientific attitude seeks knowledge only, but does not give an outlook for living life. Buddhism teaches both levels, giving a path of practice in relation to things in present day life. I will give an illustration, one which has troubled mankind throughout the ages and toward which even we, as Buddhists, fail to use a proper Buddhist outlook. I refer to the subject of heavenly beings [devata].
The subject of heavenly beings is one that can be looked at in terms of its relation to verifiable truth, or it can be looked at in relation to human society, in the light of everyday life. Looking at the subject with the scientific attitude, we think of it in terms of its verifiable truth, that is, whether these things actually exist or not. Then we have to find a means to verify the matter. The subject would eventually become one of those truths "waiting to be verified," or perhaps "unverifiable." And there the matter ends, with mankind having no practical course to follow. As long as it remains unverified, it becomes simply a matter of belief. One group believes these things do exist, one group believes they don't. Each side has its own ideas. Take note that those who believe that there are no such things are not beyond the level of belief -- they are still stuck on the belief that such things do not exist. Both of these groups of people are living in the one society. As long as they hold these differing and unresolvable beliefs, there is going to be a state of tension.
In this instance, science has no recommendations to offer, but in Buddhism there are ways of practice given in graded steps. On the first level, looking for truth by experimentation, regardless of who wants to prove the matter one way or the other, there is no problem. Those who are looking for the facts are free to continue their search, either in support of the existence of heavenly beings or against it.
On the second level, finding a right attitude for the conduct of everyday life, what should we do? In Buddhism there is a way of practice which does not contradict the case either for or against the existence of heavenly beings. Our lives have a standard which is clear and can be applied immediately. We are always ready to accept the truth, whether it is eventually proven that heavenly beings do exist or they do not, and our way of life will be in no way affected by such a discovery.
Most people are easily swayed or put on the defensive because of doubts about issues such as this, which tends to make them lean towards either one of two extreme views -- either that heavenly beings do exist or that they don't. If you believe that heavenly beings do exist, then you have to make supplications and perform ritual ceremonies to placate them. If you believe that there aren't any heavenly beings, then you must argue with those who do.
But in Buddhism we distinguish clearly between the search for facts, which proceeds as normal, and the conduct of everyday life. Our life does not depend on the heavenly beings. If there are heavenly beings, then they are beings in this universe just like us, subject to birth, aging, sickness and death, just like us. We Buddhists have a teaching which encourages us to develop kind thoughts to all beings in the universe. If there are heavenly beings, then we must have kind thoughts toward those heavenly beings.
The essential teaching of Buddhism is self-development and self-reliance. The objective is freedom. If we are practicing in accordance with the principle of self-reliance, we know what our responsibility is. It is to train ourselves, to better ourselves. The responsibility of the heavenly beings is to better themselves. So we both have the same responsibility, to better ourselves. We can coexist with the heavenly beings with kind thoughts. At the same time, whether heavenly beings exist or not is no concern of ours. In this way, Buddhism has a clear outlook on the matter, and Buddhists do not have to worry about such things.
Without this attitude, we get caught in the problem of whether these things do exist or not. If they do exist, how should we conduct ourselves? We might create ceremonies and sacrifices, which is not the duty of a Buddhist. The Buddhist responsibility is to practice to better oneself. If a human being succeeds in fully bettering himself, then he becomes the most excellent of all beings -- revered even by the heavenly beings.
This is an example of Buddhist attitude, which in essence is very similar to the attitude described in the simile of the man wounded by the poisoned arrow. If you have been pierced by an arrow, your first duty is to remove it before the poison spreads throughout the body and kills you. As for searching for data in relation to that incident, whoever feels so inclined can do so, but first it is necessary to take out that arrow.
This is very similar to the thinking of Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington. He had a similar idea, although he did not put it in Buddhist terms. He wrote:
"Verily, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a scientific man to pass through a door. And whether the door be barn door or church door it might be wiser that he should consent to be an ordinary man and walk in rather than wait till all the difficulties involved in a really scientific ingress are resolved."
In Christian texts it is said that it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to go to heaven. Eddington rephrased this a little, saying that it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a scientific man to go through a door and into a room. What did he mean by this?
I stress here that Eddington is talking about a scientific man, not a scientist. The reason it would be so hard for a scientific man to enter a room is that a scientific man would have to first stand in front of the door and wonder, "... Hmm, I wonder if I should go through this door?" He would have to consider all the physical laws. He might try to figure for example, how many pounds of air pressure per square inch would be on his body if he walked through the door, how fast the earth would be spinning at the time, how this would effect his walking into the room ... he would be thinking for ever. In the end the scientific man would find it impossible to go through the door, because he would never finish his scientific calculations. That is why Eddington said it would be even easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a scientific man to pass through a door. He concluded that scientists should behave as normal. Whether it be the door of a church, a barn door or any other kind of door, then just to go through it.
If things continue as they are, science is in danger of becoming another kind of "higher philosophy." That is, one of those "truths" which are impossible to use in the situations of everyday life, because they are forever waiting to be verified. Pure science maintains that it is void of values, but it is well known how important the role of science has been in the development of society in recent times, even though this development has been the activity of human beings, imbued as they are with values. When we look closely at history we find that values have been exerting a subtle influence over the birth and development of science, beginning with faith and the aspiration to know the truths of nature, up until the most destructive value, the desire to conquer nature and produce an abundance of material goods.
The solution to the problem of values in science is not to try to get rid of them. It is not necessary for science to try to evade values. It is more a matter of trying to clarify the values that science does, or should, have. Otherwise, science may unknowingly become the victim of other values, values which obstruct the truth, and cause it to become a negative influence, one that could even threaten the complete destruction of the human race.
In the preceding parts of this lecture I have tried to show the connection of science to values on two levels, the highest value and the provisional value. This highest value is one that science must adhere to in order to attain to the highest truth, because the highest value is in itself the truth and thus an indispensable factor in the attainment of ultimate truth. However, this highest value, the highest good, or freedom, is an ideal, it is an objective, and as such will not exert a major influence on the quality of science in general.
The value which will have the most immediate influence over science is the secondary value, of which there are two kinds: that which is derived from, and harmonious with, the highest value; and the phony value which has infiltrated into science as a result of a lack of reflection on values.
While scientists have no understanding of values, and fail to see the relationship between them and the truth they are seeking, science will, in addition to limiting the scope of knowledge to which it aspires and rendering the search for highest knowledge fruitless, be taken over by the lesser and more counterproductive values, some inherited from previous generations, and some fed by desire and the search for happiness within the minds of present-day scientists themselves. When these inferior values dominate the mind, not only do they throw the search for true knowledge off course, but they lead to destructive tendencies, causing problems either in the immediate present, or if not, then at some time in the future.
Conversely, if scientists, or those seeking truth, realize the connection between abstract values and the physical world, they will also realize that to search for and understand natural truth is to understand the nature of man; that for man to understand himself is to understand the nature around him. When there is this kind of realization, the secondary value which is derived from the highest value will arise of itself. It will automatically be fulfilled. When there is right understanding, the result will be twofold, namely:
1. The search for knowledge will not be limited or misdirected, but will be set straight on the course for the highest kind of knowledge.
2. The correct kind of secondary value will automatically arise and human development will proceed in conjunction with the search for knowledge.
If research is based on this right understanding, the right kind of value will automatically be present.
The highest kind of value is a condition that will be attained on the realization of truth. It is not necessary to strive to attain this value in itself, simply to bear it in mind. When this is realized, a balanced kind of secondary value, which is congruous with the highest value, will arise.
Even though in the path that is directed toward, and harmonious with, the truth, the assurance of values is not necessary, being already included in the awareness of truth, in practical terms, such as when scientific knowledge is transferred into technology, it may be necessary to emphasize some values in order to clarify the direction of research and to prevent the infiltration of inferior and destructive values. Examples of some of these positive values might be: the search for knowledge in order to attain freedom from human imperfection, or to search for knowledge in order to solve problems and further the development of mankind and even such lesser values as striving to do everything as circumspectly as possible, with minimal harmful results.
At the very least, the realization of the importance of values will enable scientists to be aware of and to understand the way to relate to the values with which they have to deal in their search for knowledge, such as greed, anger, hurt, jealousy, envy and so on, such as in the case of Newton. More importantly, they will see the benefit of a correct set of values and know how to use them effectively, even in the advancement of the search for knowledge. At the very least, scientists will have a sense of morals and not become the mere servants of industry.
One value which is of prime importance to humanity and its activities is happiness. The value of happiness lies deeply and subconsciously behind all human activities and is thus an essential part of ethics. Our conception of happiness will naturally influence all our undertakings. For example, the values of the Industrial Age saw that happiness lay in the subjugation of nature, after which nature could be used as humanity wished. This has led to the developments which are presently causing so many problems in the world.
In order to address problems successfully we must see the truth of happiness and suffering as they really are. Conversely, if we do not correct our values in regard to happiness and suffering, we will have no way of addressing the problems of human development.
To correct our definition of happiness means, in brief, to change our social values, no longer trying to find happiness in the destruction of nature, but instead finding happiness in harmony with nature. In this way we can limit the manipulation of nature to only what is necessary to relieve human suffering rather than to feed pleasure-seeking.
Mankind must realize that if he continues to seek happiness from the destruction of nature, he will not find the happiness he is looking for, even if nature is completely destroyed. Conversely, if mankind is able to live happily with nature, he will experience happiness even while developing the freedom from suffering.
Roughly speaking, there are three main values with which scientists will inevitably have to deal. They are:
1. Mundane values, which scientists, as ordinary people, have in common with everybody else. This includes incentives or motivations, both good and bad, occurring in everyday life, and also in the search for and use of knowledge. Such values include selfishness, the desire for wealth, gains, fame or eminence, or, on the other hand, altruistic values, such as kindness and compassion.
2. Values which are adhered to as principles, and which guide the direction of learning, such as the idea of subjugating nature, the values of the industrial age, the belief that happiness can be obtained through a wealth of material goods, or conversely, the principle of addressing problems and improving the quality of life.
3. The highest value, which scientists should adhere to as members of the human race, is the ideal of the human race as a whole, which, as I have said, has so far been neglected by the world of science. Science is still only half way, with an aspiration to know the truths of nature solely on an outward level. Such an aspiration does not include the matter of "being human," or the highest good.
Science has still some unfinished business to do in regard to these three values.
Encouraging constructive technology
On the level of everyday life, or satisfying the everyday needs of humanity, science plays the vital role of paving the way for technological development and encouraging the production, development and consumption of lopsided technology. On the other hand, social preferences for a particular kind of technology encourage scientific research aimed at producing, developing and consuming that technology.
From what we have seen, science, supported by the beliefs in the efficacy of conquering nature and producing an abundance of material goods, has spurred the production and development of technology along a path resulting in serious problems. Science and technology may have actually done more harm than good.
The kind of production, development and consumption of technology which has caused these problems is one geared to feeding greed (selfishly and wastefully catering to desires on the sensual plane), hatred (causing exploitation, destruction, power mongering), and delusion (encouraging heedlessness, time-wasting activities, and the blind consumption and use of technology).
In the development of science on the technological level, it will be necessary to change some of the basic assumptions it is based on, by encouraging the development of constructive technology, which is free of harmful effects, within the constraints of these three principles:
1. Technology which is moderate.
2. Technology which is used for creating benefit.
3. Technology which serves to develop understanding and improve the human being.
I would like to expand on this a little.
1. We must acknowledge the needs of the ordinary human being. Ordinary people want to be able to satisfy their desires for sense pleasures. We do not want to suppress or deny these sense pleasures. The important point is to encourage the constraint of behavior to a degree which is not destructive or extravagant, by encouraging restraint on the mind, keeping it within moderate limitations. It must be a limitation in which self-created sense desires are balanced by an awareness of what is of real benefit to and truly necessary in life. This is expressed in the words "know moderation." This value is closely related to the development of wisdom. In particular, there should be some principles governing the production, development and consumption of material goods wherein they are directed towards real benefit, aimed at bettering the quality of life rather than satisfying inferior values. In short, we can call this, "technology which is moderate," or technology which puts a limitation on greed.
2. In addition to selfishness and greed, mankind has a tendency to covet power over others, and to destroy those who oppose his desires. The human potential for hatred has found expression in many ways, causing the production, development and consumption of technology which facilitates mutual destruction more than mutual cooperation. Mankind must turn around and change this direction of development, by establishing a clear objective and creating a firm and decisive plan to encourage the production, development and consumption of goods which are constructive and beneficial to human society. This technology for benefit will help to do away with or diminish the production of technology which caters to hatred.
3. So far, the production, development and consumption of technology has mostly been of a kind which leads people to heedlessness, intoxication and dullness, especially in the present time, when many parts of the world have stepped into the Information Age. If mankind practices wrongly in regard to this information technology, it becomes an instrument for promoting heedlessness rather than an educational aid. Witness, for example, the gambling machines and video games which abound in the cities of the world, completely void of any purpose other than to waste time and money. Witness also the ignorant use of technology, without any awareness of its benefits and dangers, leading to environmental damage. These things not only degrade the environment, they also debase human dignity.
For this reason we need to effectuate a conscious change of direction -- to stress production, development and consumption of technology which promotes intelligence and development of the human being, using it as a tool for the communication of knowledge that is useful, and which encourages people to use their time constructively. There must also be conscious use of technology, with an awareness of the benefits and dangers involved in it. In this way, technology will be an instrument for enhancing the quality of life and protecting the environment. Society will become an environment which supports and encourages mental development. This third kind of technology can be called, "technology which enhances intelligence and human development," which is directly opposite to the technology which encourages delusion.
If production, development and consumption of technology can be channelled in this way, and if science opens the way to this kind of technology, then sustainable development will surely become a reality.
12. Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, "Defense of Mysticism," in Quantum Questions, ed. Ken Wilbur (Boston: New Science Library, 1984), p. 208.