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Chapter 1: Buddhism is Absolutely a Rational Religion

11/03/201417:14(Xem: 2350)
Chapter 1: Buddhism is Absolutely a Rational Religion
The Scientific
Outlook Of Buddhism

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


Chapter 1

Buddhism is Absolutely a Rational Religion

Buddhism is an experimental intelectual product, like science. In view of this similarity between the two, it may be safely assumed that rather by science, than by Philosophy, Political Science, Economics or Literature, Buddhism can be better understood. Inasmuch as science has broken down the walls of ignorance and liberated mankind from the fetters of delusion since thousands of years ago, Buddhism also has made its significant contribution to humanity towards the same end. Some salient characteristics of Buddhism may be mentioned in the following to show where it is established absolutely on rational basis.

(A) To Remove Ignorance

Usually we are subjected to various sorts of illusion in daily life and unless detected by reason and awareness, they may remain with us and lead us to make errors once and again. For instance, in the old days it was generally held that the earth was flat, square and standing still while the sun was in motion; later this conception was refuted by scientists and proved fallacious. Again, eclipses of the sun and the moon were looked upon by the ignorant people to be something very mysterious, but today not only we are familiar with the sun eclipse to be caused by the moon and the moon eclipse to be due to the shadow of the earth, but when such incidents may take place can be known precisely by mathematical calculations. In Geometry many examples of illusions may be found. If two lines of same length are put in parallel with each other, with bracket sign appended to both ends of each line, likely we would be under the illusion that one line is longer than the other. From this, it shows that usually we cannot tel l exactly the length of a thing merely by our eyes. Again, as pointed out by astronomers, it is fallacious to assume that those stars before us are existent, because they are so far from the earth that the distance between the two may be calculated in terms of Light Years only (each Light Year calculated by this formula: 300,000 miles per second multiplied by the number of seconds of one Calendar Year), thus some of those stars may be as far away from the earth as several ten Light Years; in such cases, most likely what we see are not stars but only their lights issued as far back as several decades ago and, where they are now, scientists can hardly know. Again, in our general conception, tables, chairs, cups, etc., in the house are solid and motionless, but according to physicists, the atoms of those hard objects are similar to the Solar System, with electrons rotating around atomic nuclei at the rate of Light Speed and also with adjoining atoms vibrating all the time, thus considerable spaces between electrons and atomic nuclei, and those between the adjoining atoms are left empty to a large extent; of course, such interior phenomena of those things and their outward appearances are entirely different from each other. This shows that owing to the illusion of the eyes, the reality of everything cannot be correctly perceived, and it is only by logical inference that illusion may be rectified and correct perception may be possible.

In the pre-science days many errors of illusion were rectified by Buddhism. Refuting the old Chinese saying, "there are no two suns in Heaven", the Sutra says: "In the Great Trichiliocosm, there are as many as ten billion suns." This statement, astounding as it is, is in accord with Astronomers’ discovery that all those densely-clustered stars in the space and everyone of them are affiliated with the Solar System. Whereas in the Chinese poetry the moon is described "full" of "partial", the Sutra says the moon is "bright", "clear", "dim", or "dark", and this is not only free of visual illusion but also in line with the scientific theory of the moon reflecting on the sun. Again, one who is ignorant of Biology would assume that the "self" is the sole possessor of the body, but, in fact, inside the body, there reside innumerable cohabitants of living germs. As far back as 2500 years ago, Buddha made this assertion: "Human body is but a swarm of worms which may be enumerated into eighty kinds." (Refer to The Secrets of Remedy for Chan Ills Sutra). In the Sutra not only those worms are differentiated by their specific names but also their behavior and activities are described in details. Again, the Sutra says: "As seen by the Buddha, a drop of water contains 84,000 germs." In those prescience days when the aid of scientific apparatus was nil, it was exceedingly difficult for Buddha to make his exposition of this scientific truth understood by his people, notwithstanding their implicit confidence in what he said of himself in the following words: "The Tathagata speaks the truth, speaks in concrete words, speaks of reality as it is, speaks no lies and no contradictions." Of course, those biological facts, revealed by Buddha, can be easily verified by science today.

Before Algebra was introduced in schools, people had very imperfect knowledge of Mathematics; apart from integrals, they knew nothing of negative and zero, and still less, the Imaginary Number. In contrast, Buddhist conception of everything is complete and all-inclusive. To illustrate, when the body is in touch with a thing, there is the feeling of Touch, and when it is not, there is the feeling of Non-touch; if one is used to be unaware of the latter, he would become indifferent to the former as well. To classify feelings of Touch and Non-touch may be said to be similar to the numbers of Integrals and zero in Algebra. Again, in Buddhism, sensation of pleasure, sensation of pain and neutral sensation (neither pleasure nor pain), are as differentiated from one another as integrals, negative and zero are in Algebra. Besides "good" and "evil", there is the "indefinite" which is neither good nor evil. All this shows that Buddhism is complete and all-embracing, and in some respects, apart from being in accord with the scientific spirit, is above the common sense.

The Theory of soul is repudiated by both Buddhism and Science. The reason why believers upholding this theory is this: as human body is made of flesh and other material things, all of which are without consciousness, the need of a conscious being to be its master is obvious, same as a motor car in need of a driver. According to this theory, when one is alive, the soul is inside the body, but at the time of one’s death, it departs from the body. Apparently, this sounds plausible, but if tested by Logic or Hutuvidya, the Science of Cause, its fallacy is perceived at once. Let us ask this question: Is the soul material or immaterial? If it is a material thing inside the body, why has it remained unknown to mankind without being discovered by Science of Anatomy even to the present day? The assumption that it leaves the body after one’s death is illogical, because no material can move by itself; and if it is sent out by the heat of the body, it should be found around the body. Again, since both the soul and the body are material things and both of them are without consciousness, to say that the one needs the other to be its ruler is utterly pointless. Therefore, to say that the soul is material is a fallacious statement. On the other hand, to say that it is immaterial is also fallacious, for if it can move in and out of the body, it is no longer immaterial.

Now that the concept of soul is refuted by Buddhism, we may ask, "What is THAT which rules over oneself during one’s lifetime and is subjected to reincarnation after one’s death?" Here is Buddhism’s answer: THAT may be expediently called either Consciousness or Buddha-nature and is the Essence of everything; it is immaterial and formless, neither inside nor outside the body, neither entering nor departing from the body. Consciousness is Essence contaminated with material craving and passionate vexation, and Buddha-nature is Essence pure and undefiled; in reality, Consciousness and Buddha-nature are but two aspects of one substance. Of course, Consciousness or Buddha-nature is essentially different from the soul, which is said to be of material form, abiding inside the body and capable of moving in and out. Despite that Consciousness or Buddha-nature is without these physical attributes of the soul, nevertheless, if and when conditions are ripe, it may transform itself into a material form to enter or to depart from the body. In view of this, it is said to be neither material nor immaterial. Now to return to the above question. Without being able to give any answer at all, the scientist merely says arbitrarily, "There is nothing like that." Buddhism tells us, however, that it is only by direct apprehension of the reality and by self-experiencing, as resorted to by Buddha, that truth and illusion may be perceived and the good and the evil may be clearly discerned; in the meanwhile by the various Dharmas of cultivation, we would be able to verify truth by ourselves, after the manner of Buddha’s self-experiencing.

Indeed, Buddhism and Science are two brilliant lamps of the world, and it is by their illuminating power that ignorance and superstition would be eliminated, biased views and dogmatism would be eradicated and infinite progress would be made by human beings in exploring human wisdom till the attainment of Supreme Enlightenment. It must be conceded, however, that no matter how progressive and advanced is its development, science is largely confined to the study of material phenomena, but to understand the reality of those phenomena where mind is involved, we cannot but depend on Buddhism, and Buddhism only. For instance, nowhere among those books of Western Psychology can we find such inexhaustive and analytical study of the psychological aspects and reactions of the various sense-organs of human beings as enunicated in the Sastra on the Hundred Divisions of Mental Qualities.

On hearing a musician playing a famous piece of music, not only we can tell its melody by Ear-Consciousness and its tune by Sense-center Consciousness, but various kinds of imagination would stir up and sensation of enjoyment and craving would arise automatically (according to Dharma-laksana sect, in such psychic phenomena the following Mental Associates would be brought out into play: touch, volition, sensation, conception, desire, greed, stupidity and indolence). This case refers to people with musical training. If it is played to someone ignorant of music, the tune and the melody notes are but packages of noises and his reaction would be a feeling of disgust instead of pleasure. Again, to a physicist, music is nothing but a series of air waves with chords and curves of various frequencies (simple harmonic vibrations), and actually this corresponds with the way the eardrum responds to the sympathetic vibration of air waves. According to his conception, on the sine curves there is neither melody from Ear-Consciousness nor there is tune from Sense-center Consciousness at all, and still less, the feeling of like and dislike. In short, the vital fact is often overlooked that whatever differentiations and reactions caused by Ear-Consciousness and Sense-center Consciousness are usually misconceived to be something of the air waves, and without our being aware of our illusion, we are used to say the song is "pathetic" or "beautiful", as if these were the qualities of the song. This shows our greatest error of illusion : [To Perceive the Unreal as Reality]. Therefore, Buddhism expounds this fundamental principle that every phenomenal change is made by consciousness only. Let us take another illustration. To one who likes onion, it smells good, and for another person who dislikes it, its smell is repulsive. However, if in reality it is of one smell, it should not vary with different persons.

(B) To Let Go Emotions

To help us discover our various sorts of illusion and to rectify them by reasoning so as to enable us to proceed progressively towards the Path of enlightenment may be said to be the professional work of Buddhism. For this reason, Buddhism is said to be absolutely rational: not only it is unmixed with, but also free of, every sentiment, and in this respect, is completely identical with Science. Though Philosophy is also established on rational basis, it cannot be gainsaid that among those different schools of Philosophy, as far as their theories are concerned, there is no lack of biased views, dogmatism and subjectivity. This also holds true with other subjects of Social Science. Literature and Arts, where sentiment plays the predominating role, and where sentiment is strong, reasoning is weak, this is why, since thousands of years ago the work to make correct evaluation of Literature and Arts has been rather difficult. Feeling and reason usually and mutually counteract each other; when emotion gets the upper hand, reason flies out of the head, and when reason prevails, such feelings as fear, craving and so forth all give way. Parental love is a natural feeling but if it is carried to excess, one would not be able to understand the youngsters and their conduct correctly. Again, if patriotism bursts out for no cause, it would become chauvinistic, fanatic and calamitous. If male and female, desperately in love with each other, are unable to overcome obstructions standing in the way, they would lose their head and do such foolish thing as to commit suicide. In the eyes of Buddhism, all these private and public feelings, because they are overdone, are foolish and blind love, therefore on no account should we allow emotions to get the better of us. Thus, the Surangama Sutra says: "The reason why sentient beings may ascend or descend at the six levels of Transmigration is this: if emotion prevails, they would to go heaven; if there is emotion without conception, they would go down to hell; if there is half emotion and half conception, they would be born as human beings."

The critical attitude of the scientists is absolutely unsentimental, impersonal and with strong accent on the power of imagination. In view of the inadequate visual power of human eyes, we have to depend on our imagination to help us visualize the structure of atoms, the movement of the Celestial Body, transmission of electric waves, and the complicated structures of various scientific instruments. Projective Geometry, for example, is a subject where most far-fetched imagination is required.

In Buddhism a good many Dharmas under the general heading of Ch’an Meditation take to imagination as a means of cultivation. The Five Meditations are a case in point: 1. Meditation on impurity of the body, 2. Meditation on Breathing, 3. Meditation on Compassion, 4. Meditation on Causality, and 5. Meditation on either the six levels of Transmigration of the eighteen Spheres. Besides, there are "Meditative Insight into the Unreality of all things", "Complete and Immediate Meditation", "Meditation on Mere-Consciousness", "Meditation on the Ten Realms", and as pointed by "Meditation on Amitabha Sutra", the Sixteen Meditations. According to the last-named Meditations, some of them are concerned with the principles of Buddhism and some with material phenomena. In the Meditation on impurity, the object of meditation is the structure of the human body, and in "the Nine Meditations", the process of decomposition of the dead body is meditated upon. Of the Sixteen Meditation, the First One is meditation on the setting of the sun at the western Paradise, and if the image can be clearly perceived whether with eyes opened or closed, the meditation would be considered well done. In the subsequent meditations from the Second to the Last ones, the objects of meditations are the people and things of the Supreme Happiness Buddhaland. To practise those Meditations calls for a high degree of imagination and so corresponds with the principle of Projective Geometry. Because he had had training in the study of Projective Geometry at school, the writer had experienced little or no difficulty in practising the First Meditation on the setting sun. This was corroborated by a distinguished Chinese Mathematician, the late Dr. Wong Chi-Tung, who used to practise the First and the Second Meditations with the most gratifying results. At all events, whatever meditation one may practise, intensive training of concentration and imagination is of fundamental importance on no account should such feeling as craving, fear, despair, disgust, etc. be allowed to enter into the meditator’s mind, otherwise one would run the risk of going the Devil’s way.

(C) To Establish Right Belief

"Buddhism is not a superstitious faith but a rational belief derived from wisdom", said the late Mr. Liang Chi-Chao, a veteran celebrated Chinese scholar. By Buddhist belief it is meant that the essence of a theory, though not yet verified by oneself, can be inferred by reasoning to be valid truth; in this sense it is at variance with the beliefs of other religions which enter on entirely different objects. What Buddhists believe is this: because Buddha-nature is inherent in every one, all sentient beings can become Buddha; Buddha-nature may manifest itself in everything, and neither becoming nor annihilating, is fundamentally pure and intrinsically immutable; inasmuch as every thing or every incident is dependent on combined causes and conditions, it has no self-nature of its own, is nothing but manifestation of the mind and is subjected to transformation by consciousness. The fundamental objective of Buddhism is to attain Complete Perfect Enlightenment, which is Wisdom evolving at the highest level of menta l development, and also is the most progressive and the highest evolution of mankind. However, the belief held by some religion that God, the Omnipotent, is the Creator and "Father" of all humanity, and as such, has absolute authority over every one and should be absolutely obeyed by everyone, is in striking contrast with the Buddhist Belief and in effect, cannot but detrimentally undermine one’s own individuality, one’s own freedom of will and also the freedom to evolve one’s potential wisdom. As far as belief is concerned, evidently there is a world of difference between Buddhism and other religions. Buddha tells us the fundamental message: "Buddha’s virtues and Wisdom are immanent in all of you. This cannot be verified by you, because you are defiled by the Five Desires and egoistic thoughts; consequently, as long as you cannot deliver yourself from the bondage of delusion, you would be subjected to endure infinite sufferings." Once this fundamental truth that we are at par with Buddha is realized, a sense of self-respect would be enhanced, and every effort to practise spiritual cultivation to attain Complete Perfect Enlightenment would be exerted diligently. On the contrary, some religion has this to say: "God is our Creator, and has the power of rewarding or punishing us, therefore we should serve him like a master, and if we are absolutely obedient to him, we would be called his worthy children, and, after death, would be blessed to go to the Paradise." Granted ahtat as a reward for one’s own good deeds, one would go to the Paradise, but as long as he remains to be absolutely obedient to the Paternal Authority in question, how can one enjoy true equality and true freedom over there?

Apparently, intelligence – not belief – is stressed in learning science, but on closer examination, we can see that belief is an important requisite for studying science. The amount of lab. work of Physics and Chemistry, compared with the number of untested theories and principles, is said to be in the ratio of 1 to 1000, now the question arises: regarding those untested theories, should we first experiment with every one of them before we take for granted that they are all valid?, or, under the circumstances, should we accept all of them to be valid before testing them, one by one, ourselves? In fact, we can only choose the second alternative, for two reasons: firstly, because we know well enough from our study that not only those theories can stand to reason but also they are applicable and experimental; secondly, because in the history of science, neither a theory nor a scientist has ever been found to be a fraud, thus we have implicit confidence in the validity of those untested theories. From this, it can be seen that Belief is also essential to scientists: if a theory is deduced from commonly recognized principle, it should be accepted as valid. Again, as long as it is applicable to the present conditions, the validity of a theory holds good, unless contradicted by new discovery. Also, scientists firmly believe that all phenomenal transformations are subjected to the operation of the Law of Cause and Effect, and that none of them is uncaused, or cause by a Creator, or controlled by an unseen Power at all.

Similarly, Buddhists establish their belief in the same way. If, under critical study, no Buddhist principles are found to be illogical, impractical and deceptive, their validity should be accepted, despite the lack of their verification. Take the question of Buddha-nature, for example. Although in most cases Buddhists have not experienced what Buddha-nature is, nevertheless they all accept the validity of this theory, because of their belief in Buddha’s words, so the way to tackle the question of Buddha-nature is this: belief first and to follow up with practice till Buddha-nature is realized by self-experiencing. Once Buddha-nature is verified by oneself, it is immaterial whether to believe it or not. Again, the truth that one eats to satisfy hunger is known to everybody and needs no belief or persuasion. However, if some say that some kind of vitamin pills appease hunger, we should not believe then until we have learnt such effects of the pill from books or from their own experience. If no pill is available on hand or if no one has ever tried it, belief is still possible provided there are good reasons for believing. But to say that one would not go hungry merely by watching others eating, but without eating oneself, is so nonsensical that no amount of reasoning can dismiss its absurdity. Similarly, what some religionists say that thousands and thousands of sinners would be redeemed by a martyr’s death is exceedingly difficult to believe, and to believe it is nothing but superstition.
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Nguyện đem công đức này, trang nghiêm Phật Tịnh Độ, trên đền bốn ơn nặng, dưới cứu khổ ba đường,
nếu có người thấy nghe, đều phát lòng Bồ Đề, hết một báo thân này, sinh qua cõi Cực Lạc.

May the Merit and virtue,accrued from this work, adorn the Buddhas pureland,
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.

Quang Duc Buddhist Welfare Association of Victoria
Tu Viện Quảng Đức | Quang Duc Monastery
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