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Einstein and Buddha, together again November 21, 2007

Posted by Philip Ryan in Books, Burma, News, Reincarnation.

Steven Seagal is back on the Buddhist scene, visiting what is said to be Europe’s largest Buddhist temple in the Russian Federation republic of Kalmykia. Most readers will remember that Seagal was recognized as a tulku by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche about ten years ago. Kalmykia itself is notable for being the only region in Europe where Buddhism is the dominant religion. Seagal is also visiting a boxing tournament in Elista, Kalmykia’s capital.

BURMA: Along with all its other problems, Burma is being deforested at a frightening pace. This is in contrast to China and other Asian countries, which are working to plant forests. Astoundingly this will result in a net gain of woodland for the continent next year. But China’s not exactly in the clear:

But according to Global Witness, a London-based, non-governmental organization that exposes the corrupt exploitation of natural resources and international trading systems, Burma illegally exports some 95 percent of its timber—more than 1 million cubic meters of wood— from northern Burma to Yunnan Province in China every year.

GERMANS LOVE BUDDHISM PART IX: A study in Germany shows that Zen meditation makes psychotherapists better at their job.

einsteinandbuddha.jpgYou may remember our recent post about bogus Einstein quotes about Buddhism discovered floating around the web. I recently came across this book, Einstein and Buddha, The Parallel Sayings, from 2002. So far as I can tell it doesn’t address the bogus Einstein quotes (nor does it use them) but I think it is exploiting the same urge: Einstein was a genius and knew a lot about science in our modern world. The Buddha said similar things. Therefore the Buddha also addresses issues about science in our modern world in a meaningful way. The book is probably very interesting and entertaining but I think the desire to make the dharma relevant by comparing it to such accepted wisdom as Einstein’s is ultimately going to leave us disappointed. Science is science. Religion is religion. They are separate endeavors and have been separate since, I don’t know, the Enlightenment, no matter how much people wish them together with intelligent design or whatever. They are parallel endeavors, both addressing big topics in wholly different realms — and parallel lines never touch. (Side note: I don’t know much about this newer book Jesus and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings. Maybe that can be addressed at a later date!)

– Philip Ryan, Editor



1. Tom Armstrong - November 21, 2007

“Science is science. Religion is religion.” And never the twain shall meet!? Pshaw!

The Dalai Lama disagrees with you on this, Philip. Unless you can determine this quote is bogus, he is said to have said: “If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change. In my view, science and Buddhism share a search for the truth and for understanding reality. By learning from science about aspects of reality where its understanding may be more advanced, I believe that Buddhism enriches its own worldview.”

Also, Philip, many Christians have computed from Biblical text that the earth is something like 3,000 years old. Scientists generally give the age of the earth as being in the neighborhood of 4 billion years. Do you believe both estimates are right?

2. philweb - November 21, 2007

Hi Tom: I’m not afraid of disagreeing with the Dalai Lama or with fundamentalist Christians, if that’s what you’re asking. I trust scientists to tell me how old a rock is and religious leaders to tell me about metaphysical matters. The Dalai Lama probably doesn’t agree with fundamentalist Christians either, but he has more in common with them in terms of method (meditation/contemplation and prayer) than with, for example, a nuclear physicist (electron microscopes and particle accelerators).

3. Tom Armstrong - November 21, 2007

No, Phil. I don’t question your courage [except when it comes to addressing misinformation published in the pages of Tricycle]. But it seems to me [and to the Dalai Lama] that religion and science cover much of the same terrain. I think that religion and science have power from their disparate perspectives of informing each other.

BTW, even meditation can be a subject of scientific inquiry, according to an article I once read. And particle physics can be a proper topic to be examined through a Buddhist lens.

4. philweb - November 21, 2007

Hi again, Tom. I think it’s all well and good to look at meditation and its effect on the brain scientifically, or to examine particle physics through a Buddhist lens. Both of these pursuits, neuroscience and particle physics, venture into metaphor from time to time, as of course does Buddhism, so there can be similarities in language and concepts used. But I don’t believe that the historical Buddha, if asked, would contribute meaningfully to a discussion of string theory. Robert Thurman and the Dalai Lama probably disagree. (Speaking of HHDL re: this discussion, recall that the Dalai Lama is not a Darwinist.) But all that’s beside the point. My point is that Buddhists want to laugh at fundamentalist Christians in seeking to get intelligent design into the classroom on the one hand and to think that scientists are more sympathetic to Buddhism on the other. (This was the main point of the bogus Einstein quotes.) But scientists have very little interest in proving the truth of any religion. Science is an atheistic absolutist enterprise, as it should be, and no religion should try and cozy up to it because we think we’re less wrong in the eyes of science than other religions. We in the West believe in science, generally speaking, and so we want Buddhism to conform to our new and evolving views of the universe. Buddhism can with some flexibility. But there may come a day when science mows down the mystical aspects of Buddhism along with every other religion. I believe in evolution and that the earth is 4.5 billion years old, but this doesn’t make me believe less in what I think are universal truths discovered by the Buddha and many others in the years that followed. I think William Faulkner said profound things about Mississippi and the South, deep truths and insights. But when I’m on a roadtrip through Dixie I turn to Rand McNally instead. I’m not interested in Buddhism because certain of its ideas jibe with something some physicist said. I’m interested in it because of the pratice, which I think is beneficial.

5. Tom Armstrong - November 21, 2007

Hey, Phil. I’m not saying that the spheres of science and religion are the same, but I do maintain that there is overlap and that in the future the degree to which they overlap, and inform each other, is likely to increase.

A great many people believe that science has succeeded in disproving the need for there to have been a God. And a few scientists out there search for Noah’s Ark or would like to get Buddha’s DNA sequenced, or come to better understand the origin of or language issues relating to the sutras.

I don’t think that anyone in any religion should cozy up to science in order to gain an advantage of some kind, or skew test results. Science isn’t — or shouldn’t be — susceptible to any kind of “cozying up.”

Both science and religion are unbounded, and I, for one, accept information from each, on any topic. Buddha, psychology scientist that he was, said that each of us should be open to deciding things for ourselves.

BTW, you write, “My point is that Buddhists want to laugh at fundamentalist Christians in seeking to get intelligent design into the classroom.” No so, for all Buddhists. Here, from a Buddhist blog, “Let us welcome the teaching of Intelligent Design.”

6. Science and Faith « Tricycle Editors’ Blog - November 25, 2007

[…] in General. trackback This appeared in the New York Times recently (and has some bearing on a recent post here): In other words, the laws [of physics] should have an explanation from within the universe […]

7. Thomas J. McFarlane - March 26, 2008

The introduction of Einstein and Buddha discusses the similarities and differences between science and religion and explicitly addresses in detail some of the problems with the view that “Science is science; Religion is religion.” As for the axiom that “parallel lines never touch,” that is not an absolute truth but a dogma of Euclidean geometry. As Einstein showed, parallel lines do intersect. Similarly, perhaps if we follow these parallel quotes, we may find that they too intersect, leading us to a more expansive perspective.

8. Saint - March 26, 2008

Where did you get this info about the Earth is 3000 years old?. Are you talking about some text book is 3000 year old or the Earth?. I am perplexed about the thought of earth is so younger, I am a scientist and I never come across in my whole life such an argument and can you write here from where got this poorly conceived idea?.

About Buddhism and Science, they both have relation to each other let alone similarities between. There is no need to draw a parallel lines while the lines can be drawn intermingled each other. One must first take the words of Lord Buddha himself to understand this phenomenon of science and Buddhism. First, Buddhism is not a religion, nor it is some kind of a mythical arena like certain religions spilled all around with non-sense.

Second, once you adopt the truth that Buddhism is not a religion and it is a way of life, the ability to see things clearly begins. You all know that the only human made into God’s status is Lord Buddha, similarly his teachings and preachings were made into a Religion, so it is we (meaning our previous generations and all those mythical believers who have made this change of making Buddhism into a religion).

Lord Buddha in his years of toil and perseverance to understand what is going on around and one’s self, reached the workings of the mind at an era 2500 years ago, an era science was not even existed, atleast the science of mind or brain is the most youngest science of all. Neuroscience, the science of what is brain and how brain works is a exponentially growing science that began in the last 60-70 years, more money put into this field to understand our brain in the last 30-40 years, that old is our understanding of brain, so imagine how old is the science of Mind, the science of Mind is just about two to three decades of hard work. Only after understanding the brain, we were able to ask questions about what is that brings commands to the brains functions?.

it is the higher order behaviors such as cognition, learning, social awareness, alertness and altogether consiousness constitutes the mind. Still hard to completely and convincingly define the Mind, but we have made incredible progress on the most complicated brain functions from late 30s.

Such is the case of science on brain and mind, Lord Buddha was able to reach and understand that all the things that is happening in an individual or the society or the surroundings actually lie within one’s mind (the seat of consiousness), no body knew what is mind, what is consiousness and how to reach mind during Buddha’s time and not known until recently after centuries of Buddha’s death.

So, the credit of discovering mind and it’s incredible powers and usefulness to our day to day life goes to Lord Buddha and it is simply a scientific exploration and experimentation without knowing much about science by Lord Buddha. Not only just the meditation, many teachings and thoughts of Buddha is extremely scientific in perception, follow up and interpretation, which evolves into practical usage. This is what we scientists do too!, first ask question and then conceive the question into an idea, then find out how to experiment and then evolve a method, execute it, analyze it and interpret the results, the output is as good as the Vipassana meditation, if I discovered a gene to alleviate Alzheimer’s disease, or if I find out that I can grow a injured neuron and recover it back by injecting a growth Factor, the result will be like Vipassana, just one of the teachings and practices of Lord Buddha.

Pleas be cautious and do your diligence before you jump into conclusions like the Einstein thing or the 3000 year old earth, Lord Buddha lived 2500 years ago, the civilization of India is about 5000 years ago, the pathological Caste System of India is roughly 3000 years old, so on and so forth. Look into the science before you look into some religious ideology.

Buddhism is not a religion, it is a way of life.

9. Saint - March 26, 2008

And, life gets better and better if one lives scientifically, living without disease, living without stress, living peacefully and happily that mainly stems from keeping one’s body, brain and mind in a healthy state. Two of the most useful needs for such a healthy state of life are science and Mind, otherwise Science and Buddhism!.

10. Caspin Lange - April 10, 2009

Hey, it’s all the same, science, religion, Buddha, Einstein, wisdom, ignorance, emptiness, form, etc. etc.

11. Tricycle » Russian Buddhists - May 23, 2010

[…] of Europe—we might say, the whole of the Western world.  We’ve covered them extremely briefly on this blog before, but we’ll do something more substantive […]

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