Buddhism and Modern Science
by Dr. Parviz Dehghani
A Buddhist Perspective.
These articles are to create some awareness regarding the moral and philosophical problems the perplexed Western educated are struggling with and by no means are they exhaustive. However, they are not geared “…to offer a full range of solutions but rather to raise questions, perhaps too, the level of debate.” (Allan Bloom, Time magazine, August 17, 1987).These humble contributions would not have been possible without the cooperation of no one but “Pudi Haanduroone” (young monk) of the New Jersey Vihara (Temple).We’re all in debt to him for helping me in preparing these articles and sending them electronically to many of our friends in the spirit of spreading the Dhamma. We sincerely appreciate him for all the good works he has done so far. He has also been personally helping me with his vast knowledge in computer science to overcome my phobia in using this modern technology to write more and touch those who are restlessly seeking knowledge. And last but not least, my especial thanks to the head monk of our Temple, for providing us with a peaceful environment, which is free from many unnecessary rules and regulations. It is in such an atmosphere and milieu that we can become what we’re potentially yet not actually, namely, excellent human beings.
Buddhism and modern science.
For Buddhism, just like ‘Vedanta’ in Hinduism, every kind of mistake, including even sin, is finally reducible to the mistake of ‘false attribution’ which means reading of absoluteness into what is relative and , resulting in reading relativity into the absolute. The best example of this is mistaking the empirical ‘I’ for true ‘self’. Buddha warned us about this kind of confusion by introducing the idea of ‘anatma’, or ‘non-selfhood’ which often times is misunderstood by some Western scholars of Buddhism. Another definition of this term is: there is no permanent self. The self, as we know it, consists of five aggregates: body, feelings, disposition, perception, and consciousness.
All these are subject to constant change and becoming. They make up for what we mean by empirical ‘I’, that is, the ‘I’ we can experience. But what is this ‘I’ any way? David Hume (1711-76), the Scottish philosopher of the 18th century, called it “a bundle of perceptions”. He believed what we regard as ‘I’ nothing but an idea of who we’re. All we have are in fact our ideas of who we’re. We never know who we really are. We only know our ideas. He concluded that we have no self identity. As we can see, there is definitely a similarity between Buddha’s idea of the ‘I’ and his.
Buddha knew had he said the ‘I’ was in constant change and becoming, the next question would have been: “Then what is that which is not changing in us?” Because there must be an unchanging reality in us, otherwise changing ‘I’ would not make any sense. One has to be stationary (Atman) while the other is in motion. This is where Buddha is forced by this logic to admit that there is such a reality which is not the changing ‘I’. Then what is it? “Atman” ? We know Buddha could not accept this at all?
You see, either something is or is not. If it is, then it is. And if it is not, then it is becoming. If it is becoming, then it is not. Because, according to Plato, there are two major realms in metaphysics (beyond physics): Being and becoming. Hierarchically or vertically, Being is at the highest point and is immutable Reality. Becoming, on the other hand, is the world we live in. Being is the center while becoming is not.
The empirical ‘I’ is not. Thus, the true ‘self’ is not the ‘I’. The ‘self’ simply is. But is this what Buddha would call ‘shunyata’ (Emptiness)? The answer is: ‘No’. Because the Ultimate Reality cannot be limited by the copula “is”. Thus , it is pure Being.
However, his problem is not over yet. You see, even though he does not use the copula “is” when he says, no atma or no permanent atman, he is still acknowledging the fact that there is “Atman”. For the reason that in every negating, there is a hidden affirming. Then how is he going to get out of this dilemma?
Just as when you say there is no God or gods, you’re already admitting that there is such a Being as God at least as a concept. Otherwise, what is it that you’re rejecting? You might tell me, however, that what you’re refuting is in fact the concept of God and not the reality of this Being. I would argue that, then this very idea of God that sticks to your mind, even though you’re rejecting its existence, must correspond to that reality outside of your mind.
Would Buddha also argue that it is the concept of the soul he is refuting and not the reality it refers to? The answer to this question, I’m afraid, is “NO”! Because Buddha knows whatever we think of this or that reality, once it is named, defined, or finally given “Is”, no longer qualifies. So not only does Buddha reject the idea of the soul, he also refutes what that concept refers to. In other words, the soul has no referent.
If I were to say that the soul is nothing because all the 5 aggregates are changing, then I have defined it. Once defined, the soul becomes limited. Buddha does not want us to imagine and make an image in either our mind or outside our mind about the soul. He warns us about the danger of conceiving or forming an idea regarding the soul in our mind hoping it corresponds to its reality outside of our mind. Therefore, he never says that the soul is nothing. Because by so doing, he has defined it. Then what is our true self? Buddha just remains silent.
In his famous book, “In the Tracks of Buddhism”, under ‘A Buddhist eye on science’ chapter v , Frithjof Schuon, the great mind and metaphysician of the 20th century, wrote: In both Buddhism and Hinduism (Vedanta), all mistakes are ultimately reducible to the error of ‘ false attribution’. In the modern Western philosophy this is called “category mistake. We turn our relative ordinary self into an absolute Self. Buddha rejected the relative self which by very definition it demands an absolute Self. By false attribution he meant, we tend to read absoluteness into relative and vice versa. We treat the empirical ‘I’ as ‘Self’ or ‘self’ as ‘Self’. In other words, we regard ‘self’ (5 aggregates), which is constantly changing, as our true Self which cannot even be named lest it might become limited. Emmanuel Kant, the German thinker of the 18th century, argued that with pure reason (limited reason) used by science we can know God, Self, and things in themselves or what is beyond the appearances. Limited reason will give limited knowledge. The unlimited intellect provides you the knowledge the Self or your true Self.
The true Self is beyond rest and motion and cannot even be said to exist for fear of treating it like any other object that simply is. When Buddha speaks of “anatma” or ‘non-selfhood’, he is in fact aiming at the empirical ‘I’ misunderstood for the true Self. The popular understanding of “anatma” by Western scholars has created a confusion even in the mind of the Eastern Buddhists, who due to an inferiority complex, have followed them blindly. After all Buddha knew that the ordinary self is relative which automatically means there must be an absolute Self. Buddha avoided falling into the trap of reification or treating the absolute Self as a concrete thing.
Schuon warns us against the common illusion regarding the possibility of an ‘absolutely real’ in relativity. Many popular philosophical sophistries or misleading argumentations in the cotemporary world are the effects of this particular cause. Due to this cause an empirical and experimental science has emerged. Modern science claims to unveil the metaphysical mystery of existence by such tangible relative tools like giant telescopes or electronic microscopes.
We look down upon the religious member of the Catholic Church who refused to look into Galileo’s telescope (1564-1642). This Italian astronomer and physicist, who was promoting Copernicus’s discovery, was finally forced to recant or renounce what he believed. The Catholic Church refused to accept that it is the earth which revolves around the Sun. Because the common sense language of the Bible tells us that it is the sun that revolves around the earth.
Goethe (1749-1832), the German writer and scientist, also refused to look through a microscope. Because he did not want to coerce Nature into submission just as you cannot force a woman to love you. He in fact did not wish to yank from Mother Nature what she is not willing to present to our senses. The reason being, there are limits encircling all natural science, just as there are limits to the human sphere itself at the same time.
Kant maintained that our limited reason cannot go beyond the phenomena or what appears to us. The world out there reflects our categories of thoughts like a mirror. We’re not passively receiving what nature gives us. We’re not the mirror like we thought we were. We impose our categories on nature and thus create our own world. This is in fact what science does. Science by its very nature is anthropomorphic. “Anthropomorphism” in deed means attributing human characteristics to natural phenomena. We can wrench from nature what we have imposed on her. For instance, you can only get from your computer what you have put in it. This is exactly why Kant says that our pure or limited reason cannot know God, true Self, and thing in itself. Because we are unable to transcend our own thought to reach beyond its limitation.
Of course, Schuon totally disagrees with Kant for saying that nature behaves according to our categories of thought. However, he brings in the story of Goethe in order to show why we ought not to force Nature to give more than it is willing to give. And if nature boomerangs, it is just throwing back at us what we have already thrown at her. Kant should not expect pure reason to do otherwise. After all he is the one who believes nature acts according to our categories. He is the one who built a Berlin wall between the phenomenal world and the noumenal one.
Mother Nature, on the other hand, reveals herself to the unlimited Reason or the Intellect within us. This Reason is connected to the Ultimate Reality like the ray to the sun and that is why it can know the true nature of the world or the world as it really is. Buddha and Schuon are willing to change the state of their minds to see the world as it really is. But modern science or scientism tries very hard to reach what the ancient wise men had achieved thousands of years ago.
Schuon asks Kant: How do you know that pure reason is limited unless you first have some idea as to what the unlimited Reason is? But since you do not have any knowledge of the latter, then how can you assume such a thing? Besides, you put tall fences around your house and then complain that you cannot see your neighbor’s garden!
Emmanuel Kant, you showed the limit to reason in order to create room for faith. But in reality you paved the way for the scientific progress at the expense of weakening the faith people had in God and the world beyond. Rumi, the great Persian poet and a mystic (Sufi) warned us about the limit of the ordinary reason close to 900 years ago. But he was not at the service of the scientific progress of his day. And he never showed this limit to create room for faith. After all, the science of his day was not geared to provide us with a mechanistic universe of Isaac Newton (1642-1727). Newton shed tears for what he had done at the end of his life. Because every time God’s hand came to stop his project, he would throw it back.
Perhaps faith needed help to sustain at the time of Kant. Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-78), Swiss philosopher and writer, who paved the way for American and French revolutions, wrote about the collapse of morality in Paris of his day. Kant, in the name of preserving faith, brought about a suffocating atmosphere which eventually led to its demise in our modern time in the battle with secularism, modernism, materialism, etc.
Those who are eager to enclose the Universe in their nearsighted logic fail to understand that the sum of possible phenomenal knowledge is in itself inexhaustible. Our present ‘scientific’ information is the tip of the iceberg. There exist more things in heaven and earth that are ever thought of in your philosophy.
Buddha is said to have picked up a few leaves while in the woods and told his students: So far I have given you this much from my knowledge but look around you and see how many more leaves there are. However, he did not gain his knowledge by the help of the ordinary self. But through the reality that enlightened him— that which cannot be named, defined, enclosed, or even be. He never took short cuts to reach this Reality, like what modern science does. He sat under the pipal tree and used patanjali yoga (Raja yoga) for his meditation. He did not reach enlightenment rather he became enlightened.
Modern science is the product of the “Enlightenment” cultural period which began in the 18th century France and was a philosophical movement which, unlike Buddha, emphasized the power of reason. For Buddha, though we’re in this world, we’re not of this world. The message of the “Enlightenment”, however, was totally the opposite. In the latter, there is no vertical ascent to a Reality which is beyond the sensory world.
The “Enlightenment” is the byproduct of the modern rationalism of the 17th century. This modern science is constantly in the process of accumulating knowledge of relative things and the metaphysical reality, which alone is capable of taking us out of the vicious circle of the phenomenal and the absurd, is expressly put aside. What is the use it If a man were to be given all possible faculties of perception without intelligence? According to modern science, an animal with the power of sight is more able than a blind man who is capable of understanding the mysteries of the world.
It seems that after 2600 years Buddha still warns his followers from the trappings of the modern science. This ornamental covering of the horse of the modern science can easily trap unprepared novices. The charm of the modern science and technology puts many– even devoted Buddhists, on uncharted territories from which there is no turning back. Therefore, it is very important to first teach these devotees how to swim for their life before the title wave of modern science sweep them away.
Goethe in his famous work, “Faustus” indirectly writes of Johann Faust c1480-c1538 German magician, alchemist, and astronomer who is said to have sold his soul to the Devil for knowledge.
The well known symbol called “Caduceus”, the winged staff, entwined by either one or two snakes, and now mistakenly used in the medical profession, can explain what Buddha teaches us in the “Dhammapada”: “As the parasitic maluva creeper destroys the sal tree which it entwines, so the immoral conduct of a man gradually makes of him what his enemy would have him be”.(The Self—Canto XII, 162). A certain kind of parasitic mistletoe plant, though it may have medicinal benefits for humans, it is fatal and deadly to a tree. On the one hand it cures certain illnesses, but on the other hand it is capable of destroying a healthy tree. This is the story of modern science in a nut shell.
A secular person does not have to worry about losing his own soul to the Devil by being interested in modern science. However, when a religious person studies modern science, little does he know he will gradually change from within when it comes to his attitude towards his own family let alone his closest friends and associates. Though he may look and talk like them ,yet he is no longer the same person he was remembered by. He, so to speak, resembles a coconut, which is the fruit of a tropical tree called coconut palm. This fruit has a thick, brown and oval husk protecting its edible white part. His goal is to know as much about the modern science as possible irrespective e of what goes on around him. His behavior now is very much like the modern science and technology itself though helpful to some degree to his own people, he is no longer one of them. He has become alienated from society without even realizing it himself. He is now like the parasitic mistletoe weakening the growth of the tree of the sacred knowledge which him. This is a form of a spiritual suicide. Like the maluva creeper slowly removes the life out of the sal tree. He is an embodiment of contradiction.
Modern science gives its followers a sense of contempt and superiority over non-scientific folks. After all he now belongs to the scientific community which claims its discoveries are the last words on the knowledge of reality. Little does he know that the positivists of the 20th century fell flat on their faces when it came to support the idea that truth is only scientific.
The snake in Caduceus represents man’s “Psyche”. Psyche needs the support of the staff of Moses or the Divine to function properly. Perhaps the reason why man fell in the Garden of Eden was because eve dared to challenge God by listening to the serpent and ignored God’s warning.
The staff of Moses became a serpent and swallowed the twin snakes of the psyche. However, when the staff is not functioning well, it is the psyche that gets the upper hand and tries to swallow it. Here are the psychological problems of the modern man in a nutshell.
Schuon knew the Western philosophy from the inside of out. He argues that the modern science knows how to measure galaxies and split atoms, and yet cannot go beyond the sensible world. Outside of its self-imposed but unrecognized limits it stays more ignorant than the most firsthand magic.
Some think that modern Psychology is not a science. But they forget that it is still subject to observation and hypotheses and even those who practice it do not know the profounder essence of the phenomena they set out to study.
An authentic science ought to provide us with an explanation of a determinate order of phenomena. However, modern science, which claims to be all-embracing because it does not recognize anything outside itself as valid, cannot explain, for example, what the value of a sacred book really is or what is a saint or whether miracles exist; it has no knowledge of God or the beyond or of the Intellect and even is incapable of telling us anything about premonition and telepathy, even though both of these are part of the phenomenal order.
Modern science, which has played the role of a religion or the religion for many people in our time, does not even know based on what principle or possibility Shamanistic practices may cure illnesses or bring about rain. However, recently some scientists in the West have shown interest in knowing exactly how, for instance, Tibetan monks can keep their body temperature up while in the Himalayan mountains during winter. For this reason Dali Lama has been asked by certain Western scientific community to facilitate this matter such that both the monks and the scientists would learn from each other. Nevertheless, let us not forget that Buddha never taught his followers that these incredible phenomena could help them in reaching enlightenment.
Without doubt we do need Western scientists who are thoroughly knowledgeable in the higher level of Buddhist philosophy. We also need Buddhists monks who have studied Modern science and are ready to engage in a dialogue with the Western scientists and see if they could exchange ideas and learn from each other without compromising their own positions. But the risk here is more for the Buddhist monks than the Western scientists. Because the latter have nothing to lose like in politics. However, the former are in danger of losing their faith all together unless their spiritual immune system is very high due to the rigorous discipline in meditation and the higher level of Buddha’s teachings. “However much one is engaged in activities for the good of others, one should not neglect his own (spiritual) purpose. Having discerned one’s own task let him apply himself to that task with diligence.”(Dhammapada,166).
These are monks who are endowed with the knowledge of discernment. They can separate truth from falsehood, the edible mushrooms from the poisonous ones. They can prepare this Japanese fish called “fugu” for those who have faith in them and trust them by surgically removing the poison from it. However, If they were not well trained to do so, the outcome would be disastrous, not only for the Buddhist community everywhere but even for those in the West who are considering Buddhism as a way of life. Thus, the task for the Buddhist monks is much harder than the Western scientists. Simply because the former have more to lose than the latter.
As we mentioned before, modern science can charm even the most religious people like some species of mistletoe. This parasitic evergreen plant with yellowish flowers and waxy white has poisonous berries. Lovers are to kiss each other if happen to under it. It also has medicinal benefits, not the berries of course. However, it is detrimental to certain trees. We can make use it if properly prepared for our health. But if we only become enchanted by its appearance, before we know it the tree of our body will lose its life.
The effect of this charming snake of modern science is such that the seeker would not even realize how slowly its poison has been entering into his blood stream and how fast it has been separating him from those around him. Once isolated, he cannot communicate with others like he used to. And before we know it, his attitude has alienated many of his supporters. He may not even know he has become different from others and he is no longer part of the group. This is what is meant by being alienated from the community. He may not even know how deeply he has been sinking further down into this swamp from which there is no turning back.
There is also no guarantee that the Western scientists would be able to see the reality of what the Tibetan monks do. All efforts in explaining things of this order, let alone those concerning the spiritual order, are spoiled by a defect of imagination. All things are understood by the Western scientists in terms of “function”, firstly of empirical ‘matter’.
What is energy? Their answer is: It is a phenomenon whose function is to create power. However, they cannot come up with an ontological answer to this question. In other words, its essence or whatness is not the business of science. Modern scientist is not worried about the “why” questions any more. All what he or she is concerned with is “how” things are done or function.
The problem here is that modern scientists try to explain ‘horizontally’, at the surface of things, that which can be explainable only ‘vertically’ in depth. Imagine if we were living in a glacial world. This world is made of a large mass of ice and snow perhaps moving slowly down a mountain or valley. Water is unknown in this world and only Revelations had something to say about it. Profane science, however, would insist in denying its very existence.
This science is tailored to fit modern man who conceived it to begin with and who is at the same time its product; like him, this science claims a kind of immunity and perhaps an even extra-territoriality, in the presence of the Absolute; like him, his science avoids any cosmic or teleological or purposeful context.
Modern science, very much like the machine, has changed around the roles, by turning its creators into its own creatures. In other words, we have become the slaves of our own products. Now they run the show and we’re powerless. Modern science runs away from the control of intelligence as such the moment it claims to define the essence and nature of intelligence from the outside and from below.
Our timeless cosmic environment was not allowed to reveal a great truth when it was replaced by a ‘stage setting’: the starry dome has been turned into the extension of a laboratory, physical beauty is reduced to a mechanism of Darwin’s natural selection. Thousands of years ago people looked at the sky at night and saw the stars thinking they were points of lights piercing through a colander shape dome. Today modern scientists focus on what is under this dome which is nothing but the projection of their own mind. They are unable to reach for the source of light beyond it.
Thanks to modern science’s great supporter Emmanuel Kant, the farthest galaxy reflects man’s mind which explains science’s anthropomorphic nature in a few words. We only get from nature what we have already imposed on it. Cause and effect are nothing but one of the categories of my mind projected on the world. My limited reason is unable to go beyond these Categories.
For Martin Heidegger, the German philosopher of the 20th century (1889-1976) believed modern science is the subject of man’s work. Modern man as scientist uses the tool of experimentation to get as much knowledge from nature as possible. However, in so doing he does not relate himself to nature. The Greeks, on the other hand, related themselves to the many presencing (Heidegger’s own word) of everything that manifested themselves to them spontaneously at every turn.
In other words, the world was not a dead matter before. For them everything was animated and alive revealing themselves to them. This modern man does not relate to nature in the openness of direct response. There is a medium between him and the world which is nothing but his Categories of his mind. Modern man treats nature like his own computer. He must know he only gets from it what he has already put in there.
According to Heidegger, ‘nature’ is a human construction for the scientists. Science impressively reveals the way in which modern man as subject represents reality. The modern scientist does not allow things presence as they really are in themselves. Modern man is not interested in seeing anything different from his own construct. He captures things, objectifies them, and sets them over against himself, exactly by representing them to himself in a particular way.
He says, modern theory is an “entrapping and securing refining of the real” (SR 167).Reality as “nature” is represented as many forms of cause and effect sticking together and logically connected. “Nature” being represented as such becomes submissive to and controlled by experiment. However, such a thing does not occur simply because this is intrinsically the character of nature. On the contrary, Heidegger asserts, it takes place specifically because man himself represents nature as of this character and then seizes and investigates it based on the methods that obviously fits perfectly the reality so conceived.
Heidegger continues by saying that in the modern scientific age man does not simply impose his own construction on reality. By representing reality to himself man refuses to allow things to emerge as they are. He catches reality up in a conceptual system forever and discovers that he must fix it before he can see it at all.(Introduction, page xxviii).
Schuon continues by saying that our timeless cosmic environment became deprived of educating us about a great truth once it was replaced by a ‘stage setting’: the stellar vault or the starry dome has been turned into the extension of a laboratory, bodily beauty is changed to mechanism of natural selection and nothing more. Science with its limited reason has reduced the world to a burial chamber which another meaning for the term ‘vault’. Once the whole world became mechanistic thanks to Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) and a few there was no reason for David Hume (1711-76) to base his morality (ought) on the natural law (is). However, in ancient time people drew their values from the natural law.
People no longer comprehend that quantitative richness of a knowledge –by necessity results in an inner impoverishment unless accompanied by a spiritual science capable of maintaining balance and re-establishing unity. If a common man could travel through interplanetary space, he would return to earth terribly impoverished, even if his reason had not collapsed from mere horror.(Schuon, p.41).
The ironic fact, however, is that the common man is blamed for the lack of the spiritual science which is to keep balance and re-establish unity. This is called the informal fallacy of the misplaced causality. Modern scientists, who are solely responsible for the destruction of the religious significance of the cosmos, wonder why people no longer see the angels presenting themselves like the milky way in the sky. They know the reason why we cannot watch the milky way is because of the excess of light in our cities. However, they fail to see the correlation between this event and what modern science has done to the universe. They do not understand that when they shout loudly in a mountainous area, they will only hear the echo and not a voice from the heaven.
Dr. Wayne Dyer, the public T.V personality and a great spiritual thinker once said: “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” Except a few, modern scientists, by and large, are not willing to change the state of their mind to see things differently. A novice could easily fall into the trap of today’s science if he is not spiritually ready to face its challenges. Professor S.H. Nasr is one of the greatest authority in the field of Islamic studies in the world. He studied Geo physics at M.I.T and got his Ph.D in the history of science from Harvard University. In one of his classes on ‘Science and Religion’ at Temple University he told us he changed his mind to get his Ph.D in physics after he read an article by Bertrand Russell (1872-1970). This British philosopher, mathematician, logician 1950, and the winner of the Noble peace prize apparently had said modern science cannot help us know the nature of reality, let alone modern physics.
Schuon says that the experience of the common man, who would be horrified, if he could see the impoverished universe, reminds us of the forbidden tree of Genesis. Man turned his back to God to seek knowledge at any expense. This biblical story keeps repeating itself down to our own times. This is the parable of the ‘decentralized’ man whose mind is excessively indulged with discontinuous facts. He is no longer in touch with his own center. His heart is dislocated and shifted to the left side of his chest while it is to be in the middle, like Buddha’s or Christ’s. He is not anchored, thus he is navigating into the uncharted territory. His mind is an easy prey to a hopeless poverty.
This alone explains the nihilistic philosophy our time. Nihilism is the extreme skepticism towards value statements or moral judgments. The agonizing philosophies of our time are indicative of the story of Adam and Eve. Longevity was not so important for the ancient people. Authentically living was more meaningful than just being alive. However, in our time it is an imperative to live longer, even though life has become increasingly meaningless. The ancient saw meaning not only in life but also in death. On the one hand, we wish our elders to live longer. On the other hand, being around longer would mean collecting more social security which is not good news for our economy. So what are they supposed to do?
If life were a dim glow between two nights or two nothings and if we were only products of a biological game of dice completely without interest in an absurd universe, what then is the utility of all these efforts? More importantly, what is the utility of a scientific faith even more absurd than the meaningless universe that men non-stoppingly explore devoid of ever a hope of coming out of it? Once you’re caught in this spider web of scientific world, you’re left with no choice but wait till you’re consumed by the spider itself or so called scientism.
How can we benefit from accurate observations which are innocent in principle, if in practice they deprive us of all that is important, namely, the knowledge of that which natural phenomena are but fragile exteriorisations? These higher realities are known in themselves and can be perceived by these same phenomena inasmuch as they become metaphysically transparent to the genuinely observant eye. However, these realities also reveal themselves by the great prophetic, messianic and avataric manifestations. These address themselves a priori to the recipient human beings in order to convey truths which , in reality, they have become unable to perceive immediately or directly.
Let us not forget that no branch of science, according to Schuon, is evil in and of itself or because of its contents; however, a demonstration of anatomy which is possibly useful to grownups, might yet destroy a child’s soul. To perceive clearly the realities which phenomena at once veil and reveal is part of spiritual science, to which the natural sciences, when not misused, offer no logical contradiction.
Schuon continues by telling us that Buddhism provides us with a decisive argument against any science claiming to be an end in itself and thus also, by anticipation and in principle, against the contemporary Western scientism. What is ‘scientism’? The gist or the essential part its argument, which is of universal applicability, is composed of the undeniable fact that by becoming ‘objectively’ engaged in the phenomenal world human being inevitably becomes drawn away from the possibility of Deliverance or being freed or rescued.
The wish for exactitude or accuracy, which is the hallmark of this science, is far from establishing a guarantee of intrinsic value and spiritual legitimacy. Because the ‘exactitude’ here is already jeopardized by the most hideous possible begging of the question. In other words, scientism, by denying the existence of the Intellect and the Absolute, discards theoretically the criterion and measure of all knowledge. They do comprehend that the objective world comes from Mind itself according to ‘Lankavatara Sutra’. They also do not realize that the entire system of thought too comes from Mind. Followers of Scientism attribute reality to these manifestations of Mind and get attached to dualities like “this and that” or “being and not being”, without perceiving that there in reality nothing but a single Essence.( Schuon,p.41-45). “All the phenomena of existence have Mind as their predecessor Mind as their supreme leader, and of Mind they are made….” (Dhammapada, The Twin Verses 1–Canto I).
There are those who deny the existence of ‘mind’ altogether. There are also those who believe ‘mind’ exists. And finally there are those who reduce ‘mind’ to matter. This last group argue that ‘effect’ is of the same nature as ‘cause’. The byproduct of a person derives from his mind which itself is of the same material as what he has made. However, these folks forget the fact that ‘mind’, if exists, it cannot be empirically tested in a scientific laboratory. Thus, reducing it to matter, to put it mildly, is absurd. They also do not realize that ‘cause’ does not necessarily have to be of the same nature as its ‘effect’. For instance, Santa Claus, this fat jolly old man with white beard and rosy cheeks in red suit, though nonexistent, creates such a happiness for millions of children all over the world. We can imagine certain things to only see them materialized later on.
Buddha understood man was a ‘homofaber’ or a ‘maker’ and whatever he made was preceded by his mind. Some animals, big or small, are also makers. But the latter follow the same patters like spiders or bees. We, however, are innovators. By observing the world before his enlightenment he came to the conclusion that ‘Mind’, not human one, must be the precursor of everything in the universe which in itself is nothing. It is not a thing thus it is no-thing. This Mind is not even is. So it does not exist. Otherwise ‘Mind’ would be like us and everything else.
Buddha knew the world was the realm of relativity. However, he also knew there would not be a term ‘relative’ without a word ‘Absolute’. In a word, ‘relative’ indicates ‘Absolute’ otherwise it would not be ‘relative’. Mind is Absolute and of it everything is made. This is the Ultimate reality not a personal God or gods whom Buddha rejected. The Ultimate Reality cannot be named. Names limit like forms. Personal Gods or gods are the limitations of that reality.
Once the German philosopher Kant said that the world is our construct. But the world he was talking about is the one looked at through the categories of our mind. This world reflects those Categories beyond which is totally unknown to us. When Buddha says that of Mind everything is made he was not thinking like Kant. For Kant this present world is formed and shaped by human’s mind. Buddha, on the contrary, was speaking of the universe which has Mind as its precursor. Even though he was forced to admit that there is also an unlimited Reason, Kant only showed us the limitation of reason in knowing the world as it really is. The ordinary reason of man’s mind is without doubt limited according to Buddha. However, he strongly urged us to purify our mind through meditation. (Dhammapada, The Twin Verses, 2—Canto I).
Remember, modern science as well as the classical one begin their enterprise from an idea: this first idea is the dogma or belief regarding the exclusively rational nature of the intelligence and its more or less universal presence everywhere. It is simply postulated that there is a unique and polyvalent or higher intelligence (which is true in principle). It is also assumed everybody has this intelligence which can let investigation be totally ‘free’ (which is categorically false). Because there are truths which intuitive intellection alone is able to let one achieve. However, it is not a fact that such intellection can be found in each ordinary person with sound mind. Furthermore, the Intellect demands Revelation. In Buddhism, of course, this would mean Buddha’s Dharma or teachings. The Intellect needs these sacred instructions both as its occasional cause and as communicating means of the ‘Perennial Philosophy’, if it is to actualize its own light in complete way.
When we talk about ‘objective analysis’ we almost always forget the principal interested party, that is, the intelligence (or unintelligence) of the person who does the analysis; we forget that, in number of cases, the analysis of facts, which is meant to prove such and such a thing the existence or non-existence of which is however evident ‘a priori’ or prior to experience, only serves to conceal the absence of intellection. This scientific analysis , thus, is to hide an intelligence proportioned to the magnitude of the problem at set.
Schuon believes that when traditional myths, which dealt with supernatural beings, ancestors, or heroes, and served as a primordial archetypes in people’s world view, are reduced to fictitious stories and half true, then they are bound to be replaced by artificial ones. Thanks to Bill Moyers, the great public T.V personality, former politician and an outstanding journalist, the name Joseph Campbell, an authority on myth and mythology, became household reality. This loomed large in the mind of the modern man for whom the reality is just what the scientists tell him.
The new myths, are practically involved in a mode of thought which is satisfied to depend on its own logic alone while operating in a realm in which ordinary logic just does not broaden or widen our mental view into the reality. Consequently they cannot defend themselves against so many different scientific mythologies of the time. By the same token when religion is gotten rid of it does not lead to a rational view of the Universe, but instead to a counter-religion, with its own ‘faith’, its dogmas, its taboos, in the name of which it will not be long before even rationalism itself is swallowed up.
To treat human beings as absolutely free–even though they are not absolute—is to set free all ways of evils in them especially in the absence of any principle by which their reproduction might be kept within bounds. From all this we can understand that in fact it is a kind of abuse of language to give mere name of ‘Science’ to a knowledge that only leads to practical consequences whereas showing nothing regarding the wonderful nature of phenomena. This science, which by its own very manifestation, avoids transcendent principles can offer no guarantee as to the ultimate consequences of its own investigations.
Pure and simple logic can help us know things in a very indirect way; it is the art of coordinating data, be it true or false, according to a given necessity of causal satisfaction and within the restrictions of a given imagination. Faultless argument can still be completely wrong or mistaken in function of the falseness of its premises. We are not here criticizing the exactitude of science but the exclusive level forced on that exactitude which makes this quality to become inadequate and inoperative. In other words, man is able to measure a distance by his long steps, but this does not make him see with his feet. Metaphysics and symbolism, which by themselves give us efficient keys to the knowledge of supra-sensible realities, are remarkably exact sciences. The exactitude of these sciences in reality exceeds, to a large extent, that of physical facts. However, these sciences exist beyond the scope of unaided ratio and of the methods it inspires in a quasi-exclusive way. (Schuon, pp. 83-84 ).
We conclude this article by quoting one of Buddha’s saying in the Dhamma Pada or the wisdom of the Buddha. (The Twin Verses, 11): “Those who take the non-real for the real and the real for the non-real and thus fall victims to erroneous notions, never reach the essence of reality”.
We ought not expect of modern science and technology to provide us with what they are not capable of. There is no doubt that modern science anthropomorphic by nature. It can only give us the knowledge of appearances with a dose of exactitude. However, what it cannot do is give us the knowledge of things as they really are. It is wonderful to have the opportunity to study this science and yet we must not forget that in this trade off, if we were not to have both, we would lose the ocean for the fascinating show of the surf. The Buddha’s message here is loud and clear: Do not become blind by the white foamy waves only to lose sight of the whole sea.