Read the following and identify and develop the final conclusion, as well as considering any intermediate conclusions. Then click on the text to see a possible answer. Examine how this differs from your answer and discuss whether these differences are significant.
How well does Buddhism respond to the challenges of science?
It could be suggested that it is only through a selective approach that Buddhism and science are compatible. For example, whilst belief in the physical reality of Mount Meru may have waned, that is not the same for belief in the beings which populate Mount Meru such as the devas nor in the realms which can be found on the top of Mount Meru such as Tavatimsa or the hell realms lying under the continent of Jambudvipa. The supernatural - and hence the unscientific - is woven through Buddhist thought and practice.
In addition, this is also apparent in the focus on particular features of the dhamma such as sunyata. The Dalai Lama notes how this concept might be congruent with quantum physics, but it is the same Dalai Lama who along with Tibetan monks practices Tantric meditation on a daily basis. Such meditation involves the entirely unscientific belief in the efficacy of using the vajra and bell, elaborate mudras and the creation and destruction of mandalas. In addition, elaborate visualisation is required when various Buddhas, bodhisattvas, devas, devaputras and the realms in which they exist are brought to mind. However, in contrast to this, the Dalai Lama would argue that the principles underlying Tantra are indeed quite ‘scientific’.
Lopez suggests that whilst researchers might focus on Buddhist meditation and what can be measured via an MRI scan, this is ignoring the basic point of meditation which the Buddha taught: ‘Monks this is the direct path for the purification of being, for the surmounting of sorrow and lamentation, for the disappearance of pain and grief, for the attainment of the true way, for the realisation of nibbana.’ Therefore Lopez is arguing that whilst there may be some parallels, Buddhism and science are essentially different things. For examples, concepts such as anatta and anicca might seem compatible with science, but their purpose is specifically directed towards the Buddhist path.
It might be argued that the incompatibility between Buddhism and science is brought into sharp focus by consideration of the avyakata – the undetermined questions. Here the Buddha is asked questions of a speculative nature, such as about whether or not the cosmos is infinite. The Buddha replies with the Parable of the Poisoned Arrow and concludes that these questions are unimportant and that during the time spent asking the questions the man would die.
Overall, therefore whilst science is concerned with objective data and facts based on empirical research in order to establish truths about reality, Buddhism is only concerned with these tangentially since its goal is wholly unscientific: living the holy life and thus gaining nibbana.