Dragon's Gate Temple Library

Everybody and his guru wants to use the term "science" these days. Admittedly, Science has done a lot for us, and for dealing with certain types of information it is unsurpassed.

I am using the term "science" in a very strict sense here. I mean an attempt to apply the scientific method:

  • observation of the data. Not guessing or reading about it in some supposedly authoritative or revealed text.
  • Forming a hypothesis based on the observed data. It has to be a theory that could explain all the facts now observable, not just the ones you like or want to admit to.
  • Logically extending the hypothesis into areas you have not yet observed, nor received advance information about from others. Finding an observable effect that will take place, in a set of as yet unobserved circumstances, if the hypothesis is correct, but will not take place if it is not correct.
  • performing the experiment, i.e., bringing about those circumstances and watching for the predicted effect.
  • If the effect is observed, the experiment was a success, the theory is proven, and the results become part of the body of observed data on which subsequent theories are based.
  • If the effect is not observed, the experiment was a success, the theory is disproven, and the results become part of the body of observed data on which subsequent theories are based.
One of the most vital parts of this method is letting go of a hypothesis that has been shown not to fit the facts. Not that it always works out that way.
"The way to get a new theory accepted is to propose it and then wait for the old physicists to die."
(Max Planck)
So Buddhism is NOT a science. It does not have experiments.
The term "scientific" is often loosely used to mean that a system does not make statements that have been disproven by those who use the scientific method. It does not always mean their statments have been confirmed. In this sense, the basic teachings of Buddhism can meaningfully be said to be "scientific".
A human being is a part of a whole, called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest... a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
-- Albert Einstein

I do not mean to imply that all of the beliefs that have been accepted by various Buddhist cultures, on such subjects as cosmology, are correct. Neither am I saying that all of the practices in Buddhism, such as the visualization of deities used in Tibetan Buddhism, represent reality. They are tools.
Celestial navigation is based on the premise that the Earth is the center of the universe. The premise is wrong, but the navigation works. An incorrect model can be a useful tool.,
-- Kelvin Throop III

In Buddhism we observe. We do not, as a Buddhist practice, form theories, logically extend them and perform experiments. Since this is a vital part of the scientific method, Buddhism is NOT a science, any more than Christian Science, Science of Mind, Scientific Creationism, or the science classes in high school. That doesn't, by itself, prove any of these systems are wrong, of course.

We do let go of any ideas that don't match reality. But how can a mere idea match reality?

Our problem, according to Buddhism, is lack of contact with reality. We live in a dream world made up of our hopes, fears and habits. Most of our sensory input is colored, if not supplied, by these beliefs. Science tries to bring these beliefs into better alignment with reality. Buddhism tries to overcome them and experience the world unfiltered.

It is as though we are driving down the freeway that is life with our road map in front of our face so we catch only occasional faint glimpses of the road. Scientists, noting that where the map is more accurate, there are a few less accidents, conclude that the solution to the problem lies in making a perfectly accurate map to hold in front of us. And yes, it would help- some. But Buddhism's approach is to drop the stupid map and look where you're going!

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