Thread: Zen and Science

  1. #1

    Zen and Science

    Soto Zen teacher talks for approx. 11 minutes.

    Any comments?

  2. #2
    Global Moderator
    Join Date
    Mar 2017
    I remember an Open University course I did many years ago. It was a one year course on inquiry, the tools we use to explore life, the universe and everything, from art to mathematics. I think it was one of the best courses I have ever taken part in and it has stayed with me for the last thirty odd years, especially as I was a Primary school teacher and had to teach everything from art to mathematics. It started me questioning what is unique about each area I was teaching- what can art offer that mathematics can't, and vice versa. In fact it got me into Buddhism since I started to explore what the spiritual world, and eventually Buddhism, can uniquely offer as a form of inquiry.

    In some ways each becomes a tool to be used for the job it was designed to do. If you want to go to the moon use maths, science, technology and so on. If you want to explore what it feels like to see a wonderful moonrise over the sea, then go to the arts and poetry, and so on. The problems start when one type of inquiry demands authority over another, when it matters to people whether their version of reality needs something to 'be' or not. We've seen this through history with Galileo and Darwin coming up with things that offended certain religious groups. Which still goes on today, of course.

    Buddhism held out the hope to me that I could explore spiritually without having to come up against such conflicts. Didn't quite work out that way as there are plenty in Buddhism who enjoy raising conflicts where none might exist, or when statements were made many years before science existed as a form of human exploration. Brad gives a nice talk on such things in relation to Zen and talks about a possible conflict in terms about defining the nature of reality, that certain Zen teachers have claimed that everything is an illusion, and that seeing the truth of this is the only way forwards along the path.

    Illusion is such a loaded word and there is a lot of truth in applying it to how we understand the universe we are in and our relationship with it. Our brains do indeed provide an illusion of reality which lets us make our way in a world full of distracting sensory information. We have to construct a way of understanding this world which may not be the 'truth' but which allows us to carry on living, and has allowed us to evolve and survive as a species. Up to now, anyway. We do indeed see illusions, but that doesn't mean the world is any less real. Try running at a wall and seeing whether it exists or not.

    For me Buddhism gives us the tools to see not true nature of the world but the true nature of us as individuals constructing a view of the world which may or may not be true, for a given definition of true. It allows us to see that we see by illusions and so opens up the idea that there are infinite possible ways of seeing, and interacting with, the world. If this is the case, how should we see it? How can we use this new freedom to redefine our relationship with everything? It won't let us get to the moon without a spaceship, it won't let us use the universe in ways that are not possible in the universe, but it will give us the tools to see things in a different way.

    The question of the fundamental nature of the universe is fascinating if you want to follow cutting-edge science. There are indeed many arguments within science and between scientists. It's how science really works. Out of conflict comes better understanding, until the next conflict. Well worth a look. In some ways it's hard not to investigate such science and not become a Buddhist.

  3. #3
    Technical Administrator woodscooter's Avatar
    London UK
    I don't think that Brad Warner really answers the question that was asked.

    He was asked to talk about Zen and Science, and that is what his talk is about. He's more or less saying he accepts what science tells us about the world we live in, and he recognises the benefits of technological progress. Further, that science is all about the material world and Zen isn't.

    But the question also was "What does it mean to reject the materialistic world view? Does that mean Zen rejects science? You certainly do not seem to believe this".

    I didn't hear anything in the talk about the relationship between Zen and the material world of science. I didn't hear any unequivocal statement that Zen rejects science, or that Zen accepts science. Only that Brad as a Zen practitioner accepts science.

    He reads a couple of paragraphs from 'Commentary on The Song of Awakening', which didn't help me understand better.

    "The true character of reality has but one characteristic: the absence of character. It is neither this nor that. All existence in the universe, all phenomena without exception are the true nature of reality," and "Here, all is illusion. In everything in the world nothing exists besides illusion. Everything without exception is illusion. This is why it is so difficult for us to understand"

  4. #4
    Forums Member KathyLauren's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2018
    Nova Scotia
    The premise of the question was that "Buddhism rejects science." The premise of the speaker is that Buddhism does not reject science. So, there is a mismatch that will undoubtedly have left the questioner unsatisfied.

    He is quite clear and, I think, accurate in his description of what science is. I think his point is that science is not relevant to the Buddhist study of reality. Science is not "rejected" in the sense of being wrong. It is simply a method of inquiry that, because it limits itself to the material world, does not apply to Buddhist thought.

    Because the two methods of inquiry deal with domains that do not overlap, there is no conflict or contradiction between them. Science can not deal with (and does not, or at least should not attempt to do so) the true nature of reality and what it means to exist. Buddhism does deal with those subjects and does not (or should not) attempt to explain how the material world works.

    Om mani padme hum

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