Science, Buddhism and the Search for Truth

The rational, intellectual scientific canon, illuminating ‘ facts ‘ and ‘reality ‘, is often presented as the only perspective available, the only framework that can reveal – through rigorous, empirical methodology – the ‘ truth ‘ about the world that surrounds us.
Everything in the known universe is seen to be contained within its sphere – is analysed, defined and understood within this sphere – without exception. This world view, now so deeply entrenched in our way of thinking, is a relatively a new one, being largely a product of the Enlightenment, but it has come to be seen by many as the crowning, intellectual glory of human achievement, the hallmark of civilization. However, despite all its strengths, the scientific paradigm does have its critics. It could be argued that science cannot reveal truth in any tangible,lasting way because we live in a universe of anicca, impermanence, where change touches everything including the very ‘ truths ‘ that science is studying .Also, it could be argued that because these ‘ truths ‘ are partly a product of subjective interpretation, science, with its exclusive focus on objectivity, is rather one – sided and limited.

” As physicists have come to realize, every instrument, every
measurement, gives only a biased view, dependent on the
instruments themselves.”

IIya Prigogine
Nobel laureate in Chemistry

Whilst science does have a rigorous methodology of inquiry, which tries to verify or refute hypotheses under observation, it is, nevertheless, reductionist in its approach. It tends to exclude so much that can enrich and nourish our lives because it cannot be subjected to exact, scientific scrutiny.

Buddhism does not challenge science, indeed the Dalai Lama once said that if any aspect of Tibetan Buddhist cosmology did not conform to the western scientific canon, then it should be abandoned – so his openess to science, as a vehicle for uncovering the truth, is self evident. Buddhism does not contradict science, especially established scientific truths ( that would be reductionist as well ) but what it does do is speak of other truths, perhaps greater truths that science cannot touch. These truths however, are not necessarily validated externally by scientific ‘ objectivity ‘ but are validated internally. They are the truths within us, the truths that are self evident to us, the truths that need no external supports.

Within Buddhism the path to truth is reached by wisdom, and wisdom itself is reached by meditation, the study of sutras and the deep reflection and insight arising from these.

Through our committed engagement with meditation, we are able to calm the mind and free it, albeit temporarily, of the routine, habitual thought patterns that mar clarity and insight. From this position we can see the world in a wholly different way, more interrelated, more spiritually unified.

Sutras, parables and myths are effective ways to uncover truths. Through the use of metaphor and simile they can reveal to us rich worlds of significance and meaning that contain truths for us; not intellectual, conceptual truths, but truths that are felt and experienced internally, that could influence our lives for the better. Whether the actual details of stories are fully accurate or not, is, at times, irrelevant because it is their greater ‘ truths ‘ that we seek in their teachings, it is their greater ‘ truths ‘ that can illuminate us, inspire us and put us on the path to spiritual realization.

Without recourse to reflection and contemplation on issues and people that effect our lives, we would just fall back on our innate,automatic feelings which could lead us into misleading ways of perception and action. Reflection gives us the oportunity to view things differently, at a distance, at a later time, when a clearer, fuller picture can be viewed.

Again, this spiritual ‘ methodology.’ is not scientific in its approach because it is still ‘ validated ‘ internally, but it does enable us to connect with a deeper level ot understanding and appreciation that needs no further explanation for the spiritually engaged.

Sometimes, in special moments, I do feel that we are treading in miracle territory. The miracle of life, the miracle of the natural world that surrounds us in all its rich bio – diversity, the miracle of shooting stars and expanding worlds. Wonder and delight abound for those who are trying to really look.There is so much for us to realize, reflect upon and celebrate which science, per se, cannot encompass and it is our engagement with a spiritual path that can lead us into this position. Perhaps our over – rational, intellectualized world view is keeping us from signs and wonders, symbols and mystery, miracles and delight that are there for us to experience and share with each other in so many enriching ways.

” People of the world seek the truth outside of themselves.
What a pity that the thing they are so earnestly looking
for is being trodden under their own feet.”