Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Buddhism and Science

The so-called debate between science and religion is better viewed as a conflict between modern and traditional cultures, the former looking to individual exploration and agency as guides, the latter relying on examples of past perfection as guides. 

Buddhism, it can be argued, was (is) the first modern religion. While in its institutional forms, it echoes the values and processes of traditional cultures, at its core, it's about individual exploration. As Buddha Shakyamuni said just before he died, "I've shown you a way. Work out your own freedom."

Recently, David Brooks, a columnist for the NY Times, wrote:
First, the self is not a fixed entity but a dynamic process of relationships. Second, underneath the patina of different religions, people around the world have common moral intuitions. Third, people are equipped to experience the sacred, to have moments of elevated experience when they transcend boundaries and overflow with love. Fourth, God can best be conceived as the nature one experiences at those moments, the unknowable total of all there is.

Here, in a nutshell, is the core of the tension. Traditional cultures hold their own religions and institutions special and sacred while modern cultures see these religions and institutions as particular expressions of universal principles. Traditional cultures object to the undermining of their specialness. Modern cultures object to the privileged status of a particular formulation in a pluralistic world.

You can read the whole of Brook's piece here.

1 comment:

Ana said...

A good book on these themes is "Parler d'amour au bord du goffre" Editions Odile Jacob. Paris, 2004. In Spanish: El Amor que nos Cura. Ed. Gedisa. Barcelona, 2005 by Boris Cyrulnik. I don't know if there is an English edition.

Cyrulnik is a Neurologist, Psychiatrist and Human Ethologist and a researcher on Attachment and Resilience. He says in his book:

The beat of the heart, the movements of breathing and up and down of experiences mark the rhythm of life and the sense of being.

All living beings react inevitably to specifics perceptions, but a human baby responses, starting from the sixth month, to a "self with other" representation. This representation results from interactions. What is represented is the dynamic interactive process itself.
A model of self and a model of other are created at the same time in our non-verbal memory. If a baby is developed in an icy world expects others to freeze her, and the other way round, if a baby is developed in a loving world expects others love her because she has been loved.

How can we change our representations if we live in an icy or burnt world?

With new experiences with somebody who is loving, kind and compassionate. New non-verbal memories of "self with other" are created.

This is resilience.