The Roots of Buddhism and Science

If we connect just the various points made above, a larger picture of the relationship between science and Buddhism already begins to emerge. We can see that it is possible to interpret physics within a Madhyamika relative paradigm of existence, and that this interpretation avoids many contradictions inherent in the traditional western claims about truth and knowledge. But will the west have any interest in utilizing or learning from such an interpretation?

It has been pointed out that the successes of Christianity and Buddhism in the ancient world were due to their flexibility in accommodating the ways of many different tribes and nations. As 'universal' religions, each was able to perform a role as a unifier and homogenizer of the peoples in their respective empires. It can be said that there was a relationship, in the states of Ashoka and Constantine, between the growth of the empire and the need for such a common faith - local religious chauvinism is still a threat to the security and welfare of any state. In medieval times, both these religions ceased to exist in their homeland, surviving instead in foreign countries where they continued to exert forces of cultural change. There are many peoples in the world that saw their first glimpse of 'civilization', literacy and so forth, because these religions had the ability to adapt themselves to general human conditions, rather than holding to a strict cultural identity that potential believers would have to adopt.

But one point where these two religions diverged is in the development of their 'natural philosophies'. Christian Europe inherited a worldview that was a synthesis of Greek and Roman thought and the Bible - in effect, a pagan European science coexisting with an alien religion. Medieval Islamic science featured a similar hybrid background. The revealed word of God did not always agree with Aristotle's logic, however, which pretty well assured that at some point one of them would have to go. Islamic culture was actually a leading force in science, math and medicine until the absolute nature of the Islamic faith put an end to much of the speculation necessary to develop ideas. In Western Europe, Christianity waged a long, ultimately unsuccessful campaign for supremacy in the interpretation of natural philosophy. Today, science looks back to the Enlightenment of the 18th century as the triumph of reason over religion.

On the other hand, the Tibetan Buddhist worldview grew out of and is compatible with much of classical Indian thought. Just like other 'personal philosophies' of ancient Greece, such as Stoicism or Epicureanism, Buddhism emphasized the need for logical consistency from the outset. While Europe was ultimately unable to reconcile its religion with its natural philosophy, in Tibet the two remained inextricably linked, having come from one and the same source.

Further -->

Back to the Index

End Notes and Works Cited

Copyright © 2005 Dan Haig