Buddhism: Science of the Mind

Buddhism: Science of the Mind

What is the Big Idea?


Religion and science have long been been at odds with each other, that is, until Buddhism came along. In fact, some might even say that Buddhism and science were cut from the same cloth.

"Modern science initiated a deep spiritual crisis that led to an unfortunate split between faith and reason—a split yet to be reconciled. Buddhism was seen as an 'alternative altar,' a bridge that could reunite the estranged worlds of matter and spirit" writes Dr. Martin J. Verhoeven, Research Professor of Buddhist Studies and Practice at the Institute for World Religions. "Thus, to a large extent Buddhism's flowering in the West during the last century came about to satisfy post-Darwinian needs to have religious beliefs grounded in new scientific truth."

This marriage of science and religion came to a head more recently when the Dalai Lama lectured at a annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in 2005, a move protested by some scientists. At this meeting, the Dalai Lama highlighted a Buddhist tradition rooted in empiricism. 

From the methodological perspective, both traditions emphasize the role of empiricism. For example, in the Buddhist investigative tradition, between the three recognized sources of knowledge—experience, reason and testimony—it is the evidence of the experience that takes precedence, with reason coming second and testimony last. This means that, in the Buddhist investigation of reality, at least in principle, empirical evidence should triumph over scriptural authority, no matter how deeply venerated a scripture may be. Even in the case of knowledge derived through reason or inference, its validity must derive ultimately from some observed facts of experience.

What is the Significance?

Simply put: Buddhism puts science experiments in our hands, or rather, in our minds. "You’re not just reading about what other scientists have done and, you know, confirmed and so forth like that, but you, yourself, are the experimenter.  You experiment with your own mind," said Kadam Morten Clausen, Resident Teacher at the Kadampa Meditation Center.

This experimentation allows us to discover the depths of our peace, love and kindness and a spiritual dimension that is empirically verifiable. 

Watch Kadam Morten Clausen talk about the relationship between Buddhism and science:

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