Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Mixing science and Buddhism
Dr. Sanjay Gupta interviews His Holiness, the Dalai Lama in Atlanta
Yesterday, I had a chance to sit down and speak with His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. Over the past several years, he has been interested in having his senior Tibetan monks and scholars take science classes and learn about medical developments focusing on the mind and brain. He told me his own interest in science started as a child, when he was given a telescope and allowed to study astronomy. For example, it was after he witnessed his first lunar eclipse that he fully understood the position of the planets with respect to each other.

He has written a book, called "The universe in a single atom." It was in that book that he introduced what some call a revolutionary concept. He wanted to truly blend together the most advanced scientific teaching with ancient Buddhism. By his own admission, he encountered significant resistance from many monks who worried this sort of exposure might lead to a more nihilistic view of Buddhism, and even the world itself.

Not so, said the Dalai Lama when I asked him about those concerns. He was amazingly candid about everything from the recent events in Myanmar to the Beijing Olympics. I asked him about the recent protests sparked after his receipt of the Congressional Gold Medal. He laughed and said "that's now almost routine."

Once we returned to the topic of science, I showed him footage of brain surgery. He had never seen anything like it before. I asked him how he felt after looking at the physical embodiment of something he had studied for so long, the mind.

He was clearly affected by it, and admits that he better understands the connection between the brain and the mind. For example, while he still believes meditation can be a powerful force toward combating depression, he also now acknowledges that medication may sometimes be necessary to "restore the balance" as he puts it.

A larger question loomed though, and his holiness thought about it for some time. Does science threaten Buddhism or can the two support each other? I'm curious as to what you think.
It is gratifying to hear that faith and science are FINALLY getting on board together. How either of these institutions could have maintained their stupidity in believing the mind and the brain and body were all separate entities always amazed me as incredibly narrow-minded.
Acknowledging that both the mind and the brain work symbiotically is a leap forwards for many, both within the religious and the scientific worlds. For too long, religious institutions have ignored the power of an individual's mind, assuming all strength, obediance and expression spiritually must come from God (ie. believe our dogma, or you will never be able to function spiritually). And scientists have long ignored the intangible quality defined as the mind or spirit (ie. if we can't prove it through science, it must not be there). Both views are short-sighted and do all humanity a disservice.
To His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, and the scientific team working with him: you rock! I look forward to your discoveries and insights with anticipation!
C. Anne, Dover, NH
My understanding is that the Congressional Medal of Honor is reserved for those in the U.S. Military, and is the highest award our military members can receive.

I believe that HH the Dalai Lama actually received the Congressional Gold Medal - a distinct and seperate award. Not that he doesn't deserve an award, but please, please stop confusing the two.

From the Congressional Medal of Honor Society website:

The Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force which can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the Armed Services of the United States. Generally presented to its recipient by the President of the United States of America in the name of Congress, it is often called the Congressional Medal of Honor.


And the website for the Congressional Gold Medal (of honor) which lists HH the Dalai Lama as a recipient:


No offense, but I would expect a top news agency such as CNN to be able to get their facts straight on this one. As the spouse of an active duty military member and the sister-in-law of a Marine who has served 2 tours in Iraq and faces another I would ask that we keep the Medal of Honor for our service men and women. They deserve it.
Since Buddhist philosophy is based solely on logic, I see no reason why there should be any conflict with science at all.

The original teaching of Siddartha Gautama is quite in line with current scientific thought. It is the thoughts added by scholars interpreting the Buddha's words that have created confusion. A philosophy the basic concept of which is a total acceptance of reality should have no more difficulty with scientific ideas than with the more ordinary things of life.
As a practicing Buddhist, I am certainly not surprised that His Holiness would take such a revolutionary step toward reconciling scientific and religious views regarding the mind/brain. Meditation is now being studied by Western medical professionals so why not the other way round?
This is not really a very new idea, although I'm sure because it has been expressed by the Dalai Lama it will gain momentum. There have been numerous books in the past (The Tao of Physics, etc.)dealing with this topic. Scientists in Asia and America are looking more closely at the mind/spirit connection and effects of meditation, qigong, and taichi on the human system.
Buddhism studies clarity of Mind.
Science requires clarity of Mind.
Buddhism and Science are two sides of the same coin.
As a student and teacher of Buddhism and Western Philosophy I'm quite sure that Buddhism and science will each have a lot to learn from one another. B. Alan Wallace is probably *the* expert on this, and he is currently pioneering large-scale studies of the effects of meditation at his center in Santa Barbara. Buddhist writers such as Stephen Batchelor have also gained great popularity through focusing on what he calls 'agnostic Buddhism' - effectively leaving behind many beliefs of traditional Buddhists and focusing on the practical elements.

It will be exciting to see how things pan out. I agree with those who see science as brilliant in the 'outer' world and Buddhism with the 'inner' world and thus think it all the better for their coming together.

My question, Dr. Gupta, is how many treats/protests CNN has recieved from the Chinese Gov't just for interviewing His Holiness the Dalai Lama?
Regarding PLANET IN PERIL: body burden chemicals found in children: What is the fire retardant imbedded in children's pajamas and sleepwear? would this contribute to PBDE levels?
I don't understand what's with the world. If they are entertaining themselves with a possible way to combine science and Buddhism, why does it seem like everyone scoffs at the idea of combining science and Christianity/Creationism? The last two go together much better than the first two.
Then again, some forms of science itself (specifically evolution) is a "religion"/belief system in itself; it has followers and theories behind it.
In a manner I am sure sounds like rambling, allow me to comment on Buddhism and Science.

My work and training is in Marine Geology, Geophysics, and Biology. I enjoy the poetry of nature and love to look deep into quantum physics and see the same evolutionary learning processes taking place every day in the macro that seems to translate and took place in the sub-atomic scales way before molecules were born.

For 30 yrs I have been a practicing environmental consultant. I am not a Buddhist but budda like, not a Christian but Christ like. I honor a higher power and dislike religion so much I want to raise lions when I grow up and release them in the bible belt.

Where I think we mess up is that science is about developing opinions and theories based on observed data that should be rigorously challenged and tested. Religion is about faith, which can only look for data that matches the self-serving and misguided interpretations of a few books of history that can only be accurately described as civil documents or books containing metaphors for life and society; not as a doctrine to invade privacy, civil rights, or as an excuse to put a person to death.

As a side bar, what silly person would vote for a President that would bow down to a religious group that insists their views are worth putting into a law that restricts my rights and the use of my own body? A practice not dissimilar to what is happening in the Middle East today.

Funny how history repeats itself. The Great Debate of 1886 over Darwin's Natural Selection theory was the point in history where scientific theory no longer had to match the teachings of the bible. FREE THINKERS, scientists were no longer looked at as heretics doomed to be outcasts. TJ Hooker, the man of the hour stood up and won the battle for scientific thought. Capt. Fitzroy the religious zealot went home and killed himself. What a waste, there are a lot of hungry lions.

Another side bar. Capt. Fitzroy was the single most important man in the history of scientific free thought because he was the man who choose Charles Darwin to travel with him on the HMS Beagle. He was also the most vocal at the Great Debate against Darwin's theory. An excellent example of how the universe works to teach us. It moves forward despite our ignorance.

It is time to tear down the buildings that house ignorance, stop listening to the same poisoned rhetoric, then sit quietly under a wise tree to listen for wisdom and contemplate how small we are in a vast universe of sub-atomic particles that give little thought to our arrogance or future.

Science is Buddhism in that both seek wisdom and knowledge.

Kind Regards, peace, think about what you think about, RAISE MORE LIONS!


Without one there is no other

As all systems interelate to each other

Why is this thought process a surprise.
Will we be able to find Planet in Peril on DVD? I know this probably isn't the place to ask, but I was having trouble finding another place on the website where I could ask. Thank you.
Buddhism doesn’t worship or follow a god, they only follow the teaching of a mortal man, Siddartha. This should makes science and mathematics integration with Buddhism much easier than other religion. You don’t have to believe in reincarnation to be a Buddhist either, in fact, many people at my temple practice other religion and also follow the mind-peace-mediation side of Buddhism. Buddhism is very acceptance of other religion, and to them, it’s perfectly fine if Christianity/other religion help one find inner peace, a major goal of Buddhism.
Hi Dr. Sanjay Gupta,
We are entering into a subtle yet profound topic. I am not against anything. As long as one is happy, the rest of the world's opinion should not matter. That is the advantage of spirituality over science. In a nutshell, buddhism is a degenerated version of vedas. In vedas we have karma(physical action/rituals),gnyana(knowledge of the Self/soul/spirit/Atma & God),bhakti(worship of God). One should know the basics about which comes first! When vedas were being misused in the so called native land "bharat" (popularly now known as India), buddhism developed in India but again it waned in India due to the advent of vedic spiritualists.

Hindus were doing lot of mass slaughtering in the name of vedas,hence going against the scriptures. When there is a big crack in a wall, the best solution is not to fix it(as it is)but demolish the wall and rebuild. So buddhism developed as anti-vedic. Buddhism developed using non-violence. Infact lot of buddhists eat non-veg. In buddhism, karma(action) alone can lead to liberation while in Vedas gnyana and bhakti are the pathways to liberation. Buddhism doesn't exist by itself. It's the kid of vedas. The sanskrit word "veda" comes from the root word verb "vid" means "to know" and hence veda means knowledge through hearing. It is also called as shruti. The word buddhism has the sanskrit word buddhi(buddhi means intellect, has the power to reason out what is right and what is wrong). Mind(manas in sanskrit) has likes and dislikes while intellect has no likes or dislikes.

The problem comes when people, lacking the knowledge of the language sanskrit, enters the field and try to understand on their own. The word "yoga"(or meditation for that matter) has gained so many misinterpretations among the foreigners. The word "yoga" comes from the root "yuj" means "to link". You can link body and mind, you can link mind and spirit or you can link Soul(whatever the english equivalent of the sanskrit word) and God. Whenever people misuse anything(body/mind/food/you name it...)problem arises.

Lot of westeners think yoga means some physical excercise and get into some gym and sprain their back and put the blame on yoga. First one needs to learn the rules of the game and play it safely. It's like entering into a lion's den unarmed and then crib that lion is attacking. Everything has got a positive and negative effect. Example a hammer can be used to nail a screw or break somebody's head. It's upto the person how he employs it. Any drug says "what should be the dosage". This rule of thumb applies to any and every aspect of life.

Giving a brief definition of meditation(dhyana in sanskrit) as per bhagavad gita. One doesn't stand or lie down and do meditation. One sits in a proper lotus position(folding legs)with head,neck and spinal cord in a straight line. Don't sit in too high position(one will have a constant fear of falling)nor too low(one may go off to sleep). Don't close eyes completely(sleep)nor keep it wide open(will be prone to distractions/temptations). Don't sit next to a loudspeaker(too much noise) or gutter(smell will be bothering). One has to choose a proper place that is conducive for meditation. Then control all the five senses and then start doing meditation(on ONE thing-single minded concentration).

If any indian/hindu is asked randomly "what does bhagavad gita" mean, they will say it's celestial song or song by Lord Krishna. Yes it's true at superficial level. But the indepth meaning as well as the essence of the entire bhagavad gita in one statement of the word "gita" means "non-attachment in action while in action". This is the meaning emphasized by the God in different chapters. Only when one is attached to the action, he/she has expectations which may lead to disappointments/ unhappiness. There is nothing wrong in having expectation. But if the outcome doesn't favor the person, can he/she take it in a right spirit without blaming others.

Knowledge can give rise to ego(destruction) but when it is blended with worship(compassion for all), can benefit the entire society. Similarly what does roughly 3 lb brain imply? It performs a set of functions. What is mind? Mind is a collection of thought processes. How do thoughts originate in the first place? Are thoughts running in a person who is in Coma? Thoughts are there because of the consciousness which is an attribute of the Atma/spirit/soul. It's because of this consciousness we think,analyse,rationalise and realize unlike our friends plants/animals/microorganisms.
Caution wrt consciousness at three levels namely dream state, awakening state, and deep sleep state. Topics are too deep to be discussed here.

I can't express too many things here as I am writing a book on "happiness lies within". I am devoting one separate chapter on Vedas vs Modern Physics. There are separate chapetrs on food and mind. I will be addressing ever hot topic "theory of evolution", and genetics too in my book. Whether one believes in God/Superpower/Science, one should not forget that we are given only one mouth but two ears, two eyes, two nostrils,two hands,two legs. Mouth can cause and invite lot of troubles! So use it sparingly and wisely.

Let us care about the welfare of ourselves, our fellow humans and also our environment(plants/animals/planets/...)everything under the sun. So far I never came across a scholarly debate between a true spiritual person and a true scientist addressing some hot topics like evolution or the origin of the universe(connecting religion & science). The indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti had a conversation with a Quantum Physicist and a Biologist but not rigorous. This prompted me to write the book.

One can not do research on the physical aspects of the brain nor on mind by separating the two from the spirit/atma/soul. Otherwise one can as well do research on a dead body's brain and mind(both are dead). It's because of the soul, that makes the research interesting. Pardon me for the lengthy writing. BTW is this discussion about science and spirituality or some medals/awards? I will be very happy to see how buddhism stands up to the lofty expectations(experimental evidence)of science.

Thank you Dr Sanjay Gupta for taking your precious time for noble & worthy cause.

Science without religion is lame;religion without science is blind - Einstein
A word of caution on Gamma Knife surgery - I had brain surgery in June at UCSF using Gamma Knife - the latest in non-invasive radio therapy. Unfortunately UCSF's equipment malfunctioned in the middle of the procedure and since the attending neurosurgeon had left the building chaos ensued as the remaining staff argued over who had the most to lose (from exposure to Gamma radiation) in coming into the operating room to release me from the equipment. I have an opinion from the world's leading leading brain surgeon in this area saying that risk and efficacy have both been compromised but UCSF is demanding that I pay in full $30,000 for this procedure. Blue Cross refused to pay saying that I should pursue traditional surgery.

I feel like David battling Goliath - Any advice ?
It is not surprising that science and Buddhism find common ground; there is nothing in the talks given by Buddha which conflict with modern scientific theory. In fact, as we discover particularly in quantum physics, the concepts of reality as described 2,500 years ago are perfectly aligned.

Where Buddhism may differ most from other religions is not a matter of doctrine, but a matter of approach. Science is, as another commenter stated, "... about developing opinions and theories based on observed data that should be rigorously challenged and tested." However, though Buddhism certainly has faith as part of the practice, it is not the same kind of faith that we typically think of in the West. It is faith based on personal experience of what Buddha describes in his talks. The word used for faith, "saddha" in Pali, has a meaning of confidence based on such experience -- not the acceptance of a scripture, not acceptance of logical thought, not the acceptance of a religious figurehead.

It is this very distinction which often confuses our categorization of Buddhism as religion or as a philosophy. The beauty is that this distinction goes hand in hand with science.

-- Ted Meissner
After my recent 6 year study of Buddhist thought related to the the mind and its nature, I am convinced that this tradition of meditation and knowledge will bear important fruit if studied without undue skepticism or bias from scientists.

Mark K.
Everyone talks about how great the Dali Lama is but no one ever questions the cruel punishment the Tibetan system placed on the lower class of its society. Have they completely denounced this behavior... do they even admit it?

It's good to See the Dalai Lama leading his followers into the modern age.

Centuries of isolationism and xenophobia left Tibet so vulnerable that their conquest was pretty much inevitable.

Religions and nations, like everything else, need to adapt to survive.
Science has not found all the answers in the human healthcare field.Nor is it likely to, considering all the current mess involving the doctors,drug companies,medical schools,and insurance companies.
So,to compare Science with Buddhism or any other religion at this stage of human development is inappropriate and foolhardy.
Hi Dr Sanjay Gupta
I just listened to your interview with HH Dalai Lama. Everything is taken from Vedas and I can quote the upanishads. First people don't think at root level. So when someone is confused if buddhism is a religion or a philosophy, probably the person has not given enough thought to the words(english is a derived language). Philosophy allows one to speculate and religion doesn't and so is science. As long as a subject is not proved experimentally, it comes under philosophy but the moment it is verified it is no longer a part of philosophy but science. Religion doesn't allow one to speculate. You either take it or leave it. There ends the chapter. Religion invokes God, philospophy doesn't. Because it is impossible to prove the existence or non-existence of God. Bertrand Russell(who is my intellectual favorite)declared himself as an atheist in the eyes of laymen and agnostic to philosophic audience. I can quote dozen mathematicians who tried to prove(one way or other)and finally proved that you can't prove God doesn't exist! One Genetics Scientists was an obnoxious atheist in high school but when he entered Med school he became a theist. BTW my background is Mathematics, Physics, Aerospace.

So buddhism(buddha is considered as one of the incarnations of Vishnu(but not as God), that's also mentioned in the vedas)is not a religion because there is no God!

Due to space constraints I can not explain here but still I am tempted to say something which HH Dalai Lama didn't use the right words. When a person dies, he said the subtle body doesn't die. That's not the way to say it. We as a whole consists of gross body(all organs of action and sensory organs come under this)and subtle senses(mind, intellect,and couple of others). Body is made up of matter but not the mind. When a person dies, the gross body comes to a complete stop(irrevokable brain death)but the subtle senses don't die immediately. My cousin is doing residency in Neurosurgery in NY. We exchange lot of information.

I can supply more information if you are interested. Veadas are cool and that's why I fancy German Physicists(as my back up) especially Erwin Schroedinger who strongly believed in the Vedas and whose book "What is life" had inspired so many great minds including JD Watson. I wish Einstein had met Gandhi. Trajedy the two didn't meet.

How is it justified for a buddhist(buddha's theme was non-violence/non-cruelty to any creatures,read my previous article) to eat non-veg? Just a question. I can give a detailed account how non-veg affects the mind wrt temptations and compassion. No wonder planet is in peril. Because people are misusing the environment. Thanks for letting me share some information with you Dr Sanjay.
As something of a Buddhist who majored in Physics, I believe that Buddhism is the only major religion that has no conflict whatsoever with science. All the monotheisms are clearly distrustful of science, because science easily shows the flaws in their dogma (eg: 'Adam and Eve' is genetically impossible, the Earth is 4.5 billion years old, not 6,000, etc.). The only religion I could be satisfied with, as a believer in science and reality, is Buddhism.

I think it helps too that Buddhism is not dependent on unquestionable dogma, does not proselytize constantly, and does not push for idiotic religious wars. Science has its flaws, we don't know as much as we think we do, and compassion, morality, etc., are used to adjust science rather than being an integral part of it. However, the outdated, warlike monotheisms are so incredibly flawed as to present a major problem for humanity in these uneasy times.
Some of Buddha's last words included a suggestion that one should not believe things because of hearsay nor rumor. Also one is not to believe anything because of authority or tradition. In fact, the Buddha told us not even to believe anything because a Buddha told us, but rather to use reason to find what is good for the benefit of all. In short, if science proves the words of the Buddha wrong we should follow science. As science progresses, however, it is becoming more and more clear that the Buddha was right.

Randy Rockwell
Environmental Chemist and Practicing Buddhist
Everyone talks about the greatness of Dalai Lama because he doesn't just talks about his principles, he actually practices them and involves in his daily life. Regarding the cruel punishment the Tibetan system palced on the lower class of it's society that was back in the 1940's & 50's and yes there were aristrocrats that abused their power and I can't name a country that doesn't have those in their history or currently. We Tibetans are proud to have a leader like H.H. the Dalai Lama and please don't point negativity without having an indepth knowledge of the Tibetan history as well as knowing the current state of facts within Tibet. We the Tibetans are thankful of the Global supporters and wish your support is everlasting towards our nonviolent struggle against the Chinese Govt.
Buddhist monks studying science? Sure why not. Buddhism is not like Christianity where creationism is at war with science.
Thank you for that interesting article. After the research I did with books I have written, it has become obvious to me that actually science is the result and a branch of Buddhism and other religions. In other words, Science has a lot to learn from Buddism. Let's hope the Science field realizes this and makes the most of it. It could be a tremendous benefit to all.
Dear Sanjay:

Thank you for introducing the benefits of meditation to the world, especially for health and social wellbeing.

Did you know that there are meditation Teachers on YouTube?

This past May, I learned to meditate from Wayne Dyer's Guru on YouTube!

Dattatreya's YouTube technique's include:
the one minute meditation, a real meditation with instant benefits:

Practice of the one minute Ahhh meditation (great for busy people, just 1 minute and you are refreshed):

weight loss w. a simple
lime technique:
(I lost 30 lbs effortlessly and my blood pressure is so much better, my doc slashed my medicine in half. I did all this for FREE)

Thank you very much. These meditations work for both me and my husband, who finds them fantastic too.
As a Religious Science minister of 15 years, I am delighted to see this discussion mainstream. I believe only interpretation limits the ability of science and religion to support and complement each other.

Buddhism, Vedic-based religions, Native American religions, and New Thought religions, among others all have some philosophical similarities that would seem to support a view that acknowledges the complementary nature of science and religion.

I think the Dalai Lama represents the world's readiness to begin to question the concept of belief itself, and examine how people come to believe as they do. We now know that what is referred to as "prayer," "meditation," "affirmation," "centering," etc. all result in positive outcomes for their practitioners--and Buddhist meditation was recently found to be the most effective of all. So it makes sense to deeply investigate the scientific facts of Buddhist practice as a first step.

And I congratulate the Dalai Lama on receiving the Congressional Gold Medal. I do think he has done much to make the world a more inclusive and accepting place. I cut my teeth on Emmanuel Swedenborg, Thomas Troward, and mostly Ernest Holmes, all of whom taught that science, religion, and philosophy support each other--they are just different windows on the world.
Yeah, study up, people, Buddhism? Not exaclty a religion...for one.

But what I wanted to mention, or rather who, is the little known (outside academic and fiercely Catholic/academic circles) is the French Jesuit priest and paleontologist, Pierre Teihard de Chardin. He was born around the time The Origin of the Species was unleashed upon the world, and given his interests in paleontology and Christianity, he devoted a great deal of his life to reconciling his religion with his scientific understandings. IN other words, Christianity and Evolution. Pretty cool stuff.

He believed in "spiritual evolution", he stated that at a certain point, we would have a "net" of information that would in a sense encircle the earth that would push this evolutionary process along...perspicacious at least, no?

So you see...this is not new. And in fact, many spiritual tradtions have tried to link the physical and the spiritual--some cultures have at times beleived that sex is a path to spiritual enlightenment. (while not science, per se...perhaps we can see it as a rudimentary first effort to link the physical world to the spiritual..) Christianity, however, leaves very little wiggle room, as literaly as so many seem to want to read it. Just not gonna happen, Im afraid. though many scientists do claim to be religious, they tend not to be the ones who interpret literally, though they are enriched in many ways from the lessons and myths the religion contains.
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