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Could Buddhism Unify Science & Religion?

Great thinkers and everyday people have long pondered how to reconcile the deep-rooted differences between science and religion. At first glance, it can seem an insurmountable task. The debate pits evolution versus creationism, belief versus proof, certainty versus uncertainty, dogma versus theory; the list goes on.

To their credit, many individuals have reasoned for themselves how to bring faith and science into harmony. Their examples should be aspired to.

But discrete examples are one thing, aligning an entire belief system with science is another. It's a massive undertaking, and a thorny challenge for virtually all widely-practiced religions except one, Tibetan Buddhism.

fo-lamaWEB.jpgTenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, is a noted supporter of science and the 2012 winner of the Templeton Prize, an award given annually to the leading visionary at the intersection of spirituality, insight, and discovery. In 2005, he observed how scientific knowledge can actually instruct Buddhist scripture:

"My confidence in venturing into science lies in my basic belief that as

in science so in Buddhism, understanding the nature of reality is

pursued by means of critical investigation: if scientific analysis were

conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then

we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims."

In a 2005 speech at the annual meeting for the Society of Neuroscience, the Dalai Lama further explained Buddhism's similitude to science:

"On the philosophical level, both Buddhism and modern science share a deep suspicion of any notion of absolutes, whether conceptualized as a transcendent being, as an eternal, unchanging principle such as soul, or as a fundamental substratum of reality. Both Buddhism and science prefer to account for the evolution and emergence of the cosmos and life in terms of the complex interrelations of the natural laws of cause and effect. From the methodological perspective, both traditions emphasize the role of empiricism."
Perhaps because of these fundamental similarities, the Dalai Lama has urged fellow Buddhists to become educated in science. He's even helped to speed the enlightenment process by arranging educational opportunities. 

For the past five years, 26 Buddhist monks and two nuns have received summer classes from instructors at Emory University on topics ranging from mathematics and physics to biology and neuroscience. With their classes recently completed, the trainees will now return to their specific monasteries and teach others about science.

Just as Buddhist monks have learned from science, so have scientists learned from Buddhism. Albert Einstein, Alfred North Whitehead, and Bertrand Russell have all remarked on Buddhism's enduring potential for pushing the boundaries of Western and scientific thought. Einstein even went so far as to declare:

"The religion of the future will be cosmic religion. It should transcend a personal God and avoid dogmas and theology. Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual and a meaningful unity. Buddhism answers this description. . . If there is any religion that would cope with modern scientific needs, it would be Buddhism."
From Einstein's statement, some intriguing hypotheticals can be derived: Will science and religion one day be unified? If so, could Buddhism be the unifier?

(Image: Associated Press)