Evolution, Karma, and The World of Sentience

Although many Christian Conservatives sound downright irrational when discussing Darwinian theory, the Dalai Lama seems to accept the basic theory but points out what he considers some of its limitations and explains why Buddhism disagrees with parts of it. It’s the kind of intelligent argument that makes us want to listen to what’s being said rather than automatically tuning it out.

In fact, I learned several things about the theory that I didn’t know previously, particularly how widely it has influenced scientific thought:

The Darwinian theory is an explanatory framework that accounts for the wealth of flora and fauna, the richness of what Buddhists call sentient beings and plants that effectively constitute the biological world available to us. So far the theory has avoided disproof and has offered the most coherent scientific understanding of the evolution of the diversity of life on earth. The theory applies as much to the molecular level-that is, to the adaptation and selection of individual genes-as to the macrocosmic level of large organisms. Despite its remarkable adaptability to all levels on which we might say life flourishes, Darwin’s theory does not explicitly address the conceptual question of what life is. This said, there are a number of key characteristics that biology understands to be essential for life, such as organisms being self-sustaining systems and naturally possessing some mechanisms for reproduction. In addition, the key definitions of life include the ability to develop away from chaos and toward order, which is called “negative entropy.”

It never occurred to me to think of Darwinian theory on a molecular level, but it makes sense that if if it operated on one level it should also operate on a lower level. too.

Of course if I’d wanted to learn more about Darwinian theory I would have chosen a very different book, but, as it turns out, reading the Dalai Lama’s views about scientific views is an excellent way to gain insight into a culture that I know very little about despite what most people would consider extensive readings in Chinese and Japanese literature. For instance, I’d never considered that the Buddhist definition of “life” might be different than our own:

The Buddhist Abhidharma tradition, by contrast, defines sok, the Tibetan equivalent for the English term life, as that which supports “heat” and “consciousness.” To some extent the differences are semantic, since what Buddhist thinkers mean by life and living relates entirely to sentient beings and not to plants, while modern biology has a much broader conception of life, taking it all the way down to the cellular level. The Abhidharma definition does not correspond to the biological account mostly because the underlying motive of Buddhist theory is to answer ethical questions that can be considered only in relation to higher forms of life.

The Dalai Lama points out another interesting contrast between Buddhism and modern science:

However, in Buddhism there is a greater appreciation of the challenge of accounting for the emergence of sentient beings from what is essentially a non-sentient basis.

This difference of concern suggests an interesting contrast between Buddhism and modern science, which may have partly to do with the complex historical, social, and cultural differences that underlie the development of these two investigative traditions. For modern science, at least from a philosophical point of view, the critical divide seems to be between inanimate matter and the origin of living organisms, while for Buddhism the critical divide is between non-sentient matter and the emergence of sentient beings.

and then explains why Buddhism makes this distinction:

Buddhism draws the critical division differently-i.e., between sentience and non-sentience-because it is primarily interested in the alleviation of suffering and the quest for happiness. In Buddhism, the evolution of the cosmos and the emergence of the sentient beings within it-indeed, effectively everything within the purview of the physical and life sciences-belong within the domain of the first of the Four Noble Truths, which the Buddha taught in his initial sermon. The Four Noble Truths state that within the realm of impermanent phenomena there is suffering, suffering has an origin, the cessation of suffering is possible, and there is a path to the cessation of suffering. As I see it, science falls within the scope of the first truth in that it examines the material bases of suffering, for it covers the entire spectrum of the physical environment-“the container”-as well as the sentient beings-“the contained.” It is in the mental realm-the realm of psychology, consciousness, the afflictions, and karma-that we find the second of the truths, the origin of suffering. The third and fourth truths, cessation and the path, are effectively outside the domain of scientific analysis in that they pertain primarily to what might be called philosophy and religion.

I’ve encountered the Four Noble Truths many times in my readings, but I’d never thought of them as having this radical effect on the way Buddhists see the world. In fact, I’d never thought about them other than as a philosophy or religion. It would never have occurred to me that they might affect the way people looked at scientific truths.

Of course, I was even more surprised by this:

In Buddhism, there is no recognition of the presence of something like the “soul” that is unique to humans. From the perspective of consciousness, the difference between humans and animals is a matter of degree and not of kind.

Though I should probably have known this, just as I know that the Chinese have no concept of heaven and hell, I’m so accustomed to the concept of “soul,” I didn’t know it. Heck, I’m so accustomed to the concept that I would even argue that “Skye” has a soul, and is probably more apt to end in heaven than I am.

The Dalai Lama’s greatest criticism of Darwinism, though, is that it seems unwilling or unable to account for many positive human traits:

At one of the Mind and Life conferences in Dharamsala, the Harvard historian of science Anne Harrington made a memorable presentation on how, and to some extent why, scientific investigation of human behavior has so far failed to develop any systematic understanding of the powerful emotion of compassion. At least in modern psychology, compared with the tremendous amount of attention paid to negative emotions, such as aggression, anger, and fear, relatively little examination has been made of more positive emotions, such as compassion and altruism. This emphasis may have arisen because the principal motive in modern psychology has been to understand human pathologies for therapeutic purposes. However, I do feel that it is unacceptable to reject altruism on the ground that selfless acts do not fit within the current biological understanding of life or are simply redefinable as expressions of the self-interest of the species. This stance is contrary to the very spirit of scientific inquiry. As I understand it, the scientific approach is not to modify the empirical facts to fit one’s theory; rather the theory must be adapted to fit the results of empirical inquiry. Otherwise it would be like trying to reshape one’s feet to fit the shoes.

This sounds an awful lot like Maslow’s argument against a “science” which is unable to find room for “religious” or “peak” experiences:

I feel that this inability or unwillingness fully to engage the question of altruism is perhaps the most important drawback of Darwinian evolutionary theory, at least in its popular version. In the natural world, which is purported to be the source of the theory of evolution, just as we observe competition between and within species for survival, we observe profound levels of cooperation (not necessarily in the conscious sense of the term). Likewise, just as we observe acts of aggression in animals and humans, we observe acts of altruism and compassion. Why does modern biology accept only competition to be the fundamental operating principle and only aggression to be the fundamental trait of living beings? Why does it reject cooperation as an operating principle, and why does it not see altruism and compassion as possible traits for the development of living beings as well?

I’ll have to admit that I never really considered concepts like Social Darwinism scientific, figuring that they were merely the rationalization of selfish people to justify their actions. I’m pretty sure the willingness to sacrifice for others, whether family or the group, is one of the traits that has allowed us to outcompete other species. If we hope to have any kind of future worth living, let’s hope we don’t manage to eliminate that trait.

The Buddhist Beginningless Universe

In the chapter entitled “The Big Bang and the Buddhist Beginningless Universe” the Dalai Lama shows that Buddhist cosmology is close to current scientific theories in many ways,

Modern cosmology-like so much else in the physical sciences-is founded on Einstein’s theory of relativity. In cosmology, astronomical observations taken together with the theory of general relativity, which reformulated gravity as the curvature of both space and time, have shown that our universe is neither eternal nor static in its current form. It is continuously evolving and expanding. This finding accords with the basic intuition of the ancient Buddhist cosmologists, who conceived that any particular universe system goes through stages of formation, expansion, and ultimately destruction.

but also explains where the two differ.e

I found this explanation of why Buddhists argue against a single definite beginning rather intriguing:

From the Buddhist perspective, the idea that there is a single definite beginning is highly problematic. If there were such an absolute beginning, logically speaking, this leaves only two options. One is theism, which proposes that the universe is created by an intelligence that is totally transcendent, and therefore outside the laws of cause and effect. The second option is that the universe came into being from no cause at all. Buddhism rejects both these options. If the universe is created by a prior intelligence, the questions of the ontological status of such an intelligence and what kind of reality it is remain.

Way back in high school when I was still naive enough to argue religion with fundamentalist Christians, I would counter with, “Who made God?” What kind of explanation posits an Unknown as the basis for the rest of the argument? Philosophically, I’m much more in tune with this Buddhist view, though I’m even more in tune with The Buddha:

According to the early scriptures, the Buddha himself never directly answered questions put to him about the origin of the universe. In a famous simile, the Buddha referred to the person who asks such questions as a man wounded by a poisoned arrow. Instead of letting the surgeon pull the arrow out, the injured man insists first on discovering the caste, name, and clan of the man who shot the arrow; whether he is dark, brown, or fair; whether he lives in a village, town, or city; whether the bow used was a longbow or a crossbow; whether the bowstring was fiber, reed, hemp, sinew, or bark; whether the arrow shaft was of wild or cultivated wood; and so forth. Interpretations of the meaning of the Buddha’s refusal to answer these questions directly vary.

Personally, I’m far more interested in finding happiness than I am in abstract philosophical arguments that ultimately seem insolvable, which is not to say that I don’t realize that there are important ramifications of differing answers to these ultimate questions.

The poet in me loves this definition:

Similarly, in beautiful poetic verses, the text compares the intricate and profoundly interconnected reality of the world to an infinite net of gems called “Indra’s jeweled net,” which reaches out to infinite space. At each knot on the net is a crystal gem, which is connected to all the other gems and reflects in itself all the others. On such a net, no jewel is in the center or at the edge. Each and every jewel is at the center in that it reflects all the other jewels on the net. At the same time, it is at the edge in that it is itself reflected in all the other jewels. Given the profound interconnectedness of everything in the universe, it is not possible to have total knowledge of even a single atom unless one is omniscient. To know even one atom truly would imply knowledge of its relations to all other phenomena in the infinite universe.

Wonder how our world would be different if more people believed in this model? One would certainly have a hard time reconciling this view with America’s emphasis on rugged individualism.

The Dalai Lama makes an interesting distinction between the evolution of the universe and the evolution of human consciousness:

My own view is that the entire process of the unfolding of a universe system is a matter of the natural law of causality. I envision karma coming into the picture at two points. When the universe has evolved to a stage where it can support the life of sentient beings, its fate becomes entangled with the karma of the beings who will inhabit it. More difficult perhaps is the first intervention of karma, which is effectively the maturation of the karmic potential of the sentient beings who will occupy that universe, which sets in motion its coming into being.

The ability to discern exactly where karma intersects with the natural law of causation is traditionally said to lie only within the Buddha’s omniscient mind. The problem is how to reconcile two strands of explanation-first, that any universe system and the beings within it arise from karma, and second, that there is a natural process of cause and effect, which simply unfolds. The early Buddhist texts suggest that matter on the one hand and consciousness on the other relate according to their own process of cause and effect, which gives rise to new sets of functions and properties in both cases. On the basis of understanding their nature, causal relations, and functions, one can then derive inferences-for both matter and consciousness- that give rise to knowledge. These stages were codified as “four principles”-the principle of nature, the principle of dependence, the principle of function, and the principle of evidence.

This interpretation nicely side-steps any direct conflict between science and Buddhism. Even seems to side-step the Darwin controversy. Too bad certain Christian religions can’t manage to do the same.

In the end, though, the Dalai Lama makes it clear his view of the world is not limited by science:

Even with all these profound scientific theories of the origin of the universe, I am left with questions, serious ones: What existed before the big bang? Where did the big bang come from? What caused it? Why has our planet evolved to support life? What is the relationship between the cosmos and the beings that have evolved within it? Scientists may dismiss these questions as nonsensical, or they may acknowledge their importance but deny that they belong to the domain of scientific inquiry. However, both these approaches will have the consequence of acknowledging definite limits to our scientific knowledge of the origin of our cosmos. I am not subject to the professional or ideological constraints of a radically materialistic worldview.

And in Buddhism the universe is seen as infinite and beginningless, so I am quite happy to venture beyond the big bang and speculate about possible states of affairs before it.

It’s hard to imagine a religious leader who would limit themselves to “scientific truths.” Such truths, after all, seldom inspire the kind of faith that religious followers expect.

Conflicting Models of Reality

The Dalai Lama’s introduction to the third chapter entitled “Emptiness, Relativity, and Quantum Physics” begins:

One of the most inspiring things about science is the change our understanding of the world undergoes in the light of new findings. The discipline of physics is still struggling with the implications of the paradigm shift it underwent as a result of the rise of relativity and quantum mechanics at the turn of the twentieth century. Scientists as well as philosophers have to live constantly with conflicting models of reality-the Newtonian model, assuming a mechanical and predictable universe, and relativity and quantum mechanics, assuming a more chaotic cosmos. The implications of the second model for our understanding of the world are still not entirely clear.

If the reader is willing to seriously consider what the Dalai Lama has to say, his understanding of the world may well change, too. At the very least, he will be reminded that how he sees the world is largely a construct determined by his environment and his culture,not an absolute reality.

In an extended metaphor, the Dalai Lama compares the common conception of self and the Buddhist “theory of emptiness” to classical physics and Quantum physics. He begins by describing the commonly accepted conception of self,

… if we examine our own conception of selfhood, we will find that we tend to believe in the presence of an essential core to our being, which characterizes our individuality and identity as a discrete ego, independent of the physical and mental elements that constitute our existence.

and then explains why, from a Buddhist perspective, that concept is wrong: “The philosophy of emptiness reveals that this is not only a fundamental error but also the basis for attachment, clinging, and the development of our numerous prejudices.” Though I’d never heard this concept referred to as the philosophy of emptiness, I had encountered the concept in earlier Buddhist readings.

The Dalai Lama does a good job of explaining the theory of emptiness:

According to the theory of emptiness, any belief in an objective reality grounded in the assumption of intrinsic, independent existence is untenable. All things and events, whether material, mental, or even abstract concepts like time, are devoid of objective, independent existence. To possess such independent, intrinsic existence would imply that things and events are somehow complete unto themselves and are therefore entirely self-contained. This would mean that nothing has the capacity to interact with and exert influence on other phenomena. But we know that there is cause and effect-turn a key in a starter, spark plugs ignite, the engine turns over, and gasoline and oil are burned. In a universe of self-contained, inherently existing things, these events would never occur. I would not be able to write on paper, and you would not be able to read the words on this page. So since we interact and change each other, we must assume that we are not independent-although we may feel or intuit that we are.

Effectively, the notion of intrinsic, independent existence is incompatible with causation. This is because causation implies contingency and dependence, while anything that possesses independent existence would be immutable and self-enclosed. Everything is composed of dependently related events, of continuously interacting phenomena with no fixed, immutable essence, which are themselves in constantly changing dynamic relations. Things and events are “empty” in that they do not possess
any immutable essence, intrinsic reality, or absolute “being” that affords independence. This fundamental truth of “the way things really are” is described in the Buddhist writings as emptiness,” or shunyata in Sanskrit.


In our naïve or commonsense view of the world, we relate to things and events as if they possess an enduring intrinsic reality. We tend to believe that the world is composed of things and events, each of which has a discrete, independent reality of its own and it is these things with discrete identities and independence that interact with one another. We believe that intrinsically real seeds produce intrinsically real crops at an intrinsically real time in an intrinsically real place. Each member in this causal nexus-the seed, time, place, and effect-we take to have solid ontological status. This view of the world as made of solid objects and inherent properties is reinforced further by our language of subjects and predicates, which is structured with substantive nouns and adjectives on the one hand and active verbs on the other.

But everything is constituted by parts-a person is body and mind both. Furthermore, the very identity of things is contingent upon many factors, such as the names we give them, their functions, and the concepts we have about them.

I’m not entirely convinced by the Dalai Lama’s explanation, but it has opened my mind to the possibility of seeing the world this way. It wasn’t too long ago that I’d never heard the term ecosystem and tended to think of environmental problems as a particular problem instead of a series of interconnected problems. This concept, though more fundamental to our thinking, doesn’t seem too dissimilar.

I was struck that some of the Tibetan debates the Dalai Lama described reminded me of the debate between Aristotle and Plato:

This issue has long been a focus of discussion in Buddhist thought. On one extreme are the Buddhist “realists,” who believe that the material world is composed of indivisible particles which have an objective reality independent of the mind. On the other extreme are the “idealists,” the so-called Mind-only school, who reject any degree of objective reality in the external world. They perceive the external material world to be, in the final analysis, an extension of the observing mind. There is, however, a third standpoint, which is the position of the Prasangika school, a perspective held in the highest esteem by the Tibetan tradition. In this view, although the reality of the external world is not denied, it is understood to be relative. It is contingent upon our language, social conventions, and shared concepts. The notion of a pre-given, observer-independent reality is untenable. As in the new physics, matter cannot be objectively perceived or described apart from the observer — matter and mind are co-dependent.

Aristotle seems closest to the “realists” while Plato was roughly the equivalent of the “idealists.” When I first encountered the two in a college philosophy class, I was certain that I agreed with Aristotle, who’s concepts come closest to modern science. Over the years, though, I often found myself agreeing with literary critics and psychologists who seem tied to various forms of Platonism. I began to wonder if Plato’s “ideals” actually come from some place inside the human brain, if genes may determine how we see the world. If there are archetypes, could they be the result of the way the human brain perceives outside stimuli?

The Dalai Lama makes it clear that the Buddhist understanding of the world is different than the Western view:

This recognition of the fundamentally dependent nature of reality-called “dependent origination” in Buddhism- lies at the very heart of the Buddhist understanding of the world and the nature of our human existence. In brief, the principle of dependent origination can be understood in the following three ways. First, all conditioned things and events in the world come into being only as a result of the interaction of causes and conditions. They don’t just arise from nowhere, fully formed. Second, there is mutual dependence between parts and the whole; without parts there can be no whole, without a whole it makes no sense to speak of parts. This interdependence of parts and the whole applies in both spatial and temporal terms. Third, anything that exists and has an identity does so only within the total network of everything that has a possible or potential relation to it. No phenomenon exists with an independent or intrinsic identity.

And the world is made up of a network of complex interrelations. We cannot speak of the reality of a discrete entity outside the context of its range of interrelations with its environment and other phenomena, including language, concepts, and other conventions. Thus, there are no subjects without the objects by which they are defined, there are no objects without subjects to apprehend them, there are no doers without things done. There is no chair without legs, a seat, a back, wood, nails, the floor on which it rests, the walls that

The more I run this concept through my head, the more plausible it seems, though I wonder if it’s ever really possible to totally understand a major concept from another culture. A quick check on the internet reveals that, at best, I only have a superficial understanding of this concept.

The Dalai Lama points out that the difficulty Westerners have reconciling classic physics with Quantum physics is similar to the problem Buddhists have reconciling a commonsense view of the world with the philosophy of emptiness.

Somewhat parallel problems arose in Buddhist philosophy in relation to the disparity between our commonsense view of the world and the perspective suggested by Nagarjuna’s philosophy of emptiness. Nagarjuna invoked the notion of two truths, the “conventional” and the “ultimate,” relating respectively to the everyday world of experience and to things and events in their ultimate mode of being, that is, on the level of emptiness. On the conventional level, we can speak of a pluralistic world of things and events with distinct identities and causation. This is the realm where we can also expect the laws of cause and effect, and the laws of logic-such as the principles of identity, contradiction, and the law of the excluded middle-to operate without violation. This world of empirical experience is not an illusion, nor is it unreal. It is real in that we experience it. A grain of barley does produce a barley sprout, which can eventually yield a barley crop. Taking a poison can cause one’s death and, similarly, taking a medication can cure an illness. However, from the perspective of the ultimate truth, things and events do not possess discrete, independent realities. Their ultimate ontological status is “empty” in that nothing possesses any kind of essence or intrinsic being.

It’s tempting to dismiss theories that don’t conform to our everyday reality, but we can only do so at a cost. It’s impossible, though, to deny the benefits gained from those who can see the world through the lens of Quantum Physics rather than through the “laws” of Classical Physics.

I’m not sure if I will ever be able to change the essential way I see the world, so it’s comforting when the Dalai Lama says:

The paradoxical nature of reality revealed in both the Buddhist philosophy of emptiness and modern physics represents a profound challenge to the limits of human knowledge. The essence of the problem is epistemological: How do we conceptualize and understand reality coherently? Not only have Buddhist philosophers of emptiness developed an entire understanding of the world based on the rejection of the deeply ingrained temptation to treat reality as if were composed of intrinsic real objective entities but they have also striven to live these insights in their day-to-day lives. The Buddhist solution to this seeming epistemological contradiction involves understanding reality in terms of the theory of two truths.

Though I doubt I could ever learn to see the world either through the Buddhist philosophy of emptiness or the concepts of Quantum Physics, it’s fascinating to see how others see the world quite differently than I, we, do. Keeping an “open mind” might well be the most important thing you accomplish from getting outside your comfort zone.

Dalai Lama’s The Universe in a Single Atom

While reading Maslow’s Religion, Values, and Peak Experiences in November I began to wonder why the relationship between science and religion had become so acrimonious. Simultaneously, I was reading some short articles by the Dalai Lama and wondered which of his many books to start with. Browsing Amazon, I found his book The Universe in a Singe Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality and decided I was destined to read that book, especially since it was available on the new Kindle I had just bought.

I’ve been interested in both science and the spiritual aspects of life as long as I can remember. Though I entered college as a Physics Major, I switched to an English major because I decided that science was too limiting, that I was more interested in other aspects of life than I was in pure science. I suspect that I began to turn away from some traditional religion, though, when they denied what seemed to me fairly obvious truths.

Needless to say, I was encouraged when I read this at the beginning of the Dalai Lama’s book:

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.

Nor could I help but agree with

The great benefit of science is that it can contribute tremendously to the alleviation of suffering at the physical level, but it is only through the cultivation of the qualities of the human heart and the transformation of our attitudes that we can begin to address and overcome our mental suffering. In other words, the enhancement of fundamental human values is indispensable to our basic quest for happiness. Therefore, from the perspective of human well-being, science and spirituality are not unrelated. We need both, since the alleviation of suffering must take place at both the physical and the psychological levels.

Amen! I’ve suffered enough poverty to know it’s hard to be happy when you don’t have enough money at the end of the month to buy food or can’t afford to go the dentist when you have a toothache. But I’m not foolish enough to believe that having things guarantees any kind of happiness, either. If scientific advances could suddenly give everyone all the material goods they desired, I have not doubt that many, if not most, people would still be unhappy because something was missing in their lives.

The Dalai Lama does not attempt to unite science and spirituality,

This book is not an attempt to unite science and spirituality (Buddhism being the example I know best) but an effort to examine two important human disciplines for the purpose of developing a more holistic and integrated way of understanding the world around us, one that explores deeply the seen and the unseen, through the discovery of evidence bolstered by reason.

but he hopes to find a way to unite them in understanding the world and in eliminating the suffering that afflicts all societies.

Not surprisingly, he doesn’t think that science alone can do that:

One of the principal problems with a radical scientific materialism is the narrowness of vision that results and the potential for nihilism that might ensue. Nihilism, materialism, and reductionism are above all problems from a philosophical and especially a human perspective, since they can potentially impoverish the way we see ourselves. For example, whether we see ourselves as random biological creatures or as special beings endowed with the dimension of consciousness and moral capacity will make an impact on how we feel about ourselves and treat others. In this view many dimensions of the full reality of what it is to be human—art, ethics, spirituality, goodness, beauty, and above all, consciousness—either are reduced to the chemical reactions of firing neurons or are seen as a matter of purely imaginary constructs. The danger then is that human beings may be reduced to nothing more than biological machines, the products of pure chance in the random combination of genes, with no purpose other than the biological imperative of reproduction.

This corresponds quite closely to what Maslow argued in his book. By denying peak experiences, science is impoverishing our existence. Of course, Rollo May also supports this argument with his emphasis on the importance of beauty in our lives.

The Dalai Lama devotes a chapter to discussing the similarities and differences between scientific thinking and Buddhist thinking. He begins by emphasizing similarities:

… the Buddha advises that people should test the truth of what he has said through reasoned examination and personal experiment. Therefore, when it comes to validating the truth of a claim, Buddhism accords greatest authority to experience, with reason second and scripture last.

I suspect that reason actually comes first in science since the hardest scientific truths to learn were those that seemed to go against personal experience, but this reminds me why I’ve increasingly found myself aligned with Buddhism, at least philosophically.

The Dalai Lama says Buddhism, like science, accepts change when proven wrong:

So one fundamental attitude shared by Buddhism and science is the commitment to keep searching for reality by empirical means and to be willing to discard accepted or long-held positions if our search finds that the truth is different.

The Dalai Lama suggests there is, however, one fundamental difference in the forms of reasoning between science and Buddhism:

In this final example, Buddhism and science clearly part company, since science, at least in principle, does not acknowledge any form of scriptural authority. But in the first two domains-the application of empirical experience and reason-there is a great methodological convergence between the two investigative traditions. In our day-to-day life, however, we regularly and habitually use the third method of testing claims about reality. For example, we accept the date of our birth on the verbal testimony of our relatives and in relation to the written testimony of a birth certificate. Even in science, we accept the results published by experimenters in peer- reviewed journals without ourselves repeating their experiments.

The greatest difference between Buddhism and science, though, is what they focus on,

Although the basic emphases on empiricism and reason are similar in Buddhism and science, there are profound differences concerning what constitutes empirical experience and the forms of reasoning employed by the two systems. When Buddhism speaks of empirical experience, it has a broader understanding of empiricism, which includes meditative states as well as the evidence of the senses. Because of the development of technology in the last two hundred years, science has been able to extend the capacity of the senses to degrees unimaginable in earlier times. Hence scientists can use the naked eye, admittedly with the help of powerful instruments like microscopes and telescopes, to observe both remarkably minute phenomena, like cells and complex atomic structures, and the vast structures of the cosmos. On the basis of the expanded horizons of the senses, science has been able to push the limits of inference further than human knowledge has ever reached. Now, in response to traces left in bubble chambers, physicists can infer the existence of the constitutive particles of atoms, including even the elements within the neutron, such as quarks and gluons.

but even here he seems to argue that the two modes of thinking can complement each other, rather than oppose each other as is far too often suggested by some religions.

Ultimately, though, Buddhism does not limit itself to explaining just “objective reality:”

Another of the differences between science and Buddhism as I see them lies in what constitutes a valid hypothesis. Here too Popper’s delineation of the scope of a strictly scientific question represents a great insight. This is the Popperian falsifiabilitv thesis, which states that any scientific theory must contain within it the conditions under which it may be shown to be false. For example, the theory that God created the world can never be a scientific one because it cannot contain an explanation of the conditions under which the theory could be proven false. If we take this criterion seriously, then many questions that pertain to our human existence, such as ethics, aesthetics, and spirituality, remain outside the domain of science. By contrast, the domain of inquiry in Buddhism is not limited to the objective. It also encompasses the subjective world of experience as well as the question of values. In other words, science deals with empirical facts but not with metaphysics and ethics, whereas for Buddhism, critical inquiry into all three is essential.

This seems to reflect Maslow’s criticism of science. In fact, it seems precisely like the kind of critical inquiry that Maslow was trying to promote for peak experiences.

In the end the Dalai Lama criticizes scientists for precisely the same kind of narrowness that Maslow was critical of:

In addition to the objective world of matter, which science is masterful at exploring, there exists the subjective world of feelings, emotions, thoughts, and the values and spiritual aspirations based on them. If we treat this realm as though it had no constitutive role in our understanding of reality, we lose the richness of our own existence and our understanding cannot be comprehensive. Reality, including our own existence, is so much more complex than objective scientific materialism allows.

Ideally, science and religion are not diametrically opposed to each other but complement each other, combining to give us a truer vision of who we are and who we can become.