Amazing inter-relationship between Buddhism and modern science
Title: Two Buddhist Sutras Viewed from Science
Author: Prof. J. K. P. Ariyaratne
Publishers: Stamford Lake Publications
Price: Rs. 300 pp. 160
Reviewed by E. M. G. Edirisinghe

Colombo -- It is over 450 years since Western science with its originators such as Copernicus, Galileo and Issac Newton made its tremendous impact on man, and less than 100 years since modern science incorporating quantum mechanics based on Heisonburg's uncertainty principle began its course of guiding the destiny of human civilization on a path completely different from what it was in practice several centuries back.
However, what the Buddha preached over 2500 years back, is being progressively proved by the day on how His discourses on the whole existence of the world are all in conformity with the day to day discoveries in modern science. Nevertheless, the objective of science is mundane progress. It is in continuous search for ways and means of how to improve the social and living standard of man. So, it is not within its purview to go for super-mundane happiness, the ultimate goal of all sentient beings.
Discoveries and inventions in science have widened the area and scope of material comforts of man; also, it has opened itself to more and more research in this regard and on to ad infinitum.
It means man's unsatisfactoriness and non-contentment with what is achieved or received, which has besieged him since the dawn of civilization and continues to grow with greater intensity. On the other hand, Buddhism goes beyond the parameters of science into an area totally outside the purview of science to seek ultimate happiness beyond which there is nothing to achieve. The parallel between Buddhism and science ends with the stand on law of causation and Buddhism surpasses modern science in facing problems of achieving mental liberation.
Prof. Ariyaratne in his erudite work on interrelationship between Buddhism and science, chemical science in particular, has delved deep into two of Buddha's sermons the Dhamma Chakka Pavattana Sutta, His maiden sermon and the Anatta Lakkhana Sutta, to discover the parallels unparalleled in science and other religions. He finds the discernible parallels with uncanny precision and explains them, which He noticed during His studies of both chemical sciences and Buddhism, in the simplest possible langauge for the benefit of all layers of readers. In His own words He was amazed at the discovery of parallels which "penetrated my brain and exploded in my mind".
In a molecule of hydrogen, the three tendencies of attraction, repulsion and stabilization are completely eliminated when the molecules are separated by an infinite distance. The Buddha says in respect of the eternal truth about "arising of all", they arise due to the threefold desire consisting of the desire for sensual pleasures (kama thanha) the desire for existence (bhava thanha) and the desire for annihilation (vibhava thanha). The parallel to this discovery is the attraction, repulsion and stabilization of the molecules as mentioned above. And, this principle applies generally to each and every process in the universe.
According to the author of this treatise which should attract readers who are interested in the study of Buddhism in as many perspectives as possible, a particular view in science has only a temporary validity. There is always the possibility that a more acceptable view might emerge in future. On the contrary, the Buddha's view of the world is timeless. Buddhism offers solutions to all the problems confronting man while discarding other concepts of creation which is contrary to the law of causation.
Another factor that shows similar relationship is found in the path which the Buddha laid down for permanent cessation of re-becoming. The sutta recommends that it is the middle path (majjima patipada) avoiding the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification (kama sukhallikhanu yoga and atta kilamathanuyoga) that one should tread. It is the same approach which the scientists follow in avoiding the high and low extremes in taking experimentally determined parameters into consideration.
In the other sutta that came under his study, the Anatta Lakkhana Sutta (the sutta on insubstantiality), Prof. Ariyaratne finds how the Buddha used the logical argument method known as the reductio ad absurdum in explaining anatta (insubstantiality or soul-lessness). According to modern views, all objects are insubstantial and they are subject to incessant change. They have the characteristic feature of impermanence and insubstantiality. Prof. Ariyaratne makes it clear that we who are made up or entirety of atoms which are composed of fundamental particles should also necessarily have the characteristic of impermanence.
Science says that for a given phenomenon to occur there must be a specific cause or a specific combination of causes. Buddhism holds exactly the same view with regard to dukkha (suffering or unsatisfactoriness) which according to Buddhism is the consequence of unending re-becoming (punabbhava) which is loosely called rebirth by some writers. Finally, of all religions and philosophies in the world, only two, Prof. Ariyaratne says, maintains and concurs with the statement that man is devoid of a permanent essence (soul), one is Buddhism and the other is the world view of modern science.
Prof. Ariyaratne's work in this respect is a timely research study which could open the field of Buddhist studies and scientific studies for further research in search for compatibility of Buddhism with modern science. That leaves man from the position of a self-deceptive contradiction of belief in one thing in the place of worship and incompletely a different thing in the science laboratories. One who firmly believes in the concept of creation at the same cannot do research on evolution without causing prejudice to his conviction.
Truth is one and there cannot be two truths contradictory of each other. The Buddha has found the spiritual as well as the scientific nature of existence. In this regard Prof. Ariyaratne's thesis is enlightenment and enrichment of man and in his thirst for search and research.