Science and Buddhism
When the developers of this volume asked me to provide a paper about "Science and Buddhism," they probably wanted the point of view of someone who has been trained in the scientific method of the West and is a practicing scientist, but who happens also to have some knowledge of the Buddhist tradition; in other words, someone who is familiar with two totally different ways of exploring the nature of the phenomenal world: one which relies on the rational method and uses physics and mathematics as tools while the other relies on an analysis of phenomena through the contemplative method. Yet both share a common thread: both are based on experience and observation.
It is not my purpose in this talk to use science to justify Buddhism, nor Buddhism to give a mystical meaning to science. Both exist independently of one another and stand on their own: Buddhism is a science of the awakening and whether the Universe is expanding or not can not have any bearing on its philosophical underpinnings. On the other hand, science is perfectly self-sufficient and accomplishes well its stated aim - that of giving a coherent description of the physical processes operating in Nature - without the need of a philosophical support from Buddhism or any other religion. Yet both science and Buddhism aspire to describe reality, and if their approaches are both coherent and valid, their respective visions should not contradict and exclude each other but rather should complement and re-enforce each other.
The description of the phenomenal world is not the main aim of Buddhism. Buddha is a physician of the soul and his main concern is to show the way to enlightenment. He has greater preoccupation with peace of mind, kindness, compassion and the joy and happiness in ourselves and others than in knowledge that does not contribute directly to a lessening of sorrow and suffering. Knowing that the Earth is round rather than flat, or that the universe had a beginning (or not) does not contribute directly to awakening. However, in order to analyze the causes of unhappiness, Buddha uses the methods of contemplative science that allow one not only to see clearly into the nature of the mind, but also to considerably refine our view of the phenomenal world. According to Buddhism, a correct analysis of the phenomenal world is necessary because an incorrect perception of reality may result in suffering and unhappiness. For example, if we are convinced that the material world has an intrinsic and permanent existence, then we may develop a strong misguided attachment to that material world which can cause frustration and suffering.