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August 11, 2007


Nice writeup. As someone who has read a few books on Buddha and his teachings (Theravada), it is interesting to get an outsider's perspective. From what I've read, Buddha didn't believe in the concept of soul, and it was the mind that propelled itself and manifested as the next life. Don't ask me the mechanics of that. :)

He also didn't answer certain questions about the origin of universe, laws of karma - as questions that would not take one closer to the goal - or maybe after Buddha's death, a Buddhist monk dropped the only copy containing those answers into a river and the texts were accordingly modified. Who knows!!

Regarding science and Buddhists holding back, the monks supposedly took certain vows and didn't do any work that a householder would do (scientific research), or probably anything that wasn't directly related to monastery affairs. So, that could be a possible reason. Besides, if you are exploring the truth about your own body and mind, that seems to be a scientific activity, though not in the modern sense.

Amit, in response to your final paragraph, I quote from my post on Dharamsala,

The monks don't study science — surprising, given the Dalai Lama's own interest in and openness to science, and the lack of an inherent conflict between science and Buddhism — but then Buddhist philosophy too is preoccupied with using a (different) set of disciplined, rational techniques to understand the nature of reality.

So while, as you suggest, it isn't modern science (no scientific method), it is quite rational, at least among its best practitioners. I suspect this happened due to the downplaying of the ego and self in Buddhism. Lace reason with egoistic individualism and you get modern science.

Namit, don't want to engage you in a protracted argument just before you embark upon a long journey. So think about it during the long plane ride to China.

But do tell which successful human endeavor is not fueled by ego? Science? Yes. The arts? Politics and Statecraft? Spiritualism? Yes, yes and an emphatic yes.

I don't want to come across as some tireless defender of science or scientists. But I do see a general societal tendency to knock both only because of the "materialistic" nature of the pursuit. Figures such as Gandhi, Mother Teresa, MLK, and practically every successful artist, politician and activist (and blogger), all possess huge egos and individualistic visions of shaping the world, the value of which in many cases may be debatable. Yet it is usually the scientists who get tagged with the label of cold, calculated and heartless individualism and ego.

Strangely enough, this despite the fact that the field of modern science cannot progress without co-operation, peer review and piggy backing on knowledge accumulated by others - a cooperative effort at its best. Once again, the same warped picture of a scientist emerges because the public image of one does not compare favorably with the more visible, charismatic, flamboyant and dramatic ones projected by social / spiritual scientists and "artistes,"

Speaking of whether one "needs" faith to do good, here is a stunning revelation. But we didn't know, did we? And she couldn't have done what she did without riding the chariot of faith - the only vehicle we are willing to accord the honor of humanity and spirituality.

(We'll talk when you return. Enjoy your trip.)

Hey, I didn't say egoistic individualism is bad or that its opposite is good. Responding to Amit, I just stated a precondition for the rise of modern science, which I think the Buddhists had in short supply (also Hindus). You sound needlessly defensive. (also see 3a/b here.)

Okay, okay!

Perhaps I am defensive but not "needlessly." I come across this "scientist = arrogant" notion so often that it gets my back up. I always have believed that science (and carpentry, plumbing, bridge building) has a way of cutting us down to size pretty quick. So, while scientists and engineers come across as arrogant about what they claim to know, they are very humble about what they DO not know.

Anyway, that Shanghai reader at A.B. may have sneaked in somehow. If you want to report something really interesting while in China and cannot access the blog, send me an email (that comes through, right?) and I can post it until the 31st of August. After that I too will be away for a week.

I'm an engineer but no one has ever accused me of being humble about what I do not know. "Pompous know-it-all" is more common. :-)

Recognizing how others perceive you (pompous know-it-all or whatever) is the evidence of humility, btw. The real know-it-alls are not given to self examination.

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