Sunday, September 16, 2007

Does Buddhism conflict with modern science?

"The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. The religion which based on experience, which refuses dogmatic. If there's any religion that would cope the scientific needs it will be Buddhism."
- Albert Einstein
Among all the major religions of the world, the Buddhist teachings do not have any conflicts with the discoveries of modern science. It does not have any creation myths, nor does it attempt to attribute any natural phenomena to supernatural agencies.
It embraces fully the Theory of Evolution which in fact clearly demonstrates the Buddhist doctrine of Impermanence. Thus, it has no difficulties with fossil remains, carbon-dating and geological evidence with which modern science uses to date the age of the earth to be around 4.5 billion years.

The Buddha had said specifically that there are countless star systems in existence, and that our world is like a speck of dust compared to the vastness and diversity of the universe. He never said that the earth or the human species were created by an unseen deity to hold a special place in the universe. Using modern astronomy, satellites and radio telescopes, we can observe the trillions of stars and billions of galaxies in the universe; and see clearly that the Buddha made a very accurate observation of our place in the cosmos.

The Buddha's concept of time, in the context of the universe, seems to be very much in accordance with modern science. Buddhism measures the timescale of the universe in 'kalpas' which are inconceivably long periods of time. He gave the analogy of a silk cloth brushing the top of a mountain once every hundred years. The time it takes for the mountain to be worn down to nothing is approximately the duration of one 'kalpa'. Therefore Buddhist cosmology is quite in line with current scientific estimates of the age of the universe, which is taken to be about 13.7 billion years old.

Also very interestingly, The Buddha mentioned that the universe is in a continual state of expansion and contraction and that these cycles last for unimaginably long periods of time, or for many, many 'kalpas'. It seems that He anticipated the Oscillating Universe Theory by more than 2,500 years.

In one of the suttas (teaching), the Buddha held up a cup of water and said that there are countless living beings in the water. For a long time, nobody understood what He meant, but today we can see through a microscope that there are in fact countless micro-organisms in any cup of water. Thus there may still be many things the Buddha said that we have yet to discover and comprehend.

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Buddha

Siddartha Gautama was born about 2,500 years ago into a royal family. His father was the ruler of a kingdom located in northern India close to the border of what is now Nepal. As the crown prince, he lived a life of decadent luxury surrounded by riches and beautiful women. However, even as a youth he realized that he would get no lasting satisfaction from such a lifestyle.

He began to see that all human existence is unavoidably subject to illness, old age and death. His contemplative nature and boundless compassion did not permit him to enjoy the fleeting material pleasures of a Royal household. At the age of 29, and inspired by the sight of a calm and dignified hermit, he decided to forgo his luxurious lifestyle. He left his wife and child in the good hands of the royal family to seek the answers to lasting happiness. It was an unprecedented historic renunciation; for he renounced not in his old age but in the prime of manhood, not in poverty but in plenty.

After 6 years of wandering and severe ascetic practices, he realized that neither a decadent lifestyle nor extreme ascetism will lead him to the answers he sought. He decided to pursue the 'Middle Way' between these two extremes.

One happy morning, while He was deeply absorbed in meditation, unaided and unguided by any supernatural power and solely relying on His efforts and wisdom, He eradicated all defilements, purified Himself, and, realizing things as they truly are, attained Enlightenment (Buddhahood) at the age of 35. From then on, the Prince became known as the Buddha which means literally, the 'Awakened One'. He was not born a Buddha, but he became a Buddha by his own striving. As the perfect embodiment of all the virtues he preached, endowed with deep wisdom commensurate with his boundless compassion. He devoted the remainder of his precious life to serve humanity both by example and precept, dominated by no personal motive whatever.

The Buddha then spent the next 45 years of his life teaching what he finally came to understand. He founded a community of monks known as the Sangha, and Buddhism spread throughout northern India. Kings, nobles, merchants and peasants became his disciples and followers, and even now countless people everywhere benefit from his Teachings.

The Buddha was a human being. As a man he was born, as a man He lived, and as a man His life came to an end. Though a human being, He became an extraordinary man (Acchariya Manussa), but He never arrogated to Himself divinity. The Buddha laid stress on this important point and left no room whatever for anyone to fall into the error of thinking that he was an immortal divine being.

The Buddha exhorts his disciples to depend on themselves for their deliverance, for both purity and defilement depend on oneself. Clarifying his relationship with his followers and emphasizing the importance of self-reliance and individual striving, the Buddha plainly states: "You should exert yourselves, the Tathagatas (Buddha) are only teachers."

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Why are there different Buddhist traditions?

Buddhism was founded more than 2,500 years ago, and with this long passage of time, three main traditions and four smaller schools have evolved. These developments took place as Buddhism adapted to the different countries, conditions and cultures it spread to.
However, the Buddha's Teachings have proved to be very resilient as while the outer trappings may be dissimilar, the core Buddhist doctrines remain the same among the various traditions. For example, the acceptance of the core doctrines, or "Unifying Points", between the different traditions was formally endorsed by the World Buddhist Sangha Council in Sri Lanka in 1966.
Buddhists accept and respect diversity, and consider the various traditions merely as different routes to the same destination.

The Theravada tradition is the oldest and most conservative. It is the closest to the original form of Buddhism as taught by the Buddha Himself. It is simpler than the other traditions in approach with few ceremonies and rituals, preferring instead to stress on discipline and morality and the practice of meditation.

The Mahayana tradition started to develop in India between 200 B.C. and 100 A.D. It has adapted to different Asian cultures absorbing elements of Hinduism and Taoism. Mahayana Buddhism emphasizes very much on compassion and faith with the goal of helping all others attain enlightenment. The Zen, Nichiren and Pureland sects are offshoots of Mahayana Buddhism.

The Vajrayana or Tibetan tradition rose around 300 A.D. in Tibet when Buddhist Indian monks brought over a brand of Buddhism with tantric practices. This combined with elements of the local Bon religion gives Vajrayana its unique practices. It tends to be heavier on rituals, mantra chanting and visualizations. The most well-known face of Buddhism, the Dalai Lama, is the spiritual head of the Vajrayana tradition.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

What is Theravada Buddhism?

Theravada (pronounced more or less "terra-VAH-dah"), the "Doctrine of the Elders," is the school of Buddhism that draws its scriptural inspiration from the Tipitaka, or Pali canon, which scholars generally agree contains the earliest surviving record of the Buddha's teachings. For many centuries, Theravada has been the predominant religion of continental
Southeast Asia (Thailand, Myanmar/Burma, Cambodia, and Laos) and Sri Lanka. Today Theravada Buddhists number well over 100 million worldwide. In recent decades Theravada has begun to take root in the West.

The Buddha (A human being with compassion and intellectualism)
Among the founders of religions the Buddha (if we are permitted to call him the founder of a religion in the popular sense of the term) was the only teacher who did not claim to be other than a human being, pure and simple. Other teachers were either God or his incarnations in different forms, or inspired by him. The Buddha was not only a human being; he claimed no inspiration from God or any external power either. He attributed all his realization, attainments and achievements to human endeavor and human intelligence. Man and only a man can become a Buddha.

Man’s position, according to Buddhism, is supreme. Man is his own master, and there is no higher being or power that sits in judgment over his destiny.

Freedom of Thought
Buddhism is well regarded by the intellectual community for freedom of thought, and tolerance. Buddhism is never for extremists nor extremists ever acclaim Buddhism.

Is Buddhism or religion or philosophy?
The question has often been asked: Is Buddhism or religion or philosophy? It does not matter what you call it. Buddhism remains what it is whatever label you may put on it. The label is immaterial. Even the label ‘Buddhism’ which we give to the teaching of the Buddha is of little importance. The name one gives it is inessential.

Doctrine of Anatta (Not-self/No-soul)
Buddhism stands unique in the history of human thought in denying the existence of such a Soul, Self, or Atman. According to the teaching of the Buddha, the idea of the self is an imaginary, false belief which has no corresponding reality, and it produces harmfull thoughts of ‘me’ and ‘mine’, selfish desire, craving, attachment, hatred, ill-will, conceit, pride, egoism, and other defilements, impurities and problems. It is source of all the troubles in the world from personal conflicts to wars between nations. In short, to this false view can be traced all the evil in the world.

Scientific analysis of existance of all beings
On this principle of conditionality, relativity and interdependence, the whole existence and continuity of life and its cessation are explained in a detailed formula which is called, Paticca-samuppada ‘Conditional Genesis’:

When this is, that is ;
This arising, that arise
When this is not, that is not
This ceasing, that ceases

Practice of Damma
1. Genoricity (Dana)
This simply means 'Giving' or helping others. This can be practiced in many different ways.Even giving something as simple as a smile can help another if it cheers them up and brightens their day. You can always lend a hand to anyone who needs help.However, try to do all this without regret, discrimination or ulterior motives. Practice Dana with kindness, compassion and empathy.

2. Morality (Sila)
This means 'Morality' and the Buddha has advised us to observe the Five Precepts in the cultivation of Sila :
1. Abstain from killing any living beings.
2. Abstain from taking what is not given.
3. Abstain from sexual misconduct.
4. Abstain from lying and false speech.
5. Abstain from the abusive consumption of intoxicants and drugs.
These Precepts are not commandments, but are rules that Buddhists take upon themselves to observe. They are observed not through fear of punishment but because we realize that such actions harm others as well as ourselves.

3. Meditation (Bhavana) :
Bhavana means the practice of 'Mind Cultivation' or simply meditation. Meditation can be said to purify the mind by making it easier to develop Generosity and Compassion, and then to finally acquire Wisdom.

This Damma web blog is intended to share my experience and views on good and reliable Theravada Buddhist resources in the Web.

This blog is supplemented by which is published by the same author.

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