Buddhadasa and Science

Posted: 27/01/2016 in Buddhadasa

“All things except the noumenon, the unconditioned, arise from a cause, and exist according to that cause. When we say, in Buddhism, that all things come from causes, we are pointing to the basic scientific character of Buddhism – the understanding that all things come from causes is the basic principle of science. Buddhism isn’t any kind of a philosophy that relies on assumptions, on speculation – on basically guesswork. Buddhism deals only with causes and effects of causes, and tries to understand this. This is scientific. We should never confuse Buddhism with philosophy, and all other kinds of speculation based on various assumptions.” [Ariya Sacca talk Origin4a search for “noumenon, the” pdf p58]

This is Buddhadasa’s description of science but is this a scientific reality? I need to examine my relationship with science, Bacon and all that again.

I have no wish to put words in the mouth of a teacher such as Buddhadasa, but in order to consider what he has said I need to make assumptions about science. Effectively he talks about science as cause and effect ie reason and logical thinking, this of course is part of scientific thinking and there can be no controversy in making such comparisons.

But to describe science as not having assumptions is not appropriate. If we consider maths, the supposed language of science, then part of maths is clearly a science of cause and effect. But every branch of maths, or every maths problem, starts with an axiom or basic laws that are generally accepted within the scientific community, if not wider. When making comparisons with science, rather than Buddhism not being based on assumptions, it would be better to establish what axioms Buddhism is based on. And then consider that Buddhism is based on the science of cause and effect based on these axioms. Consistent with Buddhadasa’s teaching I would suggest such axioms might be Idapaccayata-paticcasammupada, anatta, anicca, dukkha, 5 khandas and 6 senses. If there are not such axioms what is the cause, what are the effects?

But we also cannot ignore that science is part of society, and suffers from socio-political influences as do all things that belong to our society. So the science that Buddhadasa might be comparing with is not necessarily the science that is current in society. The science that Buddhadasa might well be referring to is a science that is a genuine search for knowledge based on a methodology of experiment, research, observation, cause and effect; one might also include in this genuine search for knowledge a moral clause such as “for the benefit of humanity”. In practice science is little more than business-funded, profit-making, technologically-orientated, and often destructive to humanity. Science that could be used for the benefit of humanity often remains unfunded and sometimes actively suppressed such as the science concerning GM products because that science destroys the profits of BigFood. The model of scientific methodology that I surmise Buddhadasa refers to is far from the science that is practised.

Buddhadasa has spoken about life as being “learning what-is-what”; in theory this is what science is. In practice however science has changed. This change began long before Buddhadasa. From the time of the Buddha and before up until the time of the reformation, science might well have been practised as “learning what-is-what”. In the observation of “what-is-what” there became two distinct approaches that which could be observed only and that which could be observed and recreated. It is my understanding that Francis Bacon was the first to make such a delineation, and equally as far as my understanding goes he did this as a recognition of what is what; categorisation of knowledge is a part of science.

But what has happened since Bacon is the real problem, science has become that which can be observed and recreated – now usually in a “laboratory”. And this second category of observed and recreated has also become known as “rational”. No-one, I assume, would want to dispute that this rational knowledge is not science, not part of “what-is-what”, but much that is now subsumed under the body of academia reject as not science that which cannot be observed and recreated in a laboratory. So learning science is now not the same as learning “what-is-what”. What is the difference? Bacon’s delineation is associated in my mind, and wider I believe, as science and religion, and this has become that knowledge of “what-is-what” that cannot be observed and recreated is in the category of religious knowledge which is now not accepted as knowledge or science.

Consider this quote from Buddhadasa “Now intuitive insight, or what we call ‘seeing Dhamma’, is not by any means the same thing as rational thinking. One will never come to see Dhamma by means of rational thinking. Intuitive insight can be gained only by means of a true inner realization” [from Handbook of Mankind quoted here]. He is saying that seeing Dhamma (including knowing “what-is-what”) requires more than is rational thinking. I fully accept that but the model that is now science (developed from Bacon’s split) would, I surmise, suggest that Buddhadasa is not being “scientific”. Whilst I agree wholeheartedly with Buddhadasa’s approach, both in terms of cause and effect and that of insight, science as it is now practised would not.

Let me examine further from my limited Buddhist perspective what is on the “religious side of Bacon’s delineation”. I would suggest that the jhanas and the 4 Brahma-Viharas (sublime states) would fall on this religious side – as well as insight. How would one recreate such in a laboratory?

“Empirical Research can be defined as “research based on experimentation or observation (evidence)”. Such research is conducted to test a hypothesis. The word empirical means information gained by experience, observation, or experiment. The central theme in scientific method is that all evidence must be empirical which means it is based on evidence. In scientific method the word “empirical” refers to the use of working hypothesis that can be tested using observation and experiment.”
[https://explorable.com/empirical-research – just the first definition I found from an online search]

There are two points concerning this:-

1) Is there empirical evidence gained by experience and observation that cannot be verified by scientific method. And can this empirical evidence be termed “science”?
2) Where does qualitative research fall in terms of this definition?

In light of 1) I would suggest that much of what Buddhadasa is describing as science, “what-is-what”, falls into this category – experience and observation that cannot be verified by scientific method (as defined in the quote). Much that Buddhism observes as “what-is-what” concerns the mind and mental states, typically the jhanas and the 4 Brahma-Viharas, and despite efforts of HHDL’s Mind and Life Institute it is difficult to see scientific establishment accepting these states as “knowledge” or “science”. Yet I would see them as cause and effect although I am not exactly sure how as yet.

Considering 2), let me first describe how I perceive qualitative research arose. Quantitative research is very limited. It is based on the above scientific method, and its conclusions are often numerical. But life is not numerical, it is descriptive and a numerical evaluation greatly limits what can be observed about life. Research, especially research in the social sciences, has moved towards qualitative research where peoples’ descriptions of their life as case studies are now accepted as research. Such research whilst being observable because they can be recorded do not at all fit into the definition of creatable scientific method as described in the above quote. Yet academia readily accepts qualitative research as science (personally, the bulk of my M Ed came from case study research). When academia chooses, case study, recounting of personal observations, is scientific method.

But does science choose to accept jhanas and Brahma-Viharas as observation? Science as “what-is-what” would.

Another point that HHDL made somewhere is that what happens in meditation can be “recreated”. The empirical observations that people make during meditation can be repeated by different people following the same meditation methods. I would also contend that peoples’ recounting of jhanas and brahma-viharas would also be similar. Such observations would not however fit in with quantitative research but in my view could readily be assessed in a qualitative approach.

In conclusion when Buddhadasa describes Buddhism as science through cause and effect I agree. However the science that is practiced in society is far from this. I would personally like to see Buddhadasa establish Buddhist axioms from which cause and effect could be established, this for me would then complete Buddhism as a science. Buddhadasa is not likely to do that now, and Buddhism is now so diffuse it is unlikely that such axioms would ever readily be agreed. I would like one day to be able to know Buddhism sufficiently to establish such axioms. When I proposed idapaccayata-paticcasammupada, the 3 characteristics – anatta, anicca and dukkha, 5 khandas and 6 senses, I feel I am somewhere near such axioms. I would like to define the axioms as idapaccayata, the laws of Nature, but I am unsure how the characteristics khandas and sense are effected by that cause – idapaccayata, maybe I will know one day.

Books:- Treatise, Wai Zandtao Scifi, Matriellez Education.

Blogs:- Ginsukapaapdee, Matriellez.



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