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Science and Buddhism

By Ron Martin

In his book The Wisdom of Buddhism, Christmas Humphreys makes the point that the Buddha told his followers that even his own pronouncements should be tested by practical experience, not simply accepted as articles of faith. Buddhism, therefore, is as much a science as it is a religion because this is precisely the method science uses.

The year 2011 is on track to becoming an important year in the field of science for two reasons, although it must be stressed that neither has yet stood the test of time. One is that it appears as though neutrinos can travel faster than the speed of light. The other concerns the very nature of the Universe and why we are here, as put forward by Stephen Hawking in his book The Grand Design. To bring both of these developments into focus, so that we experience reality as it really is, we need to expunge from our thoughts all preconceptions (which is also the prelude to Zen meditation) and concentrate on the issues without prejudice.

Regarding the speed of light it has been said that the new discovery undermines Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, but this is not so. The famous equation does not require light to travel faster than anything else — only that it should be consistent. All observations over many years and throughout the vastness of the Universe have shown that the speed of light is absolutely consistent. It is true that Einstein thought that nothing travelled faster than light, and he may be wrong on this point, but it does not invalidate his theory.

Coming to the Stephen Hawking book The Grand Design, many people must be puzzled by his statement that the law of Gravity explains why the Universe exists and why we are here. There are two important steps to take in resolving this. Firstly, it is not too difficult to understand that without Gravity the solar system could not exist. The paths of the planets depend solely on the gravitational pull between each planet and the sun, and all the galaxies are as they are because of Gravity. So, without a solar system, we could not exist.

The second condition is more difficult to understand because we need to be mindful of what happened at the beginning of the Universe as we know it, the so-called Big Bang, which occurred some fourteen billion years ago. But was this really the beginning? I submit that it was not. The law of Gravity must have existed before the Big Bang otherwise it could not have happened at all. And if the law of Gravity existed before the Big Bang, then this also applies to all the timeless laws, such as the laws of kinetics and the way chemicals react with each other. So, if all these laws existed before that Big Bang then a Universe must also have preceded it, and the same applies to the moment our present Universe ceases to exist, so there is no beginning and no end, and this is what infinity is all about.

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