Ven. Ajahn Brahm on Buddhism and Science

Listening to sermons by the wise and inculcating their wisdom into our daily lives is a habitual trait of a practising Buddhist. The Buddha in the Kalama Sutta (http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/kalama1.htm) tells the kalamas to reason out their beliefs and to adopt a view or belief only by testing it with the practical results they yield. While telling the kalamas to always reason out the views or beliefs handed down from tradition and from sources deemed to be reliable and to be aware of distortions in one’s perception, He also urges the kalamas to check their beliefs with the experiences of the Vinnun (the wise) who have travelled down that path before.

Among the English-speaking, wise (Vinnun) Buddhist monks in the world today, Ven. Ajahn Brahm has to be categorized in the top-tier. His knowledge of Buddhism (as a practising Buddhist for 40 years) coupled with his depth of insight on a range of topics reminds one of the depth of vision that arises in a still mind. His background as a Cambridge graduate in physics coupled with his innate oratorical skills gives him the overall embellishment to appeal to any audience.

As a Buddhist interested in the philosophy of science and its epistemology, I recently came across this scorcher of a talk he delivered at the University of Toronto in November 2012 on “Buddhism and Science”. His talk captures in essence how science, after initially challenging religion, has become dogmatic with practices such as peer review and competition for research grants dominating and suppressing its main aim – the search for the truth. His insight into the story of the search for the Higgs Boson is an eye opener to those ensnared in the media hype generated over its alleged finding. Ven. Ajahn Brahm’s call is for science to expand its breadth of vision (“Do not let learning come in the way of imagination”) and thereby to phenomena such as rebirth, Out-of-Body (OBE) experiences etc., which has enough case evidence although its modus operandi has not been discerned.

However, to me, the most important aspect of Ven. Brahm’s talk is that it serves as an eye-opener to many countries with non-western traditions (such as Sri Lanka), who are now engrossed in a race to acquire western technologies and knowledge, without a proper assessment of their benefits or an understanding of how to inculcate them within their respective cultural traditions. Ven.Brahm’s talk is an implicit call for Buddhist traditions to appreciate the wisdom in the epistemological foundations of their traditions and knowledge created in them.

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