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Buddhism: Science and Secularism. By: Jos éphine Tan-Yan and Dany Wolf. Secularism. The concept of secularism is vague and I’m going to define what kind of secularism I intend to present.

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Buddhism: Science and Secularism

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Buddhism: Science and Secularism

By: Joséphine Tan-Yan and Dany Wolf


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Secularism

  • The concept of secularism is vague and I’m going to define what kind of secularism I intend to present.

  • In term of politic secularism can be define as the separation of the religion and the state. Essentially that religion should not interfere with national and civil law.

  • In general, political thought of classical Buddhists believe that there should be an intimate relation between the state and the Buddhist church. The King is suppose to be the protector of Buddhism.

  • To talk about secularism in Buddhism we must first see the spread of the religion through the Asian continent.


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The spread of Buddhism

  • The spread of Buddhism in the south east continent of Asia took place around the 3rd century B.C.E. by Kind Ashoka

  • After he made Buddhism the state religion, Ashoka decided to spread the religion by sending out monks to the countries he knew.

Because of King Ashoka, Buddhism spread from Afghanistan to the Bay of Bengal and from the Himalayan foothills to the island of Ceylon ( Sri Lanka). His reign ended in 232 and his empire collapsed a short period later.


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The Sangha and Monastery

  • The Sanghais a monastery in which monks, nuns and devout followers establish faith in localities. To help the Sangha to survive, buddhist around the world make donations to the sangha, which in turn earns them merits, to improve their karma and gather worldy blessings for themselves, their families and their communities.

  • To ease the establishment of new sangha into uncovert region, the monks created a network of “mother-daughter” monasteries, that means that a well settled sangha would help providing for all the needs of a new sangha until the new one get settled.

  • Because of the acceptance of all ethnicities and classes/casts, for the sangha and for the economic contribution, Buddhism gained support from the poeple and established a position and an influence in regional governments.


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South Asia

  • With the decline of the Gupta dynasty in North India around 650 CE, Buddhism only survived because of the imperial patronage, but Buddhism was largely confined to monasteries.

  • By the end of the 13th century a large quantity of monasteries had been abandoned. The main reason for the fall of Buddhism in this area is the arising of Hinduism and the arrival of Islam in the region.

  • Buddhism’s dominant region then shifted to East Asia.


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After the Gangetic plains were ravaged, Ceylon became the centre of Theravada discipline.

The island embraced Buddhism quickly and by 100 B.C.E. sangha started to gain support from the kings and influenced the politics.

Because of this support, monks from Ceylon were able to institute “reforms” in various countries that ensured the survival of Theravada Buddhism (in countries like Burma, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia)

Ceylon


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China

  • Through the dispersion of the sangha, Buddhism had its biggest growth by the 1st century B.C.E.

  • By the late 4th century Buddhism was well established in China, with the aristocracy as well as the masses.

  • Buddhist scholars in China developed their own interpretation of texts to make Buddhism compatible with other indigenous gods and religions.

  • The major problem for Buddhists in China was that part of their support came from the reigning emperor and their influence rise or decrease depending on the ruler.

  • Around the middle of the 9th century anti-Buddhist sentiment and persecution pushed a lot of people to abandon Buddhism.

  • However, during the Mongolian reign of China, at the end of the 13th century to the end of the 14th century, Tibetan Buddhism (Mahayana-Vajrayana) became the state religion and gained a strong support across the country.

  • With the return of Chinese rule under the Ming dynasty, Mahayana Buddhism was once again embraced, but only because of the new customs inserted in local Buddhism such as the appearance of merit account books and simple rituals to earn merits.


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As I explained before, because of the help brought by Ceylon, the majority of Southeast Asia was under the influence of Theravada Buddhism. Because of that influence, leaders were able to impose a Buddhist order that made the people following the Dharma on their territories and the building of stupa.

This form of Buddhist state survived until the modern era when new ideas and political systems emerged.

Mahayana Buddhism reached Japan in the 6th century and progressed slowly.

In the 12th and 13th century accommodation with the local beliefs were made, and two schools erupted: the Rinzai Zen school (under monk Eisai) and the Soto Zen school (under monk Dogen). Both views grew quickly among the aristocracy and the warriors who at the time controlled Japanese society.

Still during this period a prophetic and charismatic monk named Nichiren created a new school, which was very popular for its simplicity and low demands.

Southeast Asia and Japan


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Himalayan region

  • In Tibet, Mongolia and Nepal the Mahayana school found supremacy. Across the highland frontiers, Vajrayana tradition came to be seen as the Buddha’s highest teaching.

  • By the middle of the 13th century, the ‘incarnate lineage” of divinities become leader of the both the religious and the political power.

  • Until the political modernisation of Asia through the European influence and colonization, the major interpretation of Buddhism tends to be non-secular. Buddhists have always looked at the Legend of Ashoka to define their exemplary relationship with the rulers as protectors and patrons with a strong influence of Buddhism for the acts of the ruler.


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With the arrival of Christians and colonialism, Buddhists were forced to find new protection and adapt to the changes of the new era. In general, in most countries where Buddhism was strong, colonial and postcolonial governments sought to eliminate sources of political dissent by imposing on the sangha regulation and restriction.

Pre-modern era


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The solution was increasing the involvement of the lay society in Buddhist institutions and spiritual practice, this motivated some laity to take the place of former royal patrons. The lay reformers insisted that monks respect the sangha rules and help the start of schools.

As well as in Thailand new interpretations of “True Buddhism” was made by lay reformers, insisting that the genuine centre of faith was a quest for mind salvation which swayed Buddhism away from politics.

During the modernization of Japan, during which the Shinto was promoted as national faith, nationalist movements tried to destroy Buddhism in Japan. Despite its 1400 years in Japan, Buddhism was criticized as “foreign religion” and “unnatural”.

In response of those criticisms, Buddhists instated reforms. For example the Zen school pronounced themselves in favour for nationalism and militarism in hopes of survival.

In Ceylon

In Japan


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Buddhism in the postcolonial world

  • After the Second World War, a wave of decolonisation took place in Asia and countries start to regain independence. The place of Buddhism is these new societies differed regarding the situation.

  • There are mainly three ideas of the role of Buddhism in the modern society.

  • The first concept is the rejection of modernity and a return to original practice that haven’t been corrupted by colonial era.

  • The second concept on the opposite want to move Buddhism to a new level, better adapted for modernity and postcolonial world.

  • The third concept is to keep the “essence of Buddhism” while using modern technologies to help Buddhism to rise among all the nations.

  • But despite all the effort of the Buddhist to remain solid in many countries as possible, they remain really strong only in a few regions: Himalayan, Sri Lanka and Thailand.


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Buddhism in the postcolonial world cont’d

  • With the decolonisation, shifts in the political and socio-economic spheres have changed individuals and caused Buddhism to adapt their beliefs and practice in countries where they are the majority.

  • But what kind of administration should Buddhist adopt? Should they go back to a military authoritarianism on the model of Ashoka or a representative democracy on the model of sangha’s democratic norms?

  • The result of that debate differed from place to place:

  • In modern China, Myanmar and Vietnam Buddhist monk have been called upon to withdraw, study and meditation.

  • However, in modern India, Sri Lanka and Thailand monks have become leaders in political reform movements and in the implementation of economic development projects.

  • Even if most Buddhist movement inclined for a democratic system based on equality some as in Sri Lanka have tried to rebuild a ‘pure Buddhist state” and start conflict with non-Buddhist minorities.


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Conclusion

Secularism

  • For the majority of its history, Buddhism has been trying to interact with state power and government. The Ashoka system has been seen as the best system in the Buddhist tradition until the modernization period during which new ideology of the relation between Buddhism and power emerged. Those new doctrines are based on the adaptation of Buddhism with modernity and refer to the attitude of monks depending on their regional situation. Today scholars and monks try to redefine what relationship Buddhism should have with power, either a democratic, equal and tolerant system, a Buddhist state in which the Dharma would be the national law, or a military authoritarianism.


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Science

  • Knowledge acquired by study; acquaintance with or mastery of any department of learning. Also pl. (a person's) various kinds of knowledge.

  • In a more restricted sense: A branch of study which is concerned either with a connected body of demonstrated truths or with observed facts systematically classified and more or less colligated by being brought under general laws, and which includes trustworthy methods for the discovery of new truth within its own domain.

    • Oxford English Dictionary.

  • Science is a vast domain with different categories, in which case, for this presentation I will focus on Evolutionary biology and Buddhism, as well as the laws of cause and effect of physics with Buddhism.


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    Quotes about science and Buddhism

    • "Yes, Kalamas, it is proper that you have doubt, that you have perplexity, for a doubt has arisen in a matter which is doubtful. Now, look you Kalamas, do not be led by reports, or tradition, or hearsay. Be not led by the authority of religious texts, not by mere logic or inference, nor by considering appearances, nor by the delight in speculative opinions, nor by seeming possibilities, nor by the idea: 'this is our teacher'. But O Kalamas, when you know for yourselves that certain things are unwholesome (akusala), and wrong, and bad, then give them up...And when you know for yourselves that certain things are wholesome (kusala) and good, then accept them and follow them."

      • Buddha


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    Quotes cont’d

    • “Suppose that something is definitely proven through scientific investigation, that a certain hypothesis is verified or a certain hypothesis is verified or a certain fact emerges as a result of scientific investigation. And suppose, furthermore, that that act is incompatible with Buddhist theory. There is no doubt that we must accept the result of the scientific research.”

      • The 14th Dalai Lama, from A policy of kindness, p. 67


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    Modern science and religion

    • Modern science initiated a deep spiritual crisis that led to an unfortunate split between faith and reason. Buddhism was seen as an "alternative altar," a bridge that could reunite the estranged worlds of matter and spirit. Thus, to a large extent Buddhism's flowering in the West during the last century came about to satisfy post-Darwinian needs to have religious beliefs grounded in new scientific truth.


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    Buddhism does not assert nor depend upon the existence of a God

    Buddhism is a superstition-free moral ideal; it conforms to the scientific view of an ordered universe ruled by law (Dharma) – a system both moral and physical where everything seems to work itself out inexorable over vast periods of time without divine intervention (karma)

    Buddhism assumes no belief in gods who could alter the workings of this natural law

    Buddhism is a religion of self-help with all depending on the individual working out his/her own salvation

    “original” Buddhism was seen as the “Protestantism of Asia” and Buddha as another Luther who swept away the superstitions and rituals of an older, corrupted form and took religion back to its pure and simple origins

    Buddhism presents an attractive personal founder who led life of great self-sacrifice

    What makes Buddhism compatible with science


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    Evolution and Buddhism

    • Darwin’s theory of evolution was also compatible with karma from Buddhism, Natural selection is the survival of the fittest, where the stronger, smarter and more able survive, whereas the weaker and less capable die. In Buddhism, karma is based on the things one does in his present life reflect what life they will have for their re-birth. Therefore, if a being is very good and generous and does as much as possible to abide by the rules of Buddhism, his re-birth may bring a better position in life. Therefore, evolution seemed to match nicely with the notion of karma—the cyclical unfolding of events governed by the law of cause and effect.


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    Quantum Physics

    • It is important to emphasize that the mathematical equations of quantum physics do not describe actual existence - they describe potential for existence. Working out the equations of quantum mechanics for a system composed of fundamental particles produces a range of potential locations, values and attributes of the particles which evolve and change with time. But for any system only one of these potential states can become real, and - this is the revolutionary finding of quantum physics - what forces the range of the potentials to assume one value is the act of observation. Matter and energy are not in themselves phenomena, and do not become phenomena until they interact with the mind.


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    Quantum Physics cont’d

    • Kadampa Buddhists, a branch of Mahayana Buddhism, states that everything is void of any defining essence. Consequently nothing has a fixed identity and are in a state of impermanence constantly becoming and decaying. Not only are all things constantly changing, but also if we analyze any phenomenon in enough detail the conclusion may be that it is ultimately not findable, and exists purely by definitions in terms of other things defined by the mind which generates those definitions.

    • Kadampa Buddhism regards the persistent delusion of 'inherent existence' as a major obstacle to spiritual development, and the root of many other damaging delusions. One of these delusions is the materialist belief in an objective reality existing independently of mind. By asserting that the universe exists inherently as a brute fact, materialism denies that subjective experience has any relevance to or influence on the universe, or indeed any existence at all.


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    Conclusion

    Science

    • Buddhism is one of the few world religions which can relate to scientific findings, because in no where does this religion counter argue with science. Mahayana Buddhism has even allowed itself to participate in discussions about science and is open to discussions on the subject, and have an open-mind for possible conclusions.

    • “Although Buddhist contemplative tradition and modern science have evolved from different historical, intellectual and cultural roots, I believe that at heart they share significant commonalities, especially in their basic philosophical outlook and methodology.”

      • Dalai Lama at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience on November 12 2005, in Washington, DC.


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