Crossing the line between Buddhism and Science

On the morning of 31 May 2008, Dharma Drum Mountain hosted a meaningful spiritual dialogue between Venerable Master Sheng Yen and American astronaut Dr Edgar Mitchell at the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, Taipei. The dialogue unfolded around the themes of "Power of the Universe," "The Mystery of Consciousness" and "Enlightenment: Dawn of the Future World."

The dialogue started soon after the presentation ceremony for the 2008 Dr Kuo-Ding Li Distinguished Economic and Social Design Award. This award was presented to Venerable Master Sheng Yen by Dr Chao-Ming Wang, Chairman of the Dr Kuo-Ding Li Digital Knowledge Association, for the Master's persistent efforts in the Spiritual Environment campaign for public good.

Dr Edgar Mitchell stated that personally witnessing the infinite nature of the universe in his lunar exploration missions stimulated him to reflect on his inner self. However, he could not find the answers to the puzzles in his mind from the perspective of Western philosophies, so he started to look towards Eastern philosophies.

Dr Mitchell found answers to his questions in the Sankskrit Buddhist scriptures about Samadhi (enlightenment). He said that the description of Samadhi in Buddhist scriptures resonated with his spiritual discovery of self and the universe uniting as one, just as he experienced during his space mission.

Venerable Master Sheng Yen praised Dr Mitchell's valuable enlightenment and stated that enlightenment could also be practiced by deep reflection on the inner self in the process of life. However, he also added that if one wants to achieve enduring enlightenment and true liberation, one must constantly practise detachment.

Later, Dr Mitchell touched on the "Big Bang" theory. He believed that the universe has no beginning and no end, that the universe is actually a constant process of change and creation. Venerable Master Sheng Yen concurred with this view, saying that from the perspective of Buddhism, the universe is the process of formation, duration, devastation and emptiness, as described clearly in the Avatamsaka Sutra. The Master went on to state that both Buddhism and science show many similarities, but science could not explain the highest spiritual level of Buddhism. Dr Edgar Mitchell agreed by saying that science similarly offers no answer to the creation of beauty in one's mind.

On the issue of karma, Venerable Master Sheng Yen explained that karma could be recognised as an expression of consciousness, which includes eye consciousness, ear consciousness, nose consciousness, tongue consciousness and body consciousness. These first five sense consciousness do not create karma, whereas the sixth consciousness which discriminates good and evil does create karma and the retribution of the karmic consequences will come into fruition later on. The eighth consciousness is the storehouse of karmic seeds and will be brought over into future lives. Dr Mitchell said that although science could not prove the power of karma, he fully agreed to the idea of self-transcendence promoted by religion.

The dialogue ended in the discussion of the future of humankind. Dr Edgar Mitchell said that violence will not provide solutions to conflict; only love and respect are true solutions for peace. Venerable Master Sheng Yen said that he is always optimistic for the future as long as there is one calling for peace, love and tolerance.

(translated by Jin Yang/edited by DDM Australia Editing Team)

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