Buddhism and Science: A Guide for the Perplexed

University of Chicago Press
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Beginning in the nineteenth century and continuing to the present day, both Buddhists and admirers of Buddhism have proclaimed the compatibility of Buddhism and science. Their assertions have ranged from modest claims about the efficacy of meditation for mental health to grander declarations that the Buddha himself anticipated the theories of relativity, quantum physics and the big bang more than two millennia ago.
In Buddhism and Science, Donald S. Lopez Jr. is less interested in evaluating the accuracy of such claims than in exploring how and why these two seemingly disparate modes of understanding the inner and outer universe have been so persistently linked. Lopez opens with an account of the rise and fall of Mount Meru, the great peak that stands at the center of the flat earth of Buddhist cosmography—and which was interpreted anew once it proved incompatible with modern geography. From there, he analyzes the way in which Buddhist concepts of spiritual nobility were enlisted to support the notorious science of race in the nineteenth century. Bringing the story to the present, Lopez explores the Dalai Lama’s interest in scientific discoveries, as well as the implications of research on meditation for neuroscience. Lopez argues that by presenting an ancient Asian tradition as compatible with—and even anticipating—scientific discoveries, European enthusiasts and Asian elites have sidestepped the debates on the relevance of religion in the modern world that began in the nineteenth century and still flare today. As new discoveries continue to reshape our understanding of mind and matter, Buddhism and Science will be indispensable reading for those fascinated by religion, science, and their often vexed relation.
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About the author

Donald S. Lopez Jr. is the Arthur E. Link Distinguished University Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Michigan. He is the author or editor of a number of books, including Prisoners of Shangri-La, The Madman’s Middle Way, and Critical Terms for the Study of Buddhism, all published by the University of Chicago Press.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
May 15, 2009
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Pages
278
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ISBN
9780226493244
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Language
English
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Genres
Religion / Buddhism / History
Science / General
Science / History
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This content is DRM protected.
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Many people believe that during the Middle Ages Christianity was actively hostile toward science (then known as natural philosophy) and impeded its progress. This comprehensive survey of science and religion during the period between the lives of Aristotle and Copernicus demonstrates how this was not the case. Medieval theologians were not hostile to learning natural philosophy, but embraced it. Had they had not done so, the science that developed during the Scientific Revolution would not--and could not--have occurred. Students and lay readers will learn how the roots of much of the scientific culture of today originated with the religious thinkers of the Middle Ages. Science and Religion, 400 B.C. to A.D. 1550 thoroughly covers the relationship between science and religion in the medieval period, and provides many resources for the student or lay reader: BL Discusses how the influx of Greek and Arabic science in the 12th and 13th centuries-- especially the works of Aristotle in logic and natural philosophy--dramatically changed how science was viewed in Western Europe. BL Demonstrates how medieval universities and their teachers disseminated a positive attitude toward rational inquiry and made it possible for Western Europe to become oriented toward science. BL Includes primary documents that allow the reader to see how important scholars of the period understood the relationship of science and religion. BL Provides an annotated bibliography of the most important works on science and religion in the Middle Ages, helping students to study the topic in more detail. BL
Is it possible to think like a scientist and yet have the faith of a Christian? Although many Westerners might say no, there are also many critically minded individuals who entertain what John Polkinghorne calls a "wistful wariness" toward religion--they feel unable to accept religion on rational grounds yet cannot dismiss it completely. Polkinghorne, both a particle physicist and Anglican priest, here explores just what rational grounds there could be for Christian beliefs, maintaining that the quest for motivated understanding is a concern shared by scientists and religious thinkers alike. Anyone who assumes that religion is based on unquestioning certainties, or that it need not take into account empirical knowledge, will be challenged by Polkinghorne's bottom-up examination of Christian beliefs about events ranging from creation to the resurrection.

The author organizes his inquiry around the Nicene Creed, an early statement that continues to summarize Christian beliefs. He applies to each of its tenets the question, "What is the evidence that makes you think this might be true?" The evidence Polkinghorne weighs includes the Hebrew and Christian scriptures--their historical contexts and the possible motivations for their having been written--scientific theories, and human self-consciousness as revealed in literary, philosophical, and psychological works.

He begins with the words, "We believe," and presents understandings of the nature of humanity, showing, for example, that Cartesian theory, evolution, and natural selection do not tell the entire story of what humans are about, especially in light of many sources that attest to our spirituality. Moving through the Creed, Polkinghorne considers the concept of divinity and God as creator in discussions that cover the Theory of Everything, the Big Bang Theory, and the possibility of divine presence within reality so that God is not simply an outside observer. Chapters on Jesus analyze the different ways events are described in the Gospels and the way motivation for belief is conveyed--for example, how do these writings explain why a young man killed in public disgrace could inspire a following, when other major world religious leaders lived to become highly revered elders in their communities?

"Faith seeking understanding" is, according to Polkinghorne, like the scientific quest. Both are journeys of intellectual discovery in which those who survey experience from an initially chosen point of view must be open to correction in the light of further experience. "Religion," he writes, "has long known that ultimately every human image of God proves to be an inadequate idol." The Faith of a Physicist, based on the prestigious 1993 Gifford Lectures, delivers a powerful message to scientists and theologians, theists and atheists alike.

Originally published in 1994.

The Princeton Legacy Library uses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback and hardcover editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

We have come to admire Buddhism for being profound but accessible, as much a lifestyle as a religion. The credit for creating Buddhism goes to the Buddha, a figure widely respected across the Western world for his philosophical insight, his teachings of nonviolence, and his practice of meditation. But who was this Buddha, and how did he become the Buddha we know and love today? Leading historian of Buddhism Donald S. Lopez Jr. tells the story of how various idols carved in stone—variously named Beddou, Codam, Xaca, and Fo—became the man of flesh and blood that we know simply as the Buddha. He reveals that the positive view of the Buddha in Europe and America is rather recent, originating a little more than a hundred and fifty years ago. For centuries, the Buddha was condemned by Western writers as the most dangerous idol of the Orient. He was a demon, the murderer of his mother, a purveyor of idolatry. Lopez provides an engaging history of depictions of the Buddha from classical accounts and medieval stories to the testimonies of European travelers, diplomats, soldiers, and missionaries. He shows that centuries of hostility toward the Buddha changed dramatically in the nineteenth century, when the teachings of the Buddha, having disappeared from India by the fourteenth century, were read by European scholars newly proficient in Asian languages. At the same time, the traditional view of the Buddha persisted in Asia, where he was revered as much for his supernatural powers as for his philosophical insights. From Stone to Flesh follows the twists and turns of these Eastern and Western notions of the Buddha, leading finally to his triumph as the founder of a world religion.
In a culture where poetry is considered the highest form of human language, Gendun Chopel is revered as Tibet’s greatest modern poet. Born in 1903 as British troops were preparing to invade his homeland, Gendun Chopel was identified at any early age as the incarnation of a famous lama and became a Buddhist monk, excelling in the debating courtyards of the great monasteries of Tibet. At the age of thirty-one, he gave up his monk’s vows and set off for India, where he would wander, often alone and impoverished, for over a decade. Returning to Tibet, he was arrested by the government of the young Dalai Lama on trumped-up charges of treason, emerging from prison three years later a broken man. He died in 1951 as troops of the People’s Liberation Army marched into Lhasa.

Throughout his life, from his childhood to his time in prison, Gendun Chopel wrote poetry that conveyed the events of his remarkable life. In the Forest of Faded Wisdom is the first comprehensive collection of his oeuvre in any language, assembling poems in both the original Tibetan and in English translation. A master of many forms of Tibetan verse, Gendun Chopel composed heartfelt hymns to the Buddha, pithy instructions for the practice of the dharma, stirring tributes to the Tibetan warrior-kings, cynical reflections on the ways of the world, and laments of a wanderer, forgotten in a foreign land. These poems exhibit the technical skill—wordplay, puns, the ability to evoke moods of pathos and irony—for which Gendun Chopel was known and reveal the poet to be a consummate craftsman, skilled in both Tibetan and Indian poetics. With a directness and force often at odds with the conventions of belles lettres, this is a poetry that is at once elegant and earthy. In the Forest of Faded Wisdom is a remarkable introduction to Tibet’s sophisticated poetic tradition and its most intriguing twentieth-century writer.

To the Western imagination, Tibet evokes exoticism, mysticism, and wonder: a fabled land removed from the grinding onslaught of modernity, spiritually endowed with all that the West has lost. Originally published in 1998, Prisoners of Shangri-La provided the first cultural history of the strange encounter between Tibetan Buddhism and the West. Donald Lopez reveals here fanciful misconceptions of Tibetan life and religion. He examines, among much else, the politics of the term “Lamaism,” a pejorative synonym for Tibetan Buddhism; the various theosophical, psychedelic, and New Age purposes served by the so-called Tibetan Book of the Dead; and the unexpected history of the most famous of all Tibetan mantras, om mani padme hum. More than pop-culture anomalies, these versions of Tibet are often embedded in scholarly sources, constituting an odd union of the popular and the academic, of fancy and fact.

Upon its original publication, Prisoners of Shangri-La sent shockwaves through the field of Tibetan studies—hailed as a timely, provocative, and courageous critique. Twenty years hence, the situation in Tibet has only grown more troubled and complex—with the unrest of 2008, the demolition of the dwellings of thousands of monks and nuns at Larung Gar in 2016, and the scores of self-immolations committed by Tibetans to protest the Dalai Lama’s exile.

In his new preface to this anniversary edition, Lopez returns to the metaphors of prison and paradise to illuminate the state of Tibetan Buddhism—both in exile and in Tibet—as monks and nuns still seek to find a way home. Prisoners of Shangri-La remains a timely and vital inquiry into Western fantasies of Tibet.
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