Ven. Ajahn Brahmavamso talks about Buddhism’s significance

In an interview with The Sunday Times Plus supplement, ex Cambridge Physicist Ven. Ajahn Brahmavamso claims that Science is a dogmatic system and that it differs little from organized religion

Elitist science, as once was the Pope, is now infallible…

He claims, and then goes onto contradict himself and confuse the reader by claiming that Buddhism is more scientific than “Science” (whatever that means).  We see this over and over again in these types of interviews where a Ven Thero would accede and agree with the scientific method and attempt to establish Buddisim as far superior system of knowledge simply beacuse it is “More Scientific” (as oppsed to other religions and systems of knowledge). And here’s the contradiction. The Thero assumes from the start that a dogmatic system is not necessarily an honest/objective system (this is debatable) and then cites examples and experiences to strengthen his claim that Science is somehow “dogmatic” and hence is not being “honest with itself”. His derision of the way in which Science is practiced in modern academia is implicit. He then goes on to add that somehow Buddhism is more “scientific” than “Science” and now appears to be alluding to fact that science is superior!  this is yet another attempt to lend credibility to a system which has long since been abandoned by free thinkers. It is amazing that Westerners continue to have a fascination (some might go as far as to call it a fetish) with eastern philosophies which in my opinion are just the eastern/vedantic counterpart to the Western (essentially Greek) philosophies found amongst the Ionians.

This is yet another example of the Olcott Complex. Disillusioned and weary westerner discovers eastern philosophy and Buddhism and embraces it completely even going as far as to be ordained as a monk and continues to live in said eastern country and preaches to the masses. The masses in turn are full of awe at this “suddha”  (and scientist – a wet dream for Sri Lanka’s so called academia!) who has rejected the western way of life and is now following the noble eightfold path.

The Thero once again uses Science to lend credibility to Buddhism,

Thus Buddhism is not a belief system. It is a science founded on objective observation, i.e. meditation, ever careful not to disturb the reality through imposing artificial measurements, and it is evidently repeatable.

People have been re-creating the experimental conditions, known as establishing the factors of the Noble Eightfold Path, for over twenty-six centuries now, much longer than science. And those renowned Professors of Meditation, the male and female Arahants, have all arrived at the same conclusion as the Buddha. They verified the timeless Law of Dhamma, otherwise known as Buddhism. So Buddhism is the only real science, and I’m happy to say that I’m still a scientist at heart, only a much better scientist than I ever could have been at Cambridge.

Buddhism has nothing to do with objective observation or empirical data and it does claim to know the final truth (amongst other things). Buddhism is essentially about terminating the samsaric cycle of birth and death.

In hindsight its probably a good thing he left Cambridge given his disillusioned and acerbic attitude towards Science. I must also add that the goal of Science is not to lend credibility and flair to dogmatic and religious schools of thought but to question the universe we live in, come up with empirical data to support a hypothesis and then build a new type of understanding of the universe we live in. It truly is a work in progress! anyone who fails to understand this basic requirement and tenant has picked the wrong philosophy and system to practice, and indulge their intellect.

It is truly a triumph for us free thinkers and atheists  when a religious figure has to accede to the Scientific method in order to make his/her Religion/Dogma more relevant and credible.  All the readers and contributors of religurd should give themselves a hand!

I also cant help but wonder if there was a communication barrier between the interviewer and the interviewee, the reason being the contradictions and the overall naivete of this article. See for yourselves .

Note to the editor of The Sunday Times, next time move the article from the Plus supplement to the Funday Times supplement.

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12 Responses to Ven. Ajahn Brahmavamso talks about Buddhism’s significance

  1. I never paid much attention to the Thero but always wanted to as so many people that I respect do. When I had my first look….Alas! what a disappointment. I am wondering whether the interviewer correctly put Thero’s words in to the article or if he made a mess of it. Just look at this quote from the article [quote]”Some misguided scientists maintain the theory that there is no rebirth, that this stream of consciousness is incapable of returning to a successive human existence. All one needs to disprove this theory, according to science, is to find one instance of rebirth, just one! Professor Ian Stevenson, as some of you would know, has already demonstrated many instances of rebirth. The theory of no rebirth has been disproved. Rebirth is now a scientific fact!”[unquote]. What a blatant contradiction to the points that Thero maintained in the content above and below that quote the article.

    • pravnj1408 says:

      Yes you may be right in that it may be a communication barrier between the Thero and the journalist. Keep in mind that there’s much to be desired when it comes to journalists in Sri Lanka, especially in the newspaper industry, don’t know about you but I have witnessed a steady decline in quality.

      But then again the Thero could just as well be a proponent of all these populist ideas aimed at the masses.

    • Vashitha says:

      I see no contradiction!

  2. I was quite disappointed by the text that I quoted in my post above and did not read this http://sundaytimes.lk/090503/Plus/sundaytimesplus_13.html article in full. However, I had another pass at it again today and came in to following conclusions.

    As a layman having hobbyist’s interest in quantum theory, I cannot claim that I have understood different interpretations of the theory comprehensively. However, from the little that I know, I believe that I am entitled to comment that Buddhist scholars (the likes of Ven Ajan Bhramavaso) are using the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory to attack science in the same vein that Christian lobby is using the ‘gaps’ in Darwinian theory of evolution (theory of natural selection) to attack science. The Christian lobby is bigger in numbers and wealth that they can make a bigger impact with quite simplistic arguments (i.e. “Intelligent Design”) whereas Buddhist lobby is not so powerful to be heard outside of Buddhist intellectual circles. All these religious lobbies have quite interesting ‘love and hate’ relationship with science. They attack science but they don’t reject science either. Christian lobby is claiming that science is originated by those who were inspired to find more about “Gods creation” and the aim of the science is to explore the intelligent design of God. The likes of Ven Ajan Bhram claim that Buddhism is more scientific than science (whatever that means).

    It is evident from Ven Ajan Bhram’s comments that he is rejecting science not because of the science per se, but due to the bigotry of some of the practitioners that he might have rubbed him wrongly. Is Bigotry of the practitioners a good reason to reject a system?

    It is also questionable whether Thero is up to date with the discourse within science regarding many interpretations of quantum mechanics. Ven Thero is quite entitled to run away from science and hide behind Buddhist doctrine when confronted with apparent contradictions brought forward by quantum mechanics. However, it is not the only option available. There are scientists that seek comfort in God hypothesis when they are confronted with gaps in theory of natural selection. The theory of natural selection cannot explain the extreme complexity that evolved within relatively short period of time unless we rely on several extremely lucky accidents. As Dawkins put; the ‘gaps’ in quantum theory does not lend credibility to even more dubious theories that seem to fill these gaps with gods.

    Something that prof. Nalin De Silva repeatedly say comes in to my mind. Most western intellectuals are only exposed to the ‘two valued logic’ and Cartesian spatio-temporal worldview. They are only familiar with using the methodology of reducing complex systems to the interactions of its constituents. This is perhaps the only methodology available to the science until the turn of the 20th century. With the advent of quantum theory -and specifically the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics- the scientific worldview changed. The quantum theory dictates that we cannot separate the observer and the observed and treat them as separate systems. They are part of the same system, and every observed phenomenon is influenced by the act of observation. At the sub-atomic level, this concept has remarkable and non-intuitive implications as demonstrated by the famous “double-slit” experiment. In the double-slit experiment, the behavior of a subatomic particle (like an electron) tends to vary in a remarkable manner when not being observed vs. when being observed. The results of this experiment shook the very base of classical notions such as “particles”, “waves”, “location”, and “movement from one place to another”.

    Despite the implication of quantum theory, when science is taught in classroom, students are forced to think within the classical framework and use the classical methodology of reducing complex systems to the interactions of its constituents. In Sri Lanka, the likes of Professor Nalin De Silva, has been very vocal critiques of the western intellectuals who were taught within Cartesian spatio-temporal worldview and who does not seem to be aware of any other worldviews outside of it.

    We can live with science with multiple theories of the universe and multiple methodologies as long as we do not seek ‘absolute truths’ or ‘God’s eye view’ of nature. The reason that Ven Thero sought comfort in Buddhism seems to be the fact that he sought absolute truths within science.

    The methodology of separation and methodology of wholeness has to complement each other. The extreme adherence to any one of these is not going to help us. The intuition driven wholeness approach and rationality driven separation are two methodologies we unconsciously use in our daily lives. When a newborn baby cries, mother takes quick intuitive decisions rather than analyzing the situation, which is the most appropriate methodology in that situation. The day-to-day moral decisions that we make are mostly based on intuition, rather than analysis. The practitioners of traditional medicine use a mix of analysis and intuition. Practitioners of scientific (western?) medicine are supposed to use analysis mostly, but they also tend resort to intuition based on the scenario (which is perfectly acceptable). However, I have seen examples of MBBS medical doctors who overuse intuition (due to their cultural upbringing) when they should actually use analyses. For example the environment factors that influence a patient can be temperature, humidity and air quality. Western medicine suggests that we isolate and understand the influences of these elements separately. However, in our culture, elders often boil down all these three factors to just one vague “Air” element. An MBBS doctor who heavily influenced by the culture is at a disadvantage here being unable to isolate an incident of ‘pollen allergy’ affecting a patient.

    • pravnj1408 says:

      “Buddhist scholars (the likes of Ven Ajan Bhramavaso) are using the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory to attack science in the same vein that Christian lobby is using the ‘gaps’ in Darwinian theory of evolution (theory of natural selection) to attack science. The Christian lobby is bigger in numbers and wealth that they can make a bigger impact with quite simplistic arguments (i.e. “Intelligent Design”) whereas Buddhist lobby is not so powerful to be heard outside of Buddhist intellectual circles. All these religious lobbies have quite interesting ‘love and hate’ relationship with science. They attack science but they don’t reject science either. Christian lobby is claiming that science is originated by those who were inspired to find more about “Gods creation” and the aim of the science is to explore the intelligent design of God. The likes of Ven Ajan Bhram claim that Buddhism is more scientific than science (whatever that means)…”

      Yes agree with you completely on this! the Copenhagen interpretation is alluded to or is very implicit in these criticisms. It is possible that other alternative interpretations have not trickled down into the mainstream? Whenever a layperson hears *Quantum Theory* the image that is conjured is of concepts like complementarity, collapse of the wave function etc and of course Schrodinger’s cat! But research is still ongoing and Niels Bohr’s words are not writ in stone. He just had a louder voice (literally) at the Solvay conferences! I read a recent article where it was demonstrated experimentally that complimentary may have been violated (research is still ongoing). While the Buddhist scholars argue and debate base their premises on the Copenhagen interpretation the Physicists move forward!

      I also liked your comparison with regard to ID. Yes these people have very interesting dynamics and relationships don’t they? their prejudices become quite apparent whenever they get into a debate!

      “It is evident from Ven Ajan Bhram’s comments that he is rejecting science not because of the science per se, but due to the bigotry of some of the practitioners that he might have rubbed him wrongly. Is Bigotry of the practitioners a good reason to reject a system?..”

      Yes he does seem to have taken a personal affront! good observation!

      “Despite the implication of quantum theory, when science is taught in classroom, students are forced to think within the classical framework and use the classical methodology of reducing complex systems to the interactions of its constituents. In Sri Lanka, the likes of Professor Nalin De Silva, has been very vocal critiques of the western intellectuals who were taught within Cartesian spatio-temporal worldview and who does not seem to be aware of any other worldviews outside of it…”

      Once again I’m in complete agreement. God knows I have been molded by this system for years!

      “We can live with science with multiple theories of the universe and multiple methodologies as long as we do not seek ‘absolute truths’ or ‘God’s eye view’ of nature. The reason that Ven Thero sought comfort in Buddhism seems to be the fact that he sought absolute truths within science…”

      That’s an interesting take. Do you think some people have a psychological bias to seek the *ultimate truth* as opposed to those who do not feel so strongly that they need to?

      “The practitioners of traditional medicine use a mix of analysis and intuition. Practitioners of scientific (western?) medicine are supposed to use analysis mostly, but they also tend resort to intuition based on the scenario (which is perfectly acceptable). However, I have seen examples of MBBS medical doctors who overuse intuition (due to their cultural upbringing) when they should actually use analyses. For example the environment factors that influence a patient can be temperature, humidity and air quality. Western medicine suggests that we isolate and understand the influences of these elements separately. However, in our culture, elders often boil down all these three factors to just one vague “Air” element. An MBBS doctor who heavily influenced by the culture is at a disadvantage here being unable to isolate an incident of ‘pollen allergy’ affecting a patient…”

      Spot on! you put into words what I have felt for a long time!

  3. magerata says:

    “It is truly a triumph for us free thinkers and atheists”! I am surprised that you have to hang on to a “misguided poor suddha” to be triumphant about. He is just another human being, seeking a way to terminate the samsaric cycle of birth and death (I am certain that he is not looking for a Benz, like most other priests in Sri Lanka do!).
    Keep on thinking free, you might become a Buddhist 🙂

    • pravnj1408 says:

      He isn’t dripping with hypocrisy unlike Sri Lankan monks – I agree. This is not a question of the practice of Buddhism or whether Sri Lankan monks are more corrupt than western ones or whatever. Its a debate on principles, and the many contradictions in this article.

      No it is a triumph. For Buddhism to *sell* the Ven Thero is forced to make convoluted arguments with respect to the practice of science. This is simply an indicator that this particular philosophy is becoming less and less relevant in the modern context. We see this happening in Chritianity and even in Islam (you’ll find a lot of books by Islamic authors which claim that science is verifying the existence of God – The Thero is suffering from the same complex). My point is you don’t need to invoke science to promote your religion/dogma if your intentions were to actually promote the religion – just let it stand on itself its just a way of understanding the universe, albeit a 2500 year old system!, they are completely divergent systems of knowledge (if you can call religion that!) so just don’t mix the two!

    • When we are either too lazy, not in the mood or simply unable to take the brunt on the argument head-on, we do the sin of picking on one particular weak statement of the argument, and make a smart and jeering side comment. Magerata, I am not particularly targeting you with this comment, we all do this at sometime or the other. I am guilty of this myself. However, such comments after all are helpful as they fuel the discussion.

      BTW I am being criticized (offline) that I am making assumptions on Ven Ajan Brahm without knowing fully what he teaches. I have been asked whether I have explored his teaching in full before making statements. To avoid answering to the same question multiple times, I hacked up a “theory” called “Asphalt rule of Criticism” and posted it here-> http://worldview.icloneable.com/religion-and-governance-in-sri-lanka/asphalt-rule-of-criticism

  4. crdesilva says:

    Found these videos on Youtube which explains why Buddhism falls in to the same bucket as other religions.

    It says the “Reincarnation” in Buddhism is the lame excuse like “God” in other religions. What it means is people who believe in God says it was done by God because they don’t know how to explain how it happens. In Buddhism they say it’s because of something that you have done in a past life. *sigh*

    • pravnj1408 says:

      Thanks for the excellent find! the criticism of the idea of rebirth and his criticism that the idea of rebirth is something akin to what a Christian would hold as a fundamental truth of his/her faith is an excellent point I must say!

  5. Check out my book, “The Scientific Worldview” for the corection interpretation of the Uncertainty Principle. Classical mechanism, upon which the Copenhagen Interpretation was based, use the assumption of finity, while the correct assumption is INFINITY.

    Glenn Borchardt

  6. Vashitha says:

    Ajahn has delivered a speech on the same topic on 19.10.2001.what he said is completely true.There he raised the point ”if you don’t want to accept something,you will never accept it despite the fact that there are ample evidence(for an example rebirth) to prove it”.For a comprehensive critique on Western science read articles at http://www.kalaya.org

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