CHAPTER 30: BUDDHISM AND MODERN SCIENCE
What is amazing is not only these discoveries, thought to be impossible a few decades ago, are made by world-renowned scientists now, but also they have been taught by Buddhist masters since ancient time.
5.1 The Way of Mahayana Original Text in Chinese
Already said cultivation of faith, the secret treasury of all celestial Buddhas, I have already said. If sentient beings desire the right faith through the deep realm of Zu Lai, distance from slandering, enter the way of Mahayana, regarding this treatise, great study and cultivation, ultimately attain the highest way.
Interpretation Already the cultivation of faith, which is the secret treasury of all celestial Buddhas, have been explained. If sentient beings desire to attain the right faith through the profound study and practice of Buddhism, they should distance themselves from slandering others, enter the way of the Mahayana belief, study this treatise and practise the spiritual cultivation explained in it. In this way they will ultimately attain the highest spiritual fulfillment.
Commentary Three important points are emphasized here. One, Buddhists are reminded not to talk ill of other religions. The Buddha himself teaches the freedom of worship. In the Brahmajala Sutra, the Buddha says, "If others speak against me or my religion, that is no reason why you should be angry. If you do so, you will not know, if what they say is true or false." Two, the teaching is Mahayanist, including, among other doctrines, a belief in the personal soul at the phenomenal level, but no soul at the transcendental level. Nirvana is not an extinction of any sort, but a direct experience of the ultimate reality. Three, the highest spiritual attainment is experiential, not intellectual, though an intellectual understanding of its philosophy is very helpful. Hence, the path to religious fulfilment is practical cultivation, not book learning.
5.2 Three Groups of Merits Original Text in Chinese
If a person hears this teaching, without fear nor weakness, should know this person sure to receive the Buddha's seed, must be accepted by all celestial Buddhas. If a person can reform all sentient beings in three thousands great worlds, cause them to practise the ten kind deeds, not comparable to the person during one meal reflects correctly on this teaching, the former merits not comparable.
Then, if someone receives this treatise, reflects and cultivates, if one day one night, all merits obtained, no measures no limits, indescribable. Suppose cause ten directions Buddhas, during limitless and boundless kalpas, praise its merits, still cannot exhaust. Why? Because the merits of Spiritual Nature are boundless, this person's merits have no limit.
Interpretation If a person hears this teaching, and practises it without fear nor weakness, it should be known that this person is sure to be a potential buddha, and will definitely be accepted and taught by all celestial Buddhas. Suppose there is a person who can reform all sentient beings in all the universes, and enable them to practise the ten Buddhist precepts, the merits of this person are not comparable to the merits of another person, if during the time taken to eat one meal the latter reflects correctly on this teaching. Again, if someone receives this treatise, reflects upon it and practises its cultivation, even for one day and night, the merits obtained are immeasurable, limitless and indescribable. Suppose all the Buddhas in ten directions praise the merits of this teaching for limitless and boundless aeons, the merits still cannot be exhausted. Why? Because the merits of the Supreme Reality are boundless; similarly, the merits of a person who practises cultivation to attain Supreme Reality are limitless.
Commentary The merits mentioned in this passage can be divided into three groups, namely the merits of listening to the correct teaching, the merits of reflecting on the correct teaching, and the merits of practising the correct teaching. It is easy to think that the benefits of these merits are exaggerated. Deeper study reveals that here Asvaghosha uses hyperboles to bring home some very important truths to help aspirants. Listening to, or in modern times reading about, the teaching marks the first awakening of spiritual aspiration. (In the early phrases of Buddhism, the teaching was not written down, but recited to followers.) Without this crucial first step, a person may remain in samsara for aeons without any spiritual awareness, but once spiritual aspiration is arouse, attaining nirvana is a matter of time. The path towards nirvana can be divided into three parts, namely moral purity, understanding and direct experience. When someone succeeds in reforming others to practise the ten Buddhist precepts (of not killing, not lying, etc.), he succeeds in the first part of moral purity, which is a probation leading to the second part. When someone reflects correctly on the teaching, he acquires cosmic understanding, thus starting the second part of his spiritual path. Buddhism, as mentioned earlier, is practical. All its philosophy is directed to help the devotee achieve a direct experience of cosmic reality. All the study and intellectual reflection on Buddhist teaching merely makes him knowledgeable, which is at the second part of his spiritual journey; it is only through practising the teaching, such as the Eightfold Path and the six paramitas, that the aspirant proceeds along the final part towards nirvana. Thus, a day of spiritual cultivation is worth more than a lifetime of reading scriptures. It was for this reason of not wanting his disciples to be tied down to book learning but to get on with the practical work of meditation towards Enlightenment that Bodhidharma, the first patriarch of Chan (or Zen) Buddhism, dramatically asked them to burn their books.
5.3 Consequence of Disbelief Original Text in Chinese
Among sentient beings, regarding this treatise, disparage and disbelieve, the result of this sin, for countless kalpas, endure great sufferings. Hence, sentient beings should believe, never disparage, for deeply harm themselves, and also others, severing the seed of the Triple Gems. All Ju Lai according to this teaching achieve nirvana. All Bodhisattvas, because of this cultivation, enter the wisdom of the Buddha.
Interpretation Among sentient beings there are some who disparage this treatise and disbelieve the teaching. The result of this is that they have to endure great sufferings for countless kalpas. Hence, sentient beings should believe in this teaching, never disparage it, for doing so would deeply harm themselves as well as others, and also may severe the potential blessings of the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha for all humanity. All celestial Buddhas attained their supreme Enlightenment by following this teaching. All Bodhisattvas enter Buddhahood because they practise the spiritual cultivation taught by this teaching.
Commentary It must be noted that those sentient beings who disparage and disbelieve the teaching, suffer for aeons not because of any curse made by anybody, nor any punishment meted out by any divine authority. They suffer because their own disbelief regarding the phenomenal and transcendental aspects of the Supreme Reality deprives them of any attempt to liberate themselves from samsara. This passage and the previous one illustrate the importance of understanding the higher wisdom of Buddhism. Without this higher understanding it is easy to mistakenly think that Buddhist teaching is punitive or its claim widely exaggerated.
5.4 The Bodhisattva's Path Original Text in Chinese
Should know that past bodhisattvas, according to this teaching, achieved the faith of purity. Present bodhisattvas, according to this teaching, achieve the faith of purity. Future bodhisattvas, according to this teaching, will achieve the faith of purity. Hence, sentient beings should cultivate diligently.
Interpretation It should be known that past bodhisattvas achieved Enlightenment by practising this teaching; present bodhisattvas achieve Enlightenment by practising this teaching; and future bodhisattvas will achieve Enlightenment by practising this teaching. Hence, sentient beings should diligently practise the spiritual cultivation taught in the teaching.
Commentary The term "bodhisattvas" is used here to refer to all Mahayanist devotees who cultivate for their own and others' Enlightenment. Without exception, all those who have attained perfect Enlightenment practised the teaching explained by Asvaghosha's Awakening of Faith in Mahayana. In a nutshell, the teaching expounds that due to our ignorance we mistake an illusion of the Supreme Reality as the objective reality, but if we understand this, and diligently practise spiritual cultivation, such as the five perfections mentioned by Asvaghosha, we can eventually realize the supreme spiritual fulfilment, thereby liberating ourselves from the suffering of continual existence in the phenomenal world, and achieving everlasting joy in the omnipresent, omniscient and transcendental Cosmic Reality. The teaching that our world is an illusion, and the quest to actualize our original Cosmic Reality are, of course, not confined to Buddhism or to Eastern wisdom. Western philosophers and scientists, from the past till the present, have also addressed themselves to these ideals and endeavour. Illustrating with Plato's famous analogy on illusion and reality, the modern world-renowned physicist, Sir James Jeans, provides a striking description that reminds us of the amazing similarity between Buddhist philosophy and new physics. Thus, dualism of appearance and reality pervades the history of philosophy again dating back to Plato. In his famous parable, Plato depicts mankind as chained in a cave in such a way that they can look only on the wall which forms the back of the cave; they cannot see the busy life outside, but only the shadows -- the appearances -- which objects moving in the sunshine cast on the walls of the cave. For the captives in the cave, the shadows constitute the whole world of appearances -- the phenomenal world -- while the world of reality lies forever beyond their ken. Our phenomenal world consists of the activities of matter and photons; the theatre of this activity is space and time. Thus the walls of the cave -- in which we are imprisoned are space and time; the shadows of reality which are projected on the walls by the sunshine outside are the material particles which we see moving against a background of space and time, while the reality outside the cave which produces these shadow is outside space and time. As the new physics has shown, all earlier systems of physics, from the Newtonian mechanics down to the old quantum theory, fell into the error of identifying appearances with reality; they confined their attention to the walls of the cave, without ever being conscious of a deeper reality beyond. The new quantum theory has shown that we must probe the deeper substratum of reality before we can understand the world of appearance, even to the extent of predicting the results of experiment. More amazing discoveries in science await us. Michael Talbot reports the following thought-provoking revelations in his book, Beyond the Quantum: "Aspect's experiment proved one of the following two possibilities: Either objective reality does not exist and it is meaningless for us to speak of things or objects as having any reality above and beyond the mind of an observer, or faster-than-light communication with the future and the past is possible. On these two points the conclusions of the Aspect experiment are unequivocal. These are not hypothetical assertions. At least one of the above two option must now be accepted as fact." In 1981, Cambridge biologist Rupert Sheldrake published a theory proposing that the form and natural intelligence of animals and even human beings is moulded and influenced by a ghostly new type of field that is able to communicate across both space and time. The same year, David Bohm, a theoretical physicist at the University of London and the author of one of the standard textbooks on quantum theory, pro-posed that the workings of the subatomic world only make sense if we assume the existence of other more complex dimensions beyond our own. In 1983, Sir Fred Hoyle, the founder of the Cambridge Institute of Theoretical Astronomy and the man responsible for our current understanding of the origin of all heavy elements in the uni¬verse, proposed that within the laws of physics there is not only mathematical evidence that the universe was designed by some sort of cosmic intelligence, but that intelligence is unfathom¬ably old, billions of years older than the age of the known universe. And in 1964, Nobel Prize-winning neurophysiologist Sir John Eccles announced the discovery of what he believes to be biochemical evidence supporting the existence of the human soul. What is amazing is not only these discoveries, thought to be impossible a few decades ago, are made by world-renowned scientists now, but also they have been taught by Buddhist masters since ancient time. More amazing still is that the Buddhist teaching on these revelations are more profound and comprehensive than what modern science attempts to explain. As one of the themes discussed in this book, Buddhist philosophy has explained in detail how the illusory, phenomenal world is the product of the defiled mind. While light may take light-years to reach the outer stars, as mentioned in numerous scriptures the mind of Buddhas and other advanced masters can reach distant galaxies, in the past, present or future, instantaneously! The Buddhist concepts of the alaya consciousness and of the void being pregnant with life can provide rich material for research into both Sheldrake's morpho-genetic field and Carl Jung's universal mind. Buddhist metaphysics has long taught that there are numerous planes in each of the countless worlds in the countless galaxies. On our earth alone, there are more than thirty planes of existence. Hence, not only sub-atomic particles but even large-scale phenomena exist in different dimensions. If we human beings see these sub-atomic particles as phenomena according to our mental and physical set-up, isn't it reasonable to believe that other beings in other dimensions also interpret the sub-atomic particles according to their set-up. If we fail to see these other phenomena, it is because of our different set-up as well as our ignorance. The doctrine of inter-penetrating realms is an eminent feature of the Hua Yen, or Garland, school where countless worlds of galaxies can exist in a single sub-atomic particle! Buddhist cosmology explains that while our universe is about 12.8 billion years old, both the cosmos and cosmic intelligence is beginningless and endless. The doctrine of "one thought creating countless worlds" of the Tian Tai school, which suggests that cosmic intelligence which is originally undifferentiated and transcendental can be transformed into limitless entities of differentiated intelligence that exist phenomenally, should provide a fascinating back-drop to any investigation into Hoyle's theory. The existence of the soul, human and otherwise, in the phenomenal dimension has long been established in Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. Researchers studying further into the discovery of Sir John Eccles would probably be excited to know that according to Buddhist teaching, besides carrying biochemical material, known in Buddhist terminology as rupa, the soul also carries the other four aggregates of thoughts, feelings, activities and intellect. An inevitable question is how could the ancient Buddhist masters have such wide and deep knowledge when they did not even use a simple microscope. Whereas scientists use expensive instruments, including the gigantic bubble chamber to bombard sub-atomic particles, the Buddhist masters used their highly trained mind in deep levels of meditation. And when we remember that the investigation into reality has been carried out in Buddhism over much longer time, in more lands and by more people than ever has been done in modern science, it comes as no surprise that in many ways such knowledge obtained in Buddhism even surpasses that in modern science.