Friday, 27 July 2012

Buddhist Science



The article published on The Middle Way Journal of the Buddhist Society, London - November 2011


Buddhist Science

Venerable Geshe Gedun Tharchin
From a talk given in Rome 21 Novembre 2010


When I was asked to be deliver a short talk on Buddhist Science. I didn't know exactly what  “Buddhist Science” in Western cultural and social context.

In the Tibetan language we have a term often used in our scriptures, “Nang Don Rig Pa”. This is a very formal way of saying “Buddhism”. However, the literal meaning of the term in English could be translated as Buddhist Science, but it means more than that. Literally “Nang Don” means “inner meaning and value” and “Rig Pa” means “arts of learning.” Therefore, it's literal interpretation should be “The arts for learning the inner meaning and value.” This is what Buddhism and Buddhist Science means to Tibetans.

Actually, Buddhism is a foreign culture for Tibetans because it was adopted from India, Nepal and China, 8th. century. During the Tibetan Emperor Song Tsan Gampo's time, his two foreign wives, a Chinese princess and a Nepalese princess, built the first two Buddhist temples the Jo Khang and Ramo Che in Lhasa, Tibet. They were built to enshrine the Buddha statues that their parents had given them. If you look back to the history it is quite silly the way that Buddhism arrived to Tibet for the first time!

By the eighth to eleventh century, Tibet was already a quite civilized society both culturally and politically. The country was very successful and quite competitive among its neighboring countries. Tibetans received Buddhism as a “Nang Don Rig Pa” or as an “art for learning the inner meaning and value” rather than as a Religion as we think of in the West.

Unfortunately later Tibet’s whole culture, history, and economy ended up under the domination of Buddhist hierarchy, which is very much like what happened to the Roman Empire when it ended up under the domination of the Christian Church.

That aside, the real significance of the Dharma is how the Buddha experimented and realized within him the inner meaning and value of life. He demonstrated it to others in order to heal humanity and the world from illnesses driven by the three poisons of life, namely Ignorance, Attachment and Hatred.

The Buddhist arts of learning the inner meaning and values essentially consist of what are called the three higher trainings. These are morality, concentration and wisdom. These trainings transform human life into a realistic and healthy way of living and then eventually completely eliminate the poisons, which is what is known as nirvana: a life completely free from any influences of those three poisons.

If we want to start Nang Don Rig Pa, (the arts of learning the inner meaning or values) we should start with reflecting on some basic questions:
  • Why are there so many pains and sufferings in all human life?
  • Are there causes to those pains and sufferings?
  • If so, is there a possibility that one could live without them?
  • What would be the means to do this?
To ask these questions properly we need to be in a spirit of oneness between the questioner and the questioned. We ourselves need to be physician, patience and nurse. This is the essence of the quest for understanding and realizing the true meaning of life. Historically Lord Buddha laid down his whole realization in these four questions. This blue print for finding the inner meaning is called the Four Noble Truths.

To approach this quest we start with analyzing the first Noble Truth, the Truth of suffering. This is a very crucial point of meditation and reflection. We must face this question within ourselves, deeply and profoundly experiencing our own feelings of pain and suffering.

In terms of actual Nang Don Rig Pa application, we must leave behind all our intellectual understanding of pain and suffering. We must simply and directly touch the pains and suffering that we experience every day. We are constantly tortured and we haven’t been able to escape or find a way out. There is no solution to the fatigue and drudgery of our inner world.

However, the noble truth of suffering is not the suffering itself. The suffering we are talking about is in the psychological or spiritual dimension. It has to do with wrong thoughts and wrong concepts. This truth lies within the suffering itself but is not the same as it. The pain is the source from which we find the truth of suffering. There is something on which suffering relies, and it is very important to know what this is if we wish to be free of it.

Discovering and obtaining the realization of the truth of suffering naturally leads us to its relief. We can say that a fire burns wood, but we could also say that wood creates the fire. The potential for fire is inherent in the wood. Similarly, while the experience of the truth of suffering ends the suffering, the potential for relief is inherent in the suffering itself.
Analyzing in this way will lead us towards the second question: What are the causes of our suffering?

Psychological and spiritual sufferings are most probably products of our wrong concepts regarding happiness, entwined with our mistaken thoughts. In Buddhism, there are four wrong concepts which drive this process. We perceive:
  • impure things as pure
  • suffering as happiness
  • impermanent as permanent
  • things that are selfless as concrete selves.
These wrong thoughts and mistaken ideas are the producers of an illusory world. Such an illusory world becomes the basis for human psychological miseries.

But, is durable and pure happiness possible? To answer this question, as we have to reflect upon nirvana, a state of mind or psycho/physical dimension where one can live in a painless state free from suffering. When we see the fact that our present mind can be transformed into a nirvana state of mind this means we have established the basis of our prospective journey towards the inner meaning and value.

Having established that an end to suffering is possible, we then go on to examine what process we can implement to achieve nirvana. That is what we called “La Via della Nirvana”, those three higher trainings. In more basic language, we could call them:
  • Simplicity (renunciation) and love and compassion.
  • Concentration, or single pointed mental state, which can be energetically focused on any desired objectives in order to intensify our mental capacity to struggle with the problems.
  • Wisdom realizing right views – such as the four right views – seeing suffering as suffering, the impure as impure, the impermanent as impermanent and the selfless as selfless.
The realizations of these three faculties of mind will eradicate our psychological pains and sufferings and allow us to achieve a full and complete freedom which we can dedicate for the global peace and universal happiness of the humanity, including all sentient beings.

Mastering the arts of realizing the inner values or inner meaning can be very easy if someone really wanted to apply it with a strong determination and authentic interest. It is neither a mere philosophical articulation nor a psychological trick. It is a very practical and solid means of resolving human suffering for every member of the human family. Based on unconditional love and indiscriminating wisdom, it is known as the Dharma, Sanatana Dharma, the Holy Spirit or a thousand different names. But no words can fully define its meaning. One can only experience it within oneself by the force of one's own determination and diligence.

Buddha said “You yourself are both your master and enemy” and “Buddha’s can't wash away negative actions or get rid of the sufferings of humanity. Buddha’s can't transfer their realizations to others. Buddha’s liberate sentient beings only through showing the Truth.” Furthermore, Buddha said: “I have shown you the path to liberation, but if you wish to find it, you must find it within yourself.”

I understand that the purpose of this congress was to consider the differences and similarities between Eastern and Wetsern scientific conclusions. However, due to my limited time, I thought it best to present a concentrated, classical interpretation of Buddhist science, its contemplations of human suffering, solutions, and methods without expanding the discussion to include a comparison with the modern Western views of psychology, neuroscience and quantum physics.