Synopses & Reviews
Gallileo, Copernicus, Newton, Niels Bohr, Einstein. Their insights shook our perception of who we are and where we stand in the world and in their wake have left an uneasy co-existence: science vs. religion, faith vs. empirical enquiry. Which is the keeper of truth? Which is the true path to understanding reality?
After forty years of study with some of the greatest scientific minds as well as a lifetime of meditative, spiritual and philosophical study, the Dalai Lama presents a brilliant analysis of why both disciplines must be pursued in order to arrive at a complete picture of the truth. Science shows us ways of interpreting the physical world, while spirituality helps us cope with reality. But the extreme of either is impoverishing. The belief that all is reducible to matter and energy leaves out a huge range of human experience: emotions, yearnings, compassion, culture. At the same time, holding unexamined spiritual beliefs–beliefs that are contradicted by evidence, logic, and experience–can lock us into fundamentalist cages.
Through an examination of Darwinism and karma, quantum mechanics and philosophical insight into the nature of reality, neurobiology and the study of consciousness, the Dalai Lama draws significant parallels between contemplative and scientific examination of reality. “I believe that spirituality and science are complementary but different investigative approaches with the same goal of seeking the truth,” His Holiness writes. “In this, there is much each may learn from the other, and together they may contribute to expanding the horizon of human knowledge and wisdom.”
This breathtakingly personal examination is a tribute to the Dalai Lamas teachers–both of science and spirituality. The legacy of this book is a vision of the world in which our different approaches to understanding ourselves, our universe and one another can be brought together in the service of humanity.
"As the Dalai Lama observes in this wise and humble book, dialogue between scientists and those interested in spirituality is important because science is not neutral; it can be used for good or ill, and we must approach scientific inquiry with compassion and empathy. Similarly, a spirituality that ignores science can quickly become a rigid fundamentalism. Sometimes the Dalai Lama discovers similarities between the two fields. For example, Einstein's idea that time is relative dovetails neatly with Buddhist philosophical understandings of time. Still, His Holiness does not accept all scientific thinking as holy writ: though he is intrigued by scientific stories of origins, like the Big Bang theory, Buddhism holds that the universe is 'infinite and beginningless.' The penultimate chapter brings ethical considerations to bear on technological advancements in genetics. The Dalai Lama gently suggests that although parents who select certain genetic traits for their children may intend to give their children a leg up, they may in fact simply be capitulating to a social pressure that favors, say, boys over girls or tall people over short. He also cautions that we do not know the long-term consequences of genetically modifying our crops. In fact, it is disappointing that the Dalai Lama devotes only 18 pages to these urgent and complex topics. Perhaps this prolific author has a sequel in the works." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, discusses his vision of science and faith working hand in hand to alleviate human suffering. He sees science and faith as "complementary but different investigative approaches with the same goal of seeking the truth."
In this rare, personal investigation, His Holiness the Dalai Lama discusses his vision of science and faith working hand in hand to alleviate human suffering. Drawing on a lifetime of scientific study and religious practice, he explores many of the great debates and makes astonishing connections between seemingly disparate topics-such as evolution and karma-that will change the way we look at our world.
While he sees science and faith as "complementary but different investigative approaches with the same goal of seeking the truth," the fact is that the two have often been at the root of human conflict for centuries. In "The Universe in a Single Atom the Dalai Lama challenges us to see that the benefits of opening our hearts and minds to the connections between science and faith are far preferable to perpetuating the divisive rhetoric that often surrounds them. He believes that such enlightenment is the key to achieving peace within ourselves and throughout the world.
Only one other book-the" New York Times bestselling "Ethics for the New Millennium-has been published with such intense personal involvement from the Dalai Lama himself. Now, as we face such troubled and uncertain times, the need has never been greater for this extraordinary man's compassionate thoughts and wise words.
About the Author
Tenzin Gyatzo, His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, is the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and is both the temporal and spiritual leader of the Tibetan people. The Dalai Lama travels the world speaking on peace and interreligious understanding, giving Buddhist teachings, and meeting with political leaders as he works tirelessly on behalf of the Tibetan people. He resides in Dharamsala, India, and is the head of the Tibetan government-in-exile.
Reading Group Guide
Though his early education did not include a science curriculum, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama began his own study of the physical workings of the world at young age. Disassembling and reconstructing any mechanical object he could find, he tinkered his way to a basic understanding of physics and awakened an intellectual curiosity that would make him one of the most scientifically learned spiritual leaders in the world. Since those early days, the Dalai Lama has had access to some of the most remarkable minds in science, and has sought out opportunities to discuss scientific and metaphysical concepts with leading physicists and philosophers. The result is a profound knowledge of science and spirituality, and a conviction that neither one alone is sufficient to approach a real understanding of truth; reliance on religious teachings alone can lead to fundamentalism, and scientific advances uninformed by an ethical consciousness can bring about dangerous consequences for humanity. In The Universe in a Single Atom
, the Dalai Lama draws on the lessons of both spirituality and scientific inquiry to discuss some of the most challenging and important questions in the study of reality. In this thoughtful picture of the evolution of modern science, collaboration is key on the road to intellectual and spiritual enlightenment.
1. Though the study of science and of Buddhism are parallel in many ways, the Dalai Lama repeatedly reminds us of one fundamental difference: the governing principle of Buddhism, which is to alleviate suffering. In what other ways do science and Buddhism differ in their aims? Are there areas of study in which it may be impossible for them to agree?
2. On pages 158-159, we are given clear instructions on the practice of meditation. According to this description, are there ways in which this practice complies with the study of science? How does it compare to Einstein’s “thought experiments”?
3. The Big Bang theory, though supported by empirical evidence, presents significant challenges when viewed from various perspectives. From the scientific perspective, the law of cause and effect breaks down when considering how the nothingness before the Big Bang could “cause” such a monumental event. On the other hand, the assumption of a governing hand or previous matter giving rise to the Big Bang means that it could not have been the absolute “beginning.” Discuss the shortcomings of each perspective. Do you find the necessary mystery surrounding the Big Bang cause enough to discredit it? Why or why not? Is this mystery more problematic for religion or science?
4. Based on the Dalai Lama’s description of Buddhist philosophy, do you see his thorough study of science as necessary to his religious teaching, or is this occupation primarily a result of his personal interest? How is this study important to his practice of Buddhism? (Consider his comments on the academic curriculum of a Buddhist monk, as well as his understanding of the previous Dalai Lamas.)
5. The Dalai Lama makes a compelling case for the benefits of collaboration between religious and scientific scholars. Is this case uniquely applicable to Buddhism, or do you see collaboration as useful between science and all of the major religions? How would this endeavor differ in the cases of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or Hinduism?
6. What concept in the book did you find most challenging?
7. Discuss the different ways in which Buddhism and biology define “life” and the theory of evolution. How significant are these difference in light of current ethical or political issues such as stem cell research?
8. Discuss the distinction between an objective and subjective reality–particularly the question of whether objects and beings have a distinct individual existence. Why is this an important question for Buddhism? Is it as critical to a scientific understanding of the world?
9. Is there a difference in the way the Dalai Lama conceives of empirical evidence from a Buddhist standpoint and the way science defines it?
10. What do you think of the Dalai Lama’s assertion that scientific advances are outpacing ethical thought? Do you think it’s necessary for the two to develop hand in hand, or is it acceptable for one to leap past the other from time to time?
11. The Buddhist scriptural teaching that the universe is ultimately a creation of the mind supports the suggestion of some thinkers that all matter and environment is the result of the observer. Is this a necessary correlation? How else could this teaching be interpreted?
12. Discuss the concept of karma, both as a broad concept and as it relates to specific thoughts or acts. How does the Buddhist definition compare to the popular understanding of karma? How do you see karma as relevant to your daily life?
13. The Dalai Lama discusses some of the difficulties of defining thought and subjective experience in a scientific way, despite significant advances in medical technology. What do you think would be the most informative way of studying thought and experience? Do you think these concepts can ever be defined in an accurate way?
14. The Buddhist concept of reality is divided into three realms: matter, mind, and abstract composites (similar to Popper’s three “worlds”). How does this differ from the twofold description of reality as mind and matter? How important do you think this distinction is?
15. In what ways do you think society can help answer the Dalai Lama’s call for accountability and ethics in science?
16. In a review of the book, George Johnson states in the New York Times Book Review (September 18, 2005) that the Dalai Lama believes in a version of intelligent design. Do you think this is an accurate assessment? How so or how not?