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In his talk titled, Science at the Crossroads, the Dalai Lama said,

On the philosophical level, both Buddhism and modern science share a deep suspicion of any notion of absolutes, whether conceptualized as a transcendent being, as an eternal, unchanging principle such as soul, or as a fundamental substratum of reality. Both Buddhism and science prefer to account for the evolution and emergence of the cosmos and life in terms of the complex interrelations of the natural laws of cause and effect. From the methodological perspective, both traditions emphasize the role of empiricism. For example, in the Buddhist investigative tradition, between the three recognized sources of knowledge - experience, reason and testimony - it is the evidence of the experience that takes precedence, with reason coming second and testimony last. This means that, in the Buddhist investigation of reality, at least in principle, empirical evidence should triumph over scriptural authority, no matter how deeply venerated a scripture may be.

  1. With specific reference to the last line: in the "Buddhist investigation of reality", when does empirical evidence "triumph over" or even challenge, scriptural authority?

  2. Is the Dalai Lama's point of view confirmed or contradicted by other points of view in the scriptures, or in the talks and writings of recent Gurus?

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    Just to be clear here, you are referring to "empirical evidence" in the same manner that the Dali Lami is, yes? E.g. as first hand experience through the practice, not empirical evidence as it's thought of in a scientific context. – Ryan Sep 18 '15 at 10:41
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    I do not know why people are downvoting this, it is a good question... – hellyale Sep 18 '15 at 15:07
  • @Ryan - Yes, correct. As first-hand experience. – Krishnaraj Rao Sep 18 '15 at 15:49
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I think the Dalai Lama is making a tactical retreat on issues he doesn't care about. He isn't claiming he's a modern secular Buddhist. I'm looking for a Donald Lopez quote but can't find one. Anyhow, Lopez often writes about how west projects more progressive & (western) Age of Englightenment ideas on the Buddhism than really are there.

When I was in uni doing economics, one of the professor's there was keenly interested in epistemology and theories of truth. There are a great many theories of truth and they vary from community from community-- what passes as true among economists, doesn't for Christians and so on.

So for Buddhists, some theories of truth I can see:

Personal experience. This is the theory of truth that is recounted in the traditional life story of the Buddha. He sat under a tree, saw things as they really are (and you can too).

Personal experiences don't settle arguments & disagreements among people and early Buddhist knew this as well.

Buddhavacana. This is truth via authority. The Buddha said it, it is true. This is moderated by the phrase "what ever is well said is Buddhavana" (And a blog post that says even that isn't as progressive as it sounds.)

Epistimology Depends on Which Buddhist Organization

The theory of truth is all wrapped up in organizational matters. An organization, especially one whose product is a set of teachings, needs to present a coherent face to its customers. We can't rationally expect an organization to be self sabotaging when it comes to projecting a message to the community-- the message has to be coherent to gain new followers, donations and so on. No one joins a group because all of their members have radically opposed views found as a result of idiosyncratic personal decisions about what is true. The join because they got the message and agree with most of it.

To appeal to scripture you first have to figure out what group you are in and what texts are authoritative. That is why answering these questions without a tag indicating what school makes it hard to answer. In the Dalai Lama's world, his gurus, the Dalai Lama's expriences are authoritative, probably followed by texts from the Gulugpa tradition. Texts in general are not authoritative. The texts themselves, again depending on the tradition, will have in them some sort of epistimilogical claims (a theory of truth and assertions on why this text meets that standard of truth). In Vajrayana and Zen, things are true because of lineage and something was said by a teacher in that lineage going back to the historical Buddha. In other schools of Buddhism, lineage isn't important, the internal qualities of the text are, e.g. Tien Tai/Nichirenism, which posit the text is authoritative-- period (i.e. doesn't matter who said it or how it came about).

Visionary Experience. Mahayana writers expanded truth to include visions seen in dreams and meditation. In the Avatamsaka, we have what appears to be the name of the monk who had the experience that provides the basis for the sutra, Dharmamati. Ref Nattier. In otherwords, the sutra said it was legit because Dharmamati had a vision of Buddhas which preached this doctrine. Later authors just followed the style and form of earlier sutras and attributed it to the historical Buddha or a celestial Buddha.

Dealing with Conflicting Evidence When things contradict evidence, we get the theory of two truths, where there is a conventional truth and an "absolute" truth.

In organizations, the precepts, usually a few of the 6th to 10th precepts and many of the minor precepts will talk about intragroup harmony. It is more important for the organization to endure than for an argument to be settled. People are encouraged to defer to others based on rank regardless of who is wrong (the rules about the nuns having to defer to male monks regardless to the male monk being wrong on a matter is an example). The point isn't that they don't care about what is true, the point is that a rational organization that doesn't want to self destruct has to do something to maintain harmony. It isn't rational to expect an organization to allow and encourage a lot of heterodoxy.

  • "To appeal to scripture you first have to figure out what group you are in and what texts are authoritative. That is why answering these questions without a tag indicating what school makes it hard to answer." Touche' ! – Krishnaraj Rao Sep 18 '15 at 20:13
  • Extremely valid point: "It is more important for the organization to endure than for an argument to be settled. People are encouraged to defer to others based on rank regardless of who is wrong (the rules about the nuns having to defer to male monks regardless to the male monk being wrong on a matter is an example). The point isn't that they don't care about what is true, the point is that a rational organization that doesn't want to self destruct has to do something to maintain harmony. It isn't rational to expect an organization to allow and encourage a lot of heterodoxy." – Krishnaraj Rao Sep 18 '15 at 20:16
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    Thank you for a frank, well-reasoned and very satisfying reply. Although I feel that you haven't taken the question head-on, I concede that it may not be possible to do so without reference to which school of thought we are talking about. Given the level of abstraction contained in the question, I think you have gone to the heart of the question. Please accept a deep bow from me, Matthew Martin. – Krishnaraj Rao Sep 18 '15 at 20:22
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I'll start this with my analysis of the text, then your questions and my answers at the end.


The following is the Dalai Lama's point of view, as explained in the article you referenced:

Science at the Crossroads
By Tenzin Gyatso, the Dalai Lama
This article is based on a talk given by the Dalai Lama at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience on November 12, 2005 in Washington DC.

He (Tenzin Gyatso, the Dalai Lama) as a scientist:

....The specific areas of science I have explored most over the years are subatomic physics, cosmology, biology and psychology. For my limited understanding of these fields I am deeply indebted to the hours of generous time shared with me by Carl von Weizsacker and the late David Bohm both of whom I consider to be my teachers in quantum mechanics, and in the field of biology, especially neuroscience, ..... ....which initiated the Mind and Life conferences that began in 1987 at my residence in Dharamsala, India. These dialogues have continued over the years and in fact the latest Mind and Life dialogue concluded here in Washington just this week.

Him as a religionist:

..Since the primary motive underlying the Buddhist investigation of reality is the fundamental quest for overcoming suffering and perfecting the human condition, the primary orientation of the Buddhist investigative tradition has been toward understanding the human mind and its various functions. The assumption here is that by gaining deeper insight into the human psyche, we might find ways of transforming our thoughts, emotions and their underlying propensities so that a more wholesome and fulfilling way of being can be found. It is in this context that the Buddhist tradition has devised a rich classification of mental states, as well as contemplative techniques for refining specific mental qualities.

..Some might wonder "What is a Buddhist monk doing taking such a deep interest in science? What relation could there be between Buddhism, an ancient Indian philosophical and spiritual tradition, and modern science? What possible benefit could there be for a scientific discipline such as neuroscience in engaging in dialogue with Buddhist contemplative tradition?"

The two trends - a part, and a whole (a soul, and a stream):

... both Buddhism and modern science share a deep suspicion of any notion of absolutes, whether conceptualized as a transcendent being, as an eternal, unchanging principle such as soul, or as a fundamental substratum of reality.

The Goal - (Paradigm Shift):

...complex world of inner subjective experience that we call the mind...the effects of mental training, such as simple mindfulness practice on a regular basis or the deliberate cultivation of compassion as developed ....that mental practice can effect observable synaptic and neural changes in the brain ....the deliberate cultivation of compassion can lead to a radical shift in the individual's outlook,

What is Paradigm shift? World and beyond the world (Change in Outlook):

...I am not advocating a fusion of religious ethics and scientific inquiry. Rather, I am speaking of what I call "secular ethics" that embrace the key ethical principles, such as compassion, tolerance, a sense of caring, consideration of others, and the responsible use of knowledge and power - principles that transcend the barriers between religious believers and non-believers, and followers of this religion or that religion.

Problem domain - (world within):

..do individuals have a fixed capacity to regulate their emotions and attention or, as Buddhist tradition argues, their capacity for regulating these processes are greatly amenable to change suggesting similar degree of amenability of the behavioral and brain systems associated....

Solution domain - (beyond the world):

..modern neuroscience has developed a rich understanding of the brain mechanisms that are associated with both attention and emotion. Buddhist contemplative tradition, given its long history of interest in the practice of mental training, offers on the other hand practical techniques for refining attention and regulating and transforming emotion...the cultivation of a compassionate heart and the cultivation of deep insights into the nature of reality, which are referred to as the union of compassion and wisdom.

The difficulty is searching for solutions within the world; but the solution is beyond the world. So only the path can be shown, not the end result. (It should be taste and see).

Path? or Paths? (Or suits?):

...in its traditional context, the term for meditation is bhavana (in Sanskrit) or gom (in Tibetan).

..The assumption here is that by

gaining deeper insight into the human psyche, we might find ways of transforming our thoughts, emotions and their underlying propensities so that a more wholesome and fulfilling way of being can be found...

At the heart of these meditation practices lie two key techniques, the refinement of attention and its sustained application on the one hand, and the regulation and transformation of emotions on the other...

Broadly speaking, there are two categories of meditation practice - one focusing on stilling the mind and the other on the cognitive processes of understanding. The two are referred to as (i) stabilizing meditation and (ii) discursive meditation.

Who has gone?

... insofar as empirical facts are concerned, facts must remain facts, no matter how one may choose to describe them. Whatever the truth about the final nature of consciousness - whether or not it is ultimately reducible to physical processes - I believe there can be shared understanding of the experiential facts of the various aspects of our perceptions, thoughts and emotions.


So Now the Q & A.

  1. With specific reference to the last line: in the "Buddhist investigation of reality", what are the instances where empirical evidence "should triumph over" (or even challenge) scriptural authority?

Traditional cosmology ( IF found in ) ancient Buddhist texts. But It cannot compare cosmology and Buddhist 31 planes each other.

  1. Are there alternative/contradictory points of view in the scriptures, or in the talks and writings of recent Gurus, to the Dalai Lama's point of view (i.e. wherein it is posited that scriptural authority should prevail over empirical evidence)?

There is no Scriptural authority in Buddhism. (As shown in "Kalama Sutta"). Empirical evidence and other facts found in ancient Buddhist texts are used as "Uppaya". Like "finger" to point the "Moon".

  • If there is no scriptural authority in Buddhism, what does one call all those ancient writings translated from Pali, without which any discussion about Buddhism is dismissed as being merely someone's opinion? – Krishnaraj Rao Sep 20 '15 at 14:26
  • "Traditional cosmology ( IF found in ) ancient Buddhist texts. But It cannot compare cosmology and Buddhist 31 planes each other." Kindly elaborate this and make it easy to understand what you are saying. – Krishnaraj Rao Sep 20 '15 at 14:29
  • @KrishnarajRao kindly See these explanations. – Shrawaka Sep 20 '15 at 14:35
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You May find your answer here.

enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here

http://www.buddhanet.net/pdf_file/abhidhamma.pdf

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    Nope, I fail to see how this material addresses the question. Could you please elaborate? – Krishnaraj Rao Sep 18 '15 at 20:27
  • @KrishnarajRao refer this it says "Even famous teachers can have wrong views" – Shrawaka Sep 19 '15 at 3:04
  • Please elaborate. I read those few paragraphs, but still failed to see how they address the question. – Krishnaraj Rao Sep 19 '15 at 5:58
  • @KrishnarajRao This answer is not directly answered your question. Tho it is leads to final , i add another intermediate solution. – Shrawaka Sep 20 '15 at 7:13
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Scientists can't all run down to the lab and analyze this experiential evidence firsthand. They can't stand around it, pass tools back and forth and tweek it until they can throw it into some supercollider somewhere...

He must mean evidence found out in the laboratory that is one's own mind and body. This evidence can only be known firsthand by the individual who experiences it and nobody else.

...This means that, in the Buddhist investigation of reality, at least in principle, empirical evidence should triumph over scriptural authority, no matter how deeply venerated a scripture may be.

This seems to be a very vague statement. What kind of empirical evidence is needed to throw out a given venerated scripture? Who is having the experience, one or many meditators?

  • Who said anything about "throwing out" any venerated given scripture? Those were not my words. – Krishnaraj Rao Sep 20 '15 at 14:28
  • They are my words that interpret the Dali Lamas words. What does he mean by "triumph over" then? I should have said "What happens when a scripture is triumphed over?" perhaps. – Lowbrow Sep 20 '15 at 21:02
  • I believe "triumph over" may mean superseded in that particular instance. For instance, if ones experience indicates that jumping off a cliff is likely to injure you, then that experience "triumphs over" any scripture, buddhist or otherwise, which may tell you to have faith and jump. That doesn't mean you throw out the scripture, it only means that when it comes to jumping off cliffs, you decide not to obey this scripture. – Krishnaraj Rao Sep 24 '15 at 6:48

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