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According to Buddhism, the cause of all suffering is desire and liberation from desire would lead to the cessation of suffering.

But isn’t curiosity a desire? Is Buddhism against scientific attitude? Is it against scientific research? (as all research is about the desire to find answers to questions.)

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    It's disappointing to see that the answers given so far are so focused on showing that Buddhism matches with scientific reasoning- which isn't the main question here. The answers only discuss curiosity/desire/suffering as a secondary point. People care too much about Buddhism's reputation for being in-line with science. – Hugh Mar 21 '17 at 9:17
  • Well bear in mind that Desire欲 is born out of Ignorance無明. Because of Ignorance we don't know this and that, therefore curiosity born as result of contemplating for answer. If you know everything from big bang and those every fermions their plays etc., curoisity this great human/scientist desire doesn't stand a place. However, the Buddhas are not living a boring life, they are termed 神通遊戲自在, a bad translation of these 6 characters are: magically playing freely. Even the Buddhas when they see each other they have formal greeting: 少病少惱否,眾生易度否? :D – Mishu 米殊 Mar 21 '17 at 11:33
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No.

I'd say that Buddhism is or can be pro (in favour of) a scientific attitude. The structure of the four noble truths, for example, are analogous to medical thinking: symptoms, cause, cure, and prescription (or, possibly, analogous to the "scientific method": observations, hypothesis, prediction, and experiment).

Also there are different types of "desire": tanha is unwholesome craving, whereas chanda can be wholesome.

Furthermore Buddhism (more-or-less) encourages the proper functioning of lay society: including right livelihood and so on.

And a contemporary Buddhist leader (the Dalai Lama) says that Buddhism has a lot to offer or to add to science (e.g. here) -- or for example here, "The Science for Monks project is a direct result of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s long-term personal interest in science".

I think it's true though that Buddhism doesn't put faith in merely technological development, any more than it says that the mere accumulation of material wealth is the ultimate solution for all life's problems.

Also, I think that "(idle) curiosity" may be endless: meaning, both "without limit" and "without (or with no good) purpose". But Buddhist Dharma is overtly purposeful and, therefore, limited (see for example Simsapa Sutta). I think it expects endeavour should be harmless, beneficial, benevolent: so I expect it opposes some types of "scientific" Research and Development (notably, probably, of weapons for example). Conversely I think there are scientific fields that have more affinity with Buddhism (possibly medicine or ecology).


For the sake of completeness I think that Buddhism (or some Buddhists) can also be dogmatic: the ancient descriptions of (for example) cosmology and pre-history don't co-exist easily with modern "scientific" theories of astronomy, geoscience, and evolution.

Some contemporary Buddhists might discount or excuse such dogma: for example as the unscientific product of its time; or as a corruption introduced into the (perfect) Dharma during subsequent history; or as having a metaphorical or pedagogical purpose which no longer needs to be taken literally.

Other Buddhists might hold that any doctrine that's canonical is therefore important (in spite of the Kalama sutta mentioned in Suminda's answer) and therefore (as you asked) be "against" modern science and "scientific attitude".

There are also some practices in Buddhist cultures and countries, which might be seen as "superstitious" rather than "scientific". But there are also Buddhists who would view these practices as "superstition" and (therefore) not "true Buddhism".

There are many suttas in which the Buddha seems to use and to encourage the use of "scientific attitude", as opposed to the superstitions of his time.

People sometimes contrast Buddhism with Religions, which say "This is true because the prophet (or 'the holy book' or 'our tradition') says so" -- whereas I think that Buddhism's attitude is more like "This is true because it stands to reason, is observable."


One more comment -- I see people try to reconcile, compare, and/or compete Buddhism with science: for example, sometimes, saying that the Buddha taught about Atomic Theory well before "atoms" were discovered by modern experiment; or conversely, saying that science's discovery, that seemingly-solid matter is mostly empty space, is comparable to Buddhist doctrines on emptiness (sunyata).

I see them (science and Buddhism) as separate (independent) fields of endeavour and doctrine.

Within science, there's a conventional way to classify the fields of science into layers, e.g. illustrated here:

enter image description here

Each less "pure" discipline is arguably more complex, less simple, and is based on emergent properties of the field below (or to the right of) it.

I'd place Buddhism well to the left of that scale: highly complex, describing properties of complex phenomena (e.g. human beings). It's a study of things like:

  • subjective experience (suffering and non-suffering)
  • afflictive and affective obstacles (kilesa)
  • beneficial or practical qualities (bodhipakkhiyā dhammā)
  • ethics (sila)
  • social interaction (brahmaviharas)
  • wisdom
  • mahayana ideals and aspirations

Buddhism is a bit ruthless about what it considers on-topic and not. For example people ask, "Is there a Self?" and I think that Buddha's answer is that it's better not to think about that, that there's no view or doctrine about Self which would lead to the goal (of non-suffering).

There's an expression "not even wrong" which is used to describe what seem to be muddled statements about physics. I like Wikipedia's description of it:

The phrase "not even wrong" describes any argument that purports to be scientific but fails at some fundamental level, usually in that it contains a terminal logical fallacy or it cannot be falsified by experiment (i.e., tested with the possibility of being rejected), or cannot be used to make predictions about the natural world.

The phrase is generally attributed to theoretical physicist Wolfgang Pauli, who was known for his colorful objections to incorrect or sloppy thinking. Rudolf Peierls documents an instance in which "a friend showed Pauli the paper of a young physicist which he suspected was not of great value but on which he wanted Pauli's views. Pauli remarked sadly, 'It is not even wrong'." This is also often quoted as "That is not only not right; it is not even wrong," or "Das ist nicht nur nicht richtig; es ist nicht einmal falsch!" in Pauli's native German.

I especially like the phrase, "Pauli remarked sadly".

In my opinion, Buddhism might describe science in general as neither "right" not "wrong" but as "not even wrong" -- because science more-or-less fails to make useful statements about topics which Buddhism considers important, for example "ethics" or "liberation from suffering" or anything like that.

I think that Saptha's answer and comments are that even when science has pleasant practical applications and consequences, these (and the pursuit of these) don't help to "unbind" people (i.e. to unbind from the "wheel of life").

  • I like the answer, but isn't that any investigation (in science or not) is to reduce a suffering from the investigator? If we view sufferings as cognitive dissonance, then clinical psychology is in fact Buddhism? – Ooker Mar 1 at 7:37
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    If we view sufferings as cognitive dissonance, then clinical psychology is in fact Buddhism? "Impressionists are painters. If we view cubists as painters then in fact they're impressionists?" I think Buddhism is might be defined as "the doctrine of the Buddha and doctrines derived therefrom"; and "clinical psychology" (i.e. "Western psychology") arose/developed separate, with only a little cross-over recently (e.g. the principle of "mindfulness"). – ChrisW Mar 1 at 9:45
  • Someone posted this as a (perhaps fundamentalist or academic) attempt to define recognise characteristics or doctrines of Buddhism. – ChrisW Mar 1 at 9:45
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    You seem to be saying, "A and B both have C as their purpose, therefore B is in fact A" -- an argument like that could claim that Buddhism is hedonism, or stoicism, or daoism, or some form of christianity, etc. (which I don't think it is). But that's me being attached to a view or definition of "Buddhism". If what you're saying is, rather, "A practising clinical psychologist can be a Buddhist", then I expect that's so. – ChrisW Mar 1 at 9:52
  • thanks for calling out my fallacy. The viewing of Buddhist sufferings as cognitive dissonance also seems problematic too. Maybe I should have referred it as "cognitive sufferings"? – Ooker Mar 1 at 10:01
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The word ‘vijja’—translated here as clear knowing—also means ‘science.’ And just as science implies a method, there is a method—a discipline—underlying the knowledge that leads to Unbinding. If Dhamma equates to ‘vijja’, then the prevailing scientific attitude is ‘a-vijja’, as it leads to more binding. Unlike the Dhamma, the method, the discipline, and ultimately all results of modern/ popular science leads to more binding – resulting in the very opposite of what Buddha taught.

The curiosity that drives the scientific taught is desire. That is why science will never be able to prove or disprove the truth of the Buddha’s claims. That proof can be found only within the awareness of the person who puts those claims to the test in the way the Buddha recommended: by developing the factors of the noble eightfold path.

Buddhism concerns with feelings, emotions, sensations, and cognition, pointing both to cognitive and emotional causes of suffering. The emotional cause is desire and its negative opposite, aversion. The cognitive cause is ignorance of the way things truly occur, or of three marks of existence: that all things are unsatisfactory, impermanent, and without essential self. This is the opposite of the Scientific attitudes that are rooted in desire as evident in Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s article ‘Pushing the Limits - Desire & Imagination in the Buddhist Path:

”All phenomena, the Buddha once said, are rooted in desire. Everything we think, say, or do — every experience — comes from desire. Even we come from desire. We were reborn into this life because of our desire to be. Consciously or not, our desires keep redefining our sense of who we are. Desire is how we take our place in the causal matrix of space and time. The only thing not rooted in desire is nirvana, for it's the end of all phenomena and lies even beyond the Buddha's use of the word "all."”

  • So ... science, economic welfare, medicine, education, cannot be considered sukha? – ChrisW Mar 21 '17 at 1:20
  • They are all ‘sukha’. – that is where the problem lies. If you would truly understand the Pali phrase “ yamp'iccha"m na labhati tampi dukkha"m ” All Sukha inevitably brings forth Dukkha. - So our indulgence in Pleasure (Sukha -iccha), and our inability to see the truth that is in Buddha’s words “ yamp'iccha"m na labhati tampi dukkha"m ” the very reason that almost all of us cannot go further in this Noble Path. – Saptha Visuddhi Mar 21 '17 at 1:34
  • I understand "yampicchaṃ na labhati tam·pi dukkhaṃ" to mean "that-which-is-wished-for not having, that is dukkha". At one point I wondered whether that is "attachment" (to a specific or identifiable object-which-is-wished-for), which is why I asked this question. – ChrisW Mar 21 '17 at 17:56
  • In Dhamma-cakkappavattana Sutta, the phrase “yamp'iccha"m na labhati tampi dukkha’m” is given a confined definition. Everyone interpret “Jaatipi dukkhaa jaraapi dukkhaa mara.nampi dukkha"m,” as Birth is stressful, aging is stressful, death is stressful. There’s a broader meaning to “Jaati-pi”. “Jaati” is all animate & inanimate things found in time & space. Other suttas point to this. When “pi” is added, it means taking all animate & inanimate things as “Sukha”, “iccha”. There is ONE word for what you said ("that which is wished for not having, that is dukkha"). It is “Ani-iccha” (anicca). – Saptha Visuddhi Mar 22 '17 at 0:28
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Is Buddhism against scientific attitude? Is it against scientific research?

Kalama Sutta embodies scientific thinking where nothing should be accepted due to various non scientific reasoning. The non rational reasons are:

  1. Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing (anussava),
  2. nor upon tradition (paramparā),
  3. nor upon rumor (itikirā),
  4. nor upon what is in a scripture (piṭaka-sampadāna)
  5. nor upon surmise (takka-hetu),
  6. nor upon an axiom (naya-hetu),
  7. nor upon specious reasoning (ākāra-parivitakka),
  8. nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over (diṭṭhi-nijjhān-akkh-antiyā),
  9. nor upon another's seeming ability (bhabba-rūpatāya),
  10. nor upon the consideration, The monk is our teacher (samaṇo no garū)

and accept because them when you know for yourself at a verified or experiential level that things:

  1. These things are good;
  2. these things are not blamable;
  3. these things are praised by the wise;
  4. undertaken and observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness,

Also not accept based on different sources as immediately truthful and free from fallacies which are:

  1. Oral history
  2. Traditional
  3. News sources
  4. Scriptures or other official texts
  5. Suppositional reasoning
  6. Philosophical dogmatism
  7. Common sense
  8. One's own opinions
  9. Experts
  10. Authorities or one's own teacher

The content should be verified at the experiential level.

This Sutta is also know as Kesa,puttiya Sutta

In addition, Vimansaka Sutta goes to the extend and states that even the Buddha should be examined.

It is free inquiry and experience that Faith in Buddhism is reinforced than dogmatic belief, which is very scientific.

But isn’t curiosity a desire?

It can be either or both Chanda and Tanha. In the latter cases it is not good. A scientist may crave for results. But a meditator merely observes. Objective observation is more scientific than many scientific results, were due to craving, aversion and ignorance one may have a bias towards the hypothesis.

In science or otherwise craving not not considered a good thing as it keeps us in misery.

In conclusion, buddhism is scientific that you have to rely in:

  • choiceless, impartial observation (not tainted by corruptions of insight - Vipallasa)
  • conclusions are made by personal experimentation and verification
  • out of what you observe and verify just take what is good for oneself and others leaving aside what is not beneficial
  • in Buddhism the exploration is you come out of craving than fueled by craving. To give trial to the Buddhist path you would need some intellectual curiosity. Unlike scientific endeavours you should not crave for the end result as this will lead to misery and keep the cycle of dependent arising tuning creating more misery in the future.

Also following might be interesting / related: Buddhist point of view in the research process

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    Yes, "ehipassiko": Buddhism teaching is meant to be evident and testable, which I think is a "scientific attitude". – ChrisW Mar 20 '17 at 15:20
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    OP's reason for thinking that Buddhism is against scientific attitude is because they think that curiosity is non-buddhist since it leads to dukkha. Your answer really doesn't address this at all. – Hugh Mar 20 '17 at 19:56
  • My initial interest in answering was only Is Buddhism against scientific attitude? Is it against scientific research? part of the question, but updated. – Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena Mar 21 '17 at 4:45
  • Yeah I'm sure you care more about making sure that Buddhism is compatible with science instead of answering OP's doubts. Your minor paragraph about curiosity only touches the surface and doesn't explain much like: is Buddhism against a scientist who craves for results? – Hugh Mar 21 '17 at 9:14
  • I am more interested that the OP + many more other users, will have some valuable information to work with. Modern science, research do share certain common goals but there are some differences. Research in making bombs (hatred) may not be beneficial. Research motivated by greed may not be beneficial. Any objective goal base exploration, with the benefit of one and others in mind is beneficial. My original answer adds no personal view or spin to the answer and try to reproduce what the Buddha had said. Even now it has little of my view, just enough to address the craving part. – Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena Mar 21 '17 at 10:04
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Strictly speaking, Buddhism doesn't say "desire" is the cause of suffering, but that craving rooted in attachment is the cause of suffering.

Sometimes scientific curiosity is rooted in attachment, but other times it's rooted in wholesome motives such as compassion. Often the motives are a combination of the two. So I think Buddhism is silent on this question. It's up to each inquirer to evaluate their motives, moment to moment.

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Science speaks of experimentation. Buddha speaks of arya experimentation. This isn't something science can comprehend, and is more sophisticated and effective in understanding matter and energy (dark or otherwise).

For example science would say, "look, the moon could be having on its face the shadow of earth", and devise experimentation accordingly, thus understanding things like solar eclipses.

A Buddhist, ideally should say, "look, things that rise, change and destroy. This, by its very nature, gives rise to sorrow.", and devise experimentation accordingly, thus understanding the four noble truths.

Experimenting things other than dhamma is considered "anarya" (not noble) and is discouraged.

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    You answered the question in the title but you didn't address the source of OP's doubts. Does curiosity cause dukkha and does this mean that trying to discover is non buddhist? – Hugh Mar 20 '17 at 23:10
  • Curiousity falls under pancha upadanakhanda. Pancha upadanakkanda is dukha, by definition. The thing is, while some curiousity leads to discovery of good things, in the end (Nirvana), you let go of them too. – Ravindranath Akila Mar 20 '17 at 23:43
  • I agree with you and I think you should edit your answer to focus on pancha upadanakhanda. Divyansh might wonder if science/curiosity leads to dukkha then why isn't buddhism against scientific attitudes especially if the curiosity is used for worldly goals. – Hugh Mar 21 '17 at 0:13
  • I included some edits. Hope this helps. Endorsing things beyond this would be me exceeding my own abilities. – Ravindranath Akila Mar 21 '17 at 0:15
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Curiosity is an ambiguous word. I would replace it by "a wholesome desire to know". And this wholesome desire for understanding and expanding knowledge is a pillar of science and buddhism. Buddhism and science share something in common: objectivity, and seeing things for what they are. This is far more essential than curiosity.

Now the difference between buddhism and science is that science is driven by the desire for a systemic and usable knowledge, it is not about experiencing the ultimate nature of things it is about grasping their structural design, we approach various aspect of nature with the intellectual part of our brain, which store knowledge, find patterns and can speculate about future phenomena that will occur and analyze the past ones. Buddhism on the other hand is not interested about speculations, the goal is to intuitively and directly experience an insight of the structures and patterns of nature at the experiential level by using other part of the brain related to consciousness and intuition.

Therefore science and buddhism doesn't contradict each other, but at the same time don't use the same tools and don't share the exact same goal.

  • I guess the question is whether "scientific curiosity" and/or "desire for scientific knowledge" is (or can be) a "wholesome desire" -- does this answer beg the question? I think that the adjective "wholesome" is applied to "ethical behaviour", as well as "non-greed" (reference). – ChrisW Mar 21 '17 at 21:52
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The Buddhist take on the world and the scientific take on the world share many similarities.

Science deals with a negational 'truth' at its core - knowledge arises through disproving a negatively stated null hypothesis (that the phenomenon being measured has no effect). Scientific theory is accepted if the data rejects a null hypothesis to a certain statistical significance. This, in it self, does not provide for Absolute Truth and a theory derived from evidence gathered from the world cannot have 100% accuracy, if only because science extrapolates rules from measuring a sample of a population to which the rule is aimed at. The sample being measured must always be at most n-1 relative to a population of n, meaning absolute certainty about a population is not possible. The search for answers through negation works well in a world of non-self, and it strikes me as similar to the Buddhist approach to dealing with Nibbana. And because the Truths found are negational, there is less psychological incentive to stick to your guns against new evidence.

Science advances by discovering new phenomena and replacing theories about old ones that fit the data better - Aristotelian Mechanics to Newtonian Mechanics to General Relativity. GR is not a denial of NM, simply a superseding of it due to higher accuracy. (I think this is similar to what Karl Popper writes btw, his take on science is good). In this sense the scientific method can be seen as a method of sorting hypotheses according to accuracy.

Because of the possibility to sort theories, and of unbiased methodology, the scientific method has lead humanity to a closer experimental understanding of 'things as they really are'. And by this I mean the scientific method is rediscovering dependent origination, in a mathematical context. Science has relativised concepts - velocity is a meaningless term unless stated with reference to another body. In special relativity, simultaneity of two distant events is meaningless without reference to an observer (doesn't have to be conscious). In general relativity, the spacetime position of an object is meaningless, unless referenced to a gravitational field. Theories seem to describe more the more we take away our own assumptions within them. Remove man-made constants and theories explain more and more. General relativity is background independent - it is derived from first principles, without a man made input, and it has yet to be proven inaccurate.

The most interesting one is quantum mechanics (a theory of motion at the smallest scales), because it delves the deepest into 'things as they are', and because it has been stuck in the essentialist Copenhagen interpretation. But even this view is becoming relativised atm. https://arxiv.org/abs/quant-ph/9609002, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/qm-relational/#SomConRelPoiVie, the first being the groundbreaking paper on it, the latter a simpler description.

RQM states that the state of an unmeasured system is meaningless because meaning comes from the interaction between systems, rather than any intrinsic property of a system. In fact, it says that all properties arise from interactions between quantum systems, the quanta is found empty - Anatta by definition. Because of this, RQM does not allow for the state of 'All of everything' (where would the measuring party be to measure such a state?), sits ambiguous on determinism and whether we suffer a unique history just repeating on us (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interpretations_of_quantum_mechanics#Comparison_of_interpretations). This is Anicca, but it naturally follows on from Anatta (can't built anything permanent and deterministic with empty building blocks).

Because the Buddha's message was an expounding of actuality as it is, it should not disagree with the scientific method - the unbiased examination of actuality as it is. In this sense, they should (and do) work with each other to enlighten our world view.. In fact, the relativisation of experience with the help of the scientific method is humanity coming around to supramundane right view imo.

However, with regards to desire, the question of whether the scientific method stands with Buddhism is probably more accurately answered if it is known whether the scientific method encourages the four right exertions. So long as the method limits unwanted qualities and raises wanted qualities within its practitioners or benefactors, then it's of benefit. In terms of the physical - bodily and mental health - it is a great asset. You can't escape dukkha by engineering it away, but you can make people's lives less miserable, which is compassionate and should give them a better chance to advance their psychology.

Science has yet to play out with regards to where it will lead human consciousness - it has never fairly stated a world view (beyond its methadology), because it never had one truth to neatly jump back to, like it is finding now with non-self across disciplines (RQM isn't really popular even though it's so parsimonious - appeared properly in 1996 and only around 5-10% of quantum physicists endorse it). As such science has less influenced how humans behave, rather more what they can do once they have chosen their behaviour patterns - both the peaceful and the violent have more tools at their disposal!

In a world of Anatta though, it would be unfeasible that the 'internal examination of things as they are' (Buddha) and the 'external examination of things as they are' (science) would ever come to anything but the same answers if the methods used are unbiased. As such, they should work together very well!

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The answer is neither. Buddhism is not against science nor for science.

Scientific inquiry (relative measurement) and mathematics (quantity and patterns) are universal and independent of theology (beliefs & ethics) and philosophy (how to live).

The basis of your question asks to ponder the meaning of desire as "According to Buddhism, the cause of all suffering is desire."

Inquiring and desiring are quite different.

Desire as a wanting... for possession, personal use for self... a conscious self. Desire can be for tangible items as well as relationships.

Curiosity is to inquire, to learn or to know. Curiosity is innate and driven by the subconscious. On does not choose to inquire.

A curious inquiry, a measurement or recognizing a pattern is independent of desire as Buddhism is independent of science and mathematics.

Thus the answer is neither. Buddhism (any theology or philosophy) is independent of science or math.

  • Not to comment on the vote but to try to comment from a Buddhist perspective, your saying that curiosity is "inquiry" reminds me of the Kalamma Sutta which is subtitled here as The Buddha's Charter of Free Inquiry. I think that Buddhism might judge doctrine and/or endeavour according to criteria such as whether it's of "benefit", "blameless", "devoid of coveting", "hate-free", "undeluded", etc. – ChrisW Mar 24 '17 at 8:11
  • Also "craving" comes from good feelings (e.g. "that feels good") associated with sensory contact .. in that context (the doctrine of "contact")) there are six senses, one which one is mind-contact ... so I'm not sure, in fact I doubt, that "desire" is necessarily only for "materials" and "tangible items" -- for example a story like this, too, seems to me to include some element of craving. – ChrisW Mar 24 '17 at 8:18
  • Please note that I do not limit desire for tangible items, as many people desire relationships from lovers, fathers, mothers, children and grandchildren for friendship and companionship... unfortunately, these relationships always have suffering, pain, sorrow, joy, glee... many emotions. A Buddha needs nothing - is one with all, loves all, knows all as all is one. – Jeffrey Michael Mar 25 '17 at 21:39

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