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If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change. In my view, science and Buddhism share a search for the truth and for understanding reality. By learning from science about aspects of reality where its understanding may be more advanced, I believe that Buddhism enriches its own worldview. -- Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama in "Our Faith in Science", The New York Times

This is all very well, but are there formal mechanisms in any Buddhist institutions that explicitly allow Buddhist principles to be reconciled with the findings of science?

  • Not sure I can answer the question, but I am trying to understand what you're asking. Do you mean is there a similar "papal bull" mechanism to change fundamental beliefs of the religion? – Richard Morgan Jun 18 '14 at 2:14
  • It would help if you'd specify which kind of Buddhism you have in mind. Only an institution can have a formal mechanism. This implies you have some institution in mind (maybe FTMT or the Tibetan Government in exile?) Buddhism as a whole has a lot of institutions and even people like myself who go out of their way to not participate in an institution. – MatthewMartin Jun 28 '14 at 12:46
  • @matthewmartin, any kind will do. :-) – user50 Jun 30 '14 at 1:05
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The general claim in Buddhism, or at least in Theravada Buddhism, is that a Buddha is omniscient. That makes it difficult to question what the texts claim the Buddha himself said. In a couple of places this seems to put science and Buddhism at odds (e.g. causes of earthquakes).

The closest we have to what you are suggesting is an act of the sangha; after the Buddha passed away, we have record of a Buddhist council where they discussed whether to revoke the minor monastic rules as the Buddha had allowed them to do, and they decided as a group not to. Later sangha councils edited the canonical texts but would never have redacted something that they thought the Buddha had said in error.

I think, at the very least, unlike faith-based religions, Buddhism doesn't rely on absolute statements of truth, but rather practices that lead to self-realization; so it doesn't matter as much if statements in the canon like the causes of earthquakes and the size of the universe, etc., are accurate. What matters is if the path leads to the goal, and that is to be verified by oneself.

As a result, you find more marginalizing of problematic teachings, rather than striking them out. First of all, because the Buddha was said to be infallible, but second of all because we know that we are not. The fear of wrongly striking a teaching out of ignorance is too great. But, we can always ignore troubling passages, I guess similar to how Jewish people ignore Leviticus for the most part.

So, no, there isn't really such a mechanism, afaics.

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The goal of science is most complete and accurate description of the world. The goal of Buddhism is to clearly realize relationship between mind and experienced reality and to transcend the limits of any single description of the world. So in a way, Buddhism lives in an infinity of higher order than the one science lives in. If anything, it is science that should reconcile with Buddha-Dharma, by becoming aware of inherent Emptiness of all views, not the other way around :)

  • That is what I would characterize as an act of faith. Faith and science are oil and water. :-) – user50 Jun 25 '14 at 0:09
  • Just to make sure I understand what you mean, may I ask what exactly you would characterize as an act of faith? – Andrei Volkov Jun 25 '14 at 0:40
  • "It is science that should reconcile..." – user50 Jun 25 '14 at 1:11
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    The notion of some assumed conflict between science and Buddhism comes from misunderstanding of Buddhism. Once you clearly see Buddhism's ground, path, and fruition, you will clearly see that Buddhism and science are not in conflict. I would go as far as to say that any scientist worth his/her salt is already a buddhist in effect (minus the raft). – Andrei Volkov Jun 25 '14 at 1:35
  • Arguably science has no need to change, simply because science is already aware of "the inherent emptiness of all views" : a scientific theory arises, is modified, and may eventually cease, in dependence on causes and conditions such as experimental results that support, modify or contradict it. That's how the scientific method works. – Brian Drummond Jul 4 '14 at 9:42

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