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Among the steps needed to attain enlightenment, a practitioner of Buddhism needs to abandon the wrong philosophical views that they acquired due to either wrong teaching or wrong study. In this sense, a practitioner that is less educated need only remove his or her sense of self or ego and the afflictions due to his or her present body. However, a practitioner that is educated would also have to remove the philosophical views acquired through wrong learning.

As paradigms in science have historically been replaced by new paradigms a la Kuhn, this means that science is necessarily a wrong view. For instance, a person living in Newton's time would have studied the absoluteness of time and space, but that view was displaced by Einstein's relativistic paradigm. Whatever science we are learning now, whether it be quantum physics or evolution or species, given the historical record, would be a wrong view and replaced by a more correct paradigm in the future.

Even mathematics have proven to be contradictory through history. At first, set theorists believed in unlimited comprehension till Russell's paradox showed the need for bounded comprehension, in the fateful saga of Russel and Whitehead's Principia Mathematica. Pythagoras's theorem was thought to be unconditionally true, but now it is true in only one of the three absolute geometries and physicists now believe our world to be non-Euclidean, in which Pythagoras's theorem fails.

After one is reborn in another world, the physics or mathematics of that world would likely be very different, and one's body would also likely be very different. This probably indicates the impermanent nature of the science and mathematics of our current society.

Are you also of the opinion that the learning mathematics and science causes a person to acquire wrong views? Would this lead one further away from enlightenment?

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  • The 14th Dali Lama's education includes logic among many subjects, including science, and is "truly interested in participating in something substantial about science" – user8619 Aug 28 '16 at 18:02
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    Science and mathematics are neutral. Scientists and mathematicians, on the other hand, are not. As a fellow mathematician, all I can say is that very deep down, in the core of science, there's faith; faith in the senses, faith in matter and faith in reason. Most materialistic scientists will hide or even be unaware of this fact, but it's there. As long as you don't forget this, you'll be fine. B. Alan Wallace wrote a fantastic article about this. You can read it here. – Pragabhava Oct 13 '16 at 16:17
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If you are looking for enlightenment you should be concerned of not being attached to these studies, or averse to what you disagree. The same fits to Buddhism itself, you should't become absorbed, or obsessed, to the Dharma.

All philosophies are mental phenomena, they aren't either good or bad in themselves. But they can hinder your search for enlightenment if you are too concerned about them.

Math and science share a side of problem elaboration and solving. So it would contradict Buddhism if you enjoy or think it is meaningful to be worried about all those problems. Over-thinking about anything and having a heavy attitude over theories or facts are opposite to the practice of meditation.

The point of meditation is to not being absorbed to mental elaborations. So there is no sense to think all over a sitting session. Then this extends to daily life, there is no sense to have a sharp and clear mind when meditating and daydream in the rest of the time.

For short, the point isn't what phenomena you engage, but it's how you engage to phenomena. If you can elaborate on any philosophy in a detached way it wouldn't be a problem at all. So the practice would be to think while being present and aware. (yes, this one is quite paradoxical)

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    I would like to point out that this is essentially a Hinayana view, and is not universally applicable to all Paths. Another view is that to be totally absorbed (completely un-distracted) by a topic of any kind is the same as concentration meditation, and has the same effect on mind. This means that enjoying doing problem solving is not contradictory to Buddhism, any more than enjoying your meal totally would be. Then, you are left with contemplative and spacious meditation to do separately. – T. B. Oct 17 '16 at 21:00
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Study of mathematics or science in and of itself is orthogonal to practice of Buddha-Dharma. But a side effect of study can often be a sense of pride based on the false conviction that one now knows everything there is to know about the way the world operates. This could be a serious barrier for entry into Buddhism and a source of misinterpretation of what Buddhism is actually about.

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If you are a Tantric Buddhist, you could use Mathematics and Science AS a path to enlightenment.

Also, the word 'wrong' is not relative to some 'right' which is known to Buddhists. The Eightfold path is a conjecture that "seems to work ok", but the Buddha himself said there were innumerable paths besides it.

So, this question could be answered in many ways, from many different viewpoints. It all depends on how you have decided to practice.

Buddhism is too large a viewpoint to answer this question.. you need to narrow it to what vehicle, and even flavor, of Buddhism as it is practiced in the world to get a meaningful answer.

EDIT: It seems that many here are pointing out that studying a difficult subject outside of Buddhism can lead to pride or distraction or attachment. I agree.

The broad point I am trying to make is that this is not any different than being prideful in anything, and does not in itself constitute a danger to your path, any more than being prideful in your appearance, strength, or taste in wine would be. In this way, there is no difference between Math and Literature, or between Physics and Dharma Studies. Thus, I maintain that there is no area of knowledge that will lead you to being more prone to pride, as long as you maintain your path while learning it.

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  • I don't understand the first paragraph (which says that "a Tantric Buddhist could use Mathematics and Science as a path to enlightenment")? Could you add at least a little explanation of what Tantric Buddhism is, to clarify how it could use maths and science as a path, or to clarify what its path to enlightenment may be? – ChrisW Oct 12 '16 at 21:00
  • Well, the first thing is.. Enlightenment is Enlightenment. We can analogize that "one apple is very much like any other apple". Secondly, Enlightenment comes in flavors, which are predicated by the path down which one walks. Every individual's attainment is different, and has a different flavor. There are many different paths. The broad path called "Tantric" or "Vajrayana" is one which is interested in using all ordinary experience in the process of discovery. This includes learning Mathematics or Physics, and applying it to realization through contemplation. – T. B. Oct 17 '16 at 20:49
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Mathematics, science, logic fall to the field of perception. If you conceptualize things and hold on to them as reality then this can be a hindrance.

You have to try to see things as they are without the clouding of perception.

Initially perceptions will be strong, but when perceptions arise you should try to be equanimous without clinging or reacting to the sensations associated with the perception and it's trigger. With this your perception weakens, and ultimately when you realize some form of sainthood, it ceases momentarily.

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  • I don't agree with the spirit of your comment... everything we do or think falls to the field of perception, including the suttas, and everything else about "practicing" a path. We cannot be outside of perception as it is the only way to receive knowledge. The clouding of perception is not quite accurate either.. it is the clouding of the mind, believing that perception IS reality, that is the problem we are trying to solve. Perception cannot cloud the mind, the system of mind is prone to being clouded by WHAT we perceive as being real, which is what causes clouding. – T. B. Oct 17 '16 at 20:53
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The world is full of ideas. The ideas themselves do not cause wrong view. The solution is not ignorance. Opening one's mind to them, or education, is the opposite of ignorance. The Mind and Life Institute is a living example of doing so by one of Buddhism's most advanced practitioners - the Dalai Lama.

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The Right View of the Dhamma is only related to spiritual liberation i.e. the permanent cessation of suffering. Wrong Views are views that contradict Right View e.g. eternalism, annihilationism etc.

Science and mathematics are neither Wrong View nor Right View. They are simply worldly knowledge unrelated to spiritual liberation.

Lay people are taught to practise the Five Precepts and maintain livelihood in accordance with Right Livelihood for lay persons as taught in AN 5.177. In the sutta quote below, we see the Buddha praising the lay characteristic of being consummate in initiative, for mastering and practising worldly crafts. Lay persons need it for their livelihood.

So, science, mathematics and other worldly knowledge are not wrong view. But of course, any kind of exertion in worldly endeavors can lead one to strengthen their sensual cravings and cravings to become something.

[The Blessed One said:] "There are these four qualities, TigerPaw, that lead to a lay person's happiness and well-being in this life. Which four? Being consummate in initiative, being consummate in vigilance, admirable friendship, and maintaining one's livelihood in tune.

"And what does it mean to be consummate in initiative? There is the case where a lay person, by whatever occupation he makes his living — whether by farming or trading or cattle tending or archery or as a king's man or by any other craft — is clever and untiring at it, endowed with discrimination in its techniques, enough to arrange and carry it out. This is called being consummate in initiative.
AN 8.54

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To be short and to the point, no. It is my understanding that Pure Desire is the absolute teaching of Buddhism. So, as long as you don't get the feeling that you must due to the desire, you should still reach nirvana based on this issue.

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  • Welcome to Buddhism SE. Maybe you could elaborate on the content of your post, i.e. what "Pure Desire" is and why one must not get that feeling. Thank you. – user2424 Oct 12 '16 at 15:18
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I think wrong learning is always problematic and likewise wrong convictions.

The scientific method of doing experiments for discovery & faĺsification is really a general modus of reasoning & acquisition of knowledge.

It is said that a mathematician's greatest weapon is proof by contradiction and to me he doesn't really care what it is he proves.

Mathematics to me is about putting aside one's delusion and just following wisdom.

Ie At some point nobody knew how to count a negative multiplied by a negative and would speculate about it until someone actually set up an equation and saw the relations & the answer with intellect.

To me the Bodhisatta likewise developed wholesome lines of reasoning until these came together to paint a perfect picture of the elements & their conditional relations; he saw that 5 aggregates are not self, he saw that 4 aggregates have objects & are conjoined, he saw that the element which is called mind consciousness or intellect arises as one thing & ceases as another.

To me science isn't about views but rather truth & falsification of dumb ideas.

To me Buddhism was most impressive because i saw that the Buddha knew things which i've been told he weren't supposed to know, things that are recent scientific discovery & theory.

It is just very impressive because at that point him knowing these things is basically a scientific miracle which a person trained in those disciplines can recognize as such.

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