Buddhism, Modernization, and Science
By Nolan Pliny Jacobson

Philosophy East and West
Vol. 20 (1970)
pp. 155-167

Copyright 1970 by University of Hawaii Press
Hawaii, USA


 

 

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"The course of history ... is largely outside our control; ... beyond our perception; ... we do not perceive its direction," [1] "We are experiencing a process of change affecting everything, yet controlled by no one." [2]

    These statements by leading figures in the behavioral sciences may be taken as some of the most sparing understatements of our time. Students of modernization tell us that it proceeds under its own momentum, almost automatically, particularly in less tradition-bound cultures. All societies are developing. And some developmental problems are common to all societies; among them the problem of restructuring traditional value systems. In the present essay I am concerned with one of these value systems and its relation to modernization.

    Already in an advanced stage of revival and renascence in South and South-east Asia, Buddhism has latent capabilities for making common cause with some of the central features of modernization, particularly with a new self-corrective life style and community of inquiry spreading swiftly throughout the earth. The special sciences may be taken as illustrating this new life-style and community, though in fragmentary and highly specialized form.

 

MODERNIZATION

No power elite of any nation, no social class, and no popular ideology is in complete control of the course of a nation's history. Men and institutions are inundated by change proceeding at an exponential rate. No historic agency traditionally dominant over human behavior -- whether family, church, or local community -- is any longer able to bring up the young in the image of its own ancestral attitudes and values. All students of modernization seem to agree that changes occurring simultaneously at millions of points in the world produce consequences which cannot be anticipated or assessed. [3] The multiple effects of modernization operate too swiftly and with results too unpredictable to be controlled within the limits of a particular culture world, with its patterns of behavior, forms of understanding, and narrowly circular,  self-validating, encapsulated symbolic systems. The culture worlds which began by mutually excluding one another are now no longer able to keep each other out; their interpenetration, despite iron and bamboo curtains, cuts across history like a knife, dividing the age of the past ten thousand years from the life that now must follow.


1. Gunnar Myrdal, Asian Drama: An Inquiry Into the Poverty of Nations, 3 vols. (New York: The Twentieth Century Fund, 1968), I, 702, 703.

2. Alex Inkeles, "The Modernization of Man," in Modernization: The Dynamics of Growth, ed. Myron Weiner (New York: Basic Books, 1966), chap. 10, p. 149.

3. Myrdal, Asian Drama, I, 701-705. See William F. Ogburn, Social Change (New York: Viking Press, 1928), the first systematic understanding of the exponential impact of new knowledge developing simultaneously in millions of different places.

 

 

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    The capacity of mature men and women for responding to the world as a whole, or at least taking more of it into account, is being radically upgraded.  The day is apparently past when any of the great value systems of mankind could be appropriated by a particular community and applied with merely local significance. What McLuhan calls "the electric age" has "established a global network that has much of the character of our central nervous system." [4] Our central nervous system has been extended "in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned." [5] With its explosive proliferation of knowledge, stored in computerized technology, modernization more and more "becomes an almost automatic process driving development forward. The reality of the situation is blurred by saying that we are living through a new industrial revolution.... Indeed, we have good reason to expect that the great technological breakthroughs are yet to come." [6]

    I am concerned in this essay with a different breakthrough. I am concerned with the emergence of a new style of life, a self-corrective process of inquiry which has become habitual and embodied in a global community already living under its direction.

    The new life-style shifts the whole emphasis away from established meanings and symbols, however justifiable by rational argument, over to a self-corrective process and community of inquiry. It is inherently opposed, and keenly alert to, what Wittgenstein called "the mystification of the intellect by language." It frees the mind from metaphysical traditions which sought to weave the tangled web of experience into one all-embracing and unitary world view. It is primarily problem-centered. It rejects rigidity in every form, together with the repetitive, ritualistic behavior which tends to become an end in itself and a diversion from further growth. It bases its probing of events, not upon authority, but upon testable disclosures struggled for and undergone.  It knows that history is littered with the dry bones of "well-attested" theories and with abandoned revelational "truths" craved for centuries in their untested form because of certain cherished psychological effects generated in the believer. Traditions are therefore subjected to continuous screening and analysis; they are looked upon as resources which direct inquiry into the subtleties of human experience. The new life-style discourages the human creature from attempting to build its life upon knowledge-claims and rationally formulated theories about the world. It thus restores the mind to its essential function and man to his fundamental obligation to inquire.

    Under the conditions of world interdependence and massive cultural interpenetration which prevail today, people are forced to look beyond the walls


4. Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (New York: New American Library, 1966), p. 302.

5. Ibid., p. 19.

6. Myrdal, Asian Drama I, 702.

 

 

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of their ancestral caves in order to interpret the meaning of events. Opinions of people outside a particular racial, ethnic, or nationalistic tradition come in whether they are desired or not. They come in because they are needed if a problematic situation is to be understood. Given these bare conditions, which are inescapable today just about everywhere on earth, the self-corrective lifestyle becomes the controlling fact of life. Where everyone lives at the cross-roads of all the interpenetrating culture worlds, the norm for personal health and community survival is to take other people's experience and perceptions as seriously as one's own. The cost of being culture-bound and ego-bound is becoming prohibitive, and not merely undesirable, for the first time in history.

       This self-corrective process and community is not some future goal toward which history might be conceived to be moving. It is the basic dynamism already shaping history, shifting the control of human affairs away from established social institutions and powerful culture worlds. The major transmutation occurring all around us is the transference of allegiance from the sociological community of an encapsulated, self-justifying symbol system and culture world to a self-corrective global community that transcends them all.

    Modernization is thus a spiritual transmutation, a changing of circumstances of men, freeing them to feel more fully the changes in their world, and reserving to them a new sense of responsibility for the vast ecosystem of the planet in which human evolution may be continued, safe from the pollution of the atmosphere, the soil, and the sea. All the other features of modernization are results and vehicles of this transmutation -- new techniques in agriculture and industry, replacement of animate by inanimate sources of energy, growing independence of education from family and ecclesiastical control, and the accelerating capacity to respond to massive stimuli of world events. Modernization is the metamorphosis of self-correction operating in individual and community to correct the torrent of uncriticized custom and convention at thousands of points scattered throughout the planet.

    An increasing number of men and women are becoming more fully exposed to perceptions and events for which their own ancestral order of life provides no adequate interpretation. They are therefore conquering in themselves the fear they had when they were teenagers of being exposed to adult criticism and correction. They begin more and more fully to perceive their own strategies of self-protection and self-delusion. They come more fully of age in a global community whose members are, as we have emphasized, rarely if ever physically present to one another. In this community they are discovering the deeper truth about themselves, that they are not essentially Homo sapiens, or Homo faber, or Homo symbolicus, but rather the creature with the capacity to probe his experience and respond to whatever is encountered. In the keeping of this community, they discover that human society can survive on the good earth if it can become habitually self-corrective, and that the fate of man

 

 

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depends, not upon the stars, but upon his willingness to correct his judgments, whether in economics, in politics, in the physical and behavioral sciences, or in religion. They discern something of Robert Frost's perception "In the Clearing" :

No one ów not I ów would give them up for lost
Simply because they don't know where they are.
.......................................................................
If the day ever comes when they know who
They are, they may know better where they are.
But who they are is too much to believe.

    Unlike any other community to appear, this one is distinguished by its flexibility, its willingness and need to undergo self-correction, its discipline and respect for searching out the evidence that calls for a rethinking of what is known. It is not sheer coincidence that a prominent economist believes this global community capable eventually of producing "a society specializing in spiritual experiences of a quality which we now realize only in rare moments of intuition." [7]

 

SCIENCE

Some of the essential features of the self-corrective style of life creeping up on us almost unawares are displayed with sharp definition in the community of modern science. Its membership, for instance, is spread across a broad spectrum of age, racial, ethnic, and nationalistic groups. Men and women of all nations are candidates for the Nobel Prize and have participated in the great breakthroughs of recent knowledge. They are rarely present to one another, yet they sense one another's presence in their deeds and feel their mutual reinforcement across all barriers of education, social, economic, and class condition. They are only slowly awakening to the historic significance of their community and the tremendous power it has for redirecting the ways of man. Their community has no geographical center, no Rome or Mecca or Peking, controls no nation-state, owns no property, manages no radio or television facility, administers no college or university, grows no food to feed the hungry, has neither constitution nor rules of membership, never assembles its members all together across the globe for solemn pronouncements; yet, despite all these differences from communities now dominant in existing culture worlds, these voluntary associations constitute a cultural underground of tremendous power. They preside over the production acid control of the most essential commodity in modern history, the knowledge needed in caring for


7. Kenneth E. Boulding, The Meaning of the Twentieth Century (New York: Harper & Row, 1964), p. 155.

 

 

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the sick, coping with crime, making war, landing on the moon, educating the citizen, and increasing the productivity of labor. Virtually every social venture and institution utilizes scientific research, and institutions which find no important role for it move relentlessly to the fringes of influence and prestige. The fact that the overwhelming majority of people still live in a prescientific age takes nothing from this picture. Confidence in the self-corrective style of science is widely dispersed even among people who have known nothing but authoritarian controls.

    All progress in science increases the testability of its leading ideas in self-corrective inquiry. While every superstition leads the believer in search of evidence to support it, science gives us for the first time in history the motivation and the means for changing the incorrigible and inflexible mind without resort to coercion. It provides the community in which individuals are shaped to be, not merely open to persuasion, but predisposed to rethink and reconsider everything passing for established knowledge. Individuals discover in this community how to remain widely and deeply perceptive in the midst of failure and breakdown of everything heretofore considered to be "The Truth." Even error, and we might say "particularly" error, is highly productive in this community.

    Members of this international, interracial, interethnic community trust one another and support one another, even when the evidence emerging threatens the validity of their persuasions. The community does not weaken in the face of radical criticism, not even when the entire structure of their specialized science undergoes the kind of revolution that shook physics to its foundations during the thirty-odd years when quantum mechanics was emerging, [8] or the more recent revolution of molecular biology. All the inner struggle and infighting only make the community of minds deeper and more inclusive. No other enterprise has this character, not even the life of intimate love between two or more persons.

    Members of the community of modern science constitute the sharpest embodiment of the self-corrective style of life on a global scale. But it would represent appalling self-delusion if we thought individual members of this community to be supreme exemplars of its style of life. Partly because their education in the social sciences has been almost totally neglected, almost all physical scientists and biologists live with the most distorted forms of self-understanding, with small appreciation for social problems closely associated with their own research. Few have rid themselves of even the most obvious "muck of the ages," and almost none is a paragon of the self-corrective style of life.


8. George Gamow, Thirty Years That Shook Physics (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Co., 1966).

 

 

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    Though sometimes against their own better judgment, scientists are as fully under the control of the power elite in modern society, moreover, as Archimedes in the famous incident of testing the purity of the gold in King Hiero's crown. For centuries they have been shunted into the role of an indentured servant tinkering with issues which always appeared to leave the established order of power and dependence undisturbed in a society.

    The self-corrective community, however, works its transmutations in all who come inside its discipline and procedures. The community is becoming self-corrective in new vectors of its life, moreover, as it moves out of its initial preoccupation with physics and other "hard" sciences into the behavioral sciences, where the whole gamut of human involvements comes under scrutiny.  This movement is proceeding very fast as young scientists move from the crowded fields connected with national defense into fields with more room to explore, where creative imagination can be brought more freely to bear on human problems.

 

BUDDHISM AND THE NEW STYLE OF LIFE

What potential power and insight do people reared with keen understanding of their Buddhist heritage have for supporting the self-corrective community and process of inquiry which are ushering in a new epoch in history? What resources are latent in the Buddhist tradition for participating in this community, for giving direction to its probing and corrective behavior, and for bringing the underlying vitalities of human existence more fully into play?  Do present developments in Asia suggest that people well reared and highly informed in the teachings of the Buddha may move the age of science and automation in more humane and creative directions?

    Field studies by anthropologists during the last ten years enable us to be quite specific regarding the role of Buddhism in modernization. Monks in Theravaada countries are writing tracts on developmental problems, proposing norms of thrift, diligence, and hard work which would have required even Max Weber to amend his picture of the Buddhist ethic and the established order in Asia.  Nibbaana-oriented individuals seem to have the very inner discipline, as well as experience in social organization, which is required in facilitating modernization. They are often achievement-oriented, developing new programs for social welfare, modern education, public health, domestic and international political action, and their leadership in more specifically spiritual matters is not being compromised by all this "modern revolutionary movement," as one book calls the renascence of Buddhism in Southeast Asia. [9] Buddhists are multiplying who know with King A`soka that "there


9. Ernst Benz, Buddhism or Communism: Which Holds the Future of Asia? (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Co., 1965), p. 233; originally published as Buddhas Wiederkehr und die Zukunft Asiens (Munich, 1963). Bent was disinclined to believe what Sarkisyanz was calling a Buddhist revolution in Burma, until he (Bent) made on-the-ground studies himself in 1957-58.

 

 

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is no higher duty than the welfare of the whole world." There are no doubt some groups in Southeast Asia which have more social influence than the intelligent Buddhist monk or layman, but there is no nation in this part of Asia which can set its national policy without taking into account the possibility that the Buddhist segment in society may oppose it.

    Opposition to modernization of both monastic order and society at large finds no clearly defined religious support in all of Burma, for example, and in India the Maha Bodhi Society has been taking a leading role for half a century in changing the traditional social order. There are monks and laymen in all these nations who are tradition-bound and unacquainted with the complexities of the modern world. Vested interests in lands privately owned by chief priests express themselves naturally in opposition to modernization in Ceylon, but in the same land Buddhist leadership in the field of social activity has been militant and at times revolutionary for more than a century. At the time of a coup d'etat in Vientiane in August 1960, for example, the monks took direct political action, marched in the forefront of the processions, throwing rocks and tearing down signs from the compound fence of the American aid mission. "After seeing such a sight," Niehoff remarks, "it was impossible to accept the stereotype of Buddhist monks as being exclusively meditative, ascetic, religious scholars." [10] One of the memorable experiences of the present writer's year in Burma during 1961-62 was the speech by U Thittila in the auditorium across from the World Peace Pagoda in Rangoon. On this occasion for honoring thirteen leading bhikkhus of Burma, U Thittila launched into a description of the kind of modern education required for the sa^ngha. It was an education emphasizing political science, economics, natural sciences, and mathematics, and it was urged in the most forceful way by an outstanding leader of Buddhism in a leading nation of Southeast Asia.

    Buddhism is prepared in many ways to support and strengthen the self-corrective life-style and the emerging world of scientific research. It is equipped for this contribution not by technological hardware, but by a new frame of reference and forms of meditation and analysis whose significance deserve to be more clearly understood. Forty different forms of meditation enable different kinds of individuals to win control over the automatic mechanisms of habit, perception, and compulsive drive which otherwise rule behind our back. [11] The purpose of these forms of meditation and analysis is to undermine


10. Arthur Niehoff, "Theravaada Buddhism: A Vehicle for Technical Change," Human Organization 22 (1963), 108-112.

11. Buddhaghosa, The Path of Purification (Visuddhimagga)  (Colombo: R Semage, 1956).

 

 

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the demands made upon the individual person by depriving them of their foundation in the psychosomatic underground of purely driven behavior.

    Meditation practiced with some regularity helps an individual to correct his nursery, to counteract the influence of the glands and cravings, to forget or conquer the way he was reared, and to become more attentive and aware to an ever-expanding spectrum of events. Analysis and meditation lift these deeper-than-conscious mechanisms out of the dark, catching them in the act, so to speak, of ruling over behavior. Attending to them, analyzing them, considering them, their hold is broken.

    Apart from meditation, man is a slave to this undercover matrix of causes.  Behavior can sometimes be changed according to plan and made more desirable without meditation and analysis, but the desires themselves have not been altered and remain in force as powerfully as ever. Through meditation an individual can become a positive factor in breaking the strands of driven behavior which are found in wishful thinking, personal prejudice, cultural bias, and projections of our compulsive drives. Theoretical structures and formed feelings are always emerging and passing away in the ebb and flow of an individual's experience; meditation makes one mindful and attentive to this flow to the end that one may become a factor in it for its enrichment and autonomous control. By freeing the stream of awareness from unconscious and conscious compulsions, meditation facilitates the emergence of insights and perspectives which an existing body of knowledge often prevents one from perceiving. New approaches to persisting problems become possible.

    What the sciences require if they are to be lifted to higher stages and more humane areas of development is a more flexible and corrigible scientist, one who lives correctively out of his ancestral traditions, free from conformity to self-justifying culture worlds. People like this are free to structure reality in novel ways; they can imagine how data might be viewed in ways contrary to prevailing theory. Major breakthroughs in the history of science came from men and women with these qualities of mind.

    What obstructs both Buddhism and modern science more than anything is the presence of inflexible habits of mind and the inability to accept change into the inner citadel of personal existence -- the inability, in other words, to find the power and the glory in the self-corrective process itself.

    The distinctive thing Buddhism and this self-corrective community have in common is that both teach their exemplars to rely upon nothing at all -- other than the self-corrective process of inquiry. The aim of the process is actualization of more of the fullness of existence always lying beyond man's grasp in the one-sided and highly selective culture worlds in which he has lived until now. Both know that rational structures always betray the fullness of existence and are important chiefly as points of departure for new penetration and

 

 

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probing, which, as Kenneth Inada puts it, are "still the eternal quest of all true Buddhists." [12]

   We know that existence has this unprobed fullness which in the East has been called "the abyss of nothingness" (`suunyataa), because new possibilities are always emerging as man continues to evolve and to probe more deeply into the nature of the World. [13] Canalized by the particular culture world, individual men and women perceive selectively and take up the problems of their particular organization of life. The data are truly in existence, but the fullness is always inexhaustibly more than can be captured in the conceptual and social nets of a particular culture world. What the symbolic systems and structures of social behavior shall be is an expression of the culture world itself and depends upon the questions it considers fundamental, the folk imagery it


12. Kenneth Inada, "The Ultimate Ground of Buddhist Purification," abstract in Proceedings of the Eleventh International Congress of the International Association for the History of Religions, 3 vols. (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1968), II, 147. "Buddhism is in actuality the most thoroughgoing naturalistic discipline the world has ever witnessed, though it is unappreciated in this light for the most part" (ibid., p. 146). This is in contrast to the esoteric mysticism of Conze's Buddhist studies, particularly his prejudice against science, whose "methods are useless for the exploration of two-thirds of the universe." E. Conze, Buddhist Thought in India (London: George Alien & Unwin Ltd., 1962), p. 24. Cf. Michael M. Ames, "Religious Syncretism in Buddhist Ceylon" (Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 1962): "Buddhists claim their philosophy does not rest upon mystical revelations but upon precise and verifiable laws discovered by the Buddha. There is the law of continuity or  rebirth  (sa^msaara), the law of moral  retribution  (kamma), and the law of cause and effect (pa.ticcasamuppaada). These laws are all capable of verification, so it is argued, through the development of the mind" (p. 29).

    In combating the esoteric misconceptions, Jean Filliozat emphasizes that the goal of Buddhist meditation "is not 'ecstasy' as surmised by many scholars trying to find in European religious mysticism an equivalent for that actually pure psychological notion. It is by no means a raptus of the soul outside the body. On the contrary, it is a masterful domination of the entire psychological and physiological human forces, a control of all the episodical manifestations affecting the self." Jean Filliozat, "The Psychological Discoveries of Buddhism," University of Ceylon Review XIII, no. 2 and 3 (Apr.-Jul. 1955), 69-82.

13. See Kitaroo Nishida, Intelligibility and the Philosophy of Nothingness, trans. Robert Schinzinger (Honolulu: East-West Center Press, 1966), chap. 4. See also F. J. Streng, Emptiness  A Study in Religious Meaning (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1967), especially pp. 229-247 for a bibliography of lengthy and contrary interpretations of `suunyataa in Eastern thought. The reader is particularly urged to be on guard against accepting Maadhyamika philosophy as the norm for understanding this concept, and, even more, against accepting T. R. V. Murti's The Central Philosophy of Buddhism: A Study of the Maadhyamika System (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1955) as the norm for interpreting Maadhyamika, bent as it is in Kantian directions. As we have indicated, a world view does not have first priority in the teachings of the Buddha; a self-corrective probing of the nature and ground of man's tender and suffering existence, as Inada says (n. 12), does have first claim. What else does the Parable of the Poisoned Arrow teach? See K. N. Jayatilleke, Early Buddhist Theory of Knowledge (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1963), pp. 357, 474-476 for an answer showing the influence of Wittgenstein. Murti finds a different answer in Kant's antinomies. See Murti, op. cit., p. 38.

 

 

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employs out of the past, the intellectual posture it assumes, the values that operate deep beneath conscious awareness. But whether the signs and symbols and social contrivances indicate what consequences will predictably attend what conditions, this is a cultural creation only in the sense that criteria to determine this must be available ii the culture world is to survive in the face of the multiple demands of its environment.

    Buddhism and the self-corrective life both see that minds such as ours, set down in any kind of chaos, would proceed to distinguish, select, and structure events and thus rise above sheer undifferentiated passage. [14] The theories to which the mind is always giving rise go by a number of names in con-temporary thought, such as postulational systems, theoretical models, or hypothetical structures, all serving to remind us that the concepts with which we interrogate experience in our particular world are, as Einstein put it, "free creations of the human mind," hypothetical, tentative, partial, and relative in nature. For the Buddhist, all minds have the Stream of Being as their indispensable condition, and the point of the relation is to keep the Stream free of illusion.  Continuous  probing and penetration of the  self-justifying,  encapsulated culture world now falling into disrepair constitute the eternal quest of all true Buddhists.

    Rationally formulated meanings, therefore, are not the stuff out of which a life is woven. The same may be said, of course, about systems of symbols and culture worlds. The most important support scientific research finds in Buddhism, therefore, is not in the surprising general similarity of what some think of as a "world view." As many have pointed out, Buddhism has never lived in a three-storied universe, or in a tiny time dimension beginning with Creation a few thousand years ago, or in a static world of finished entities. It has been evolutionary in its thought, with unimaginably immense temporal and spatial dimensions which can only bring to mind the immensity and complexity of the universe of modern science. The starting point of all science,


14. C. I. Lewis, Mind and the World Order (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1929), chap. 11, and Jayatilleke, op. cit., chap. 9. Jayatilleke sees pragmatism and empiricism in the teachings of the Buddha, especially in the Parable of the Poisoned Arrow, mentioned above, and the Parable of the Raft, the latter being a figure of speech in which a man gathers materials to build a raft, crosses safely to the other bank, then throws the raft away, instead of walking about the rest of his life with the raft on his shoulders. The functional nature of all knowledge, to identify functional entities in events, reminds one of the Chinese adage that "knowledge keeps no better than fish." Jayatilleke quotes Wittgenstein as follows: "My statements are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless, when be has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it)" (op. cit., p. 357). Jayatilleke also quotes Wittgenstein relevantly to the Buddhist doctrine of anattaa: "The idea that the real 'I' lives in my body is connected with the peculiar grammar of the word 'I' and the misunderstandings that this grammar is liable to give rise to" (op. cit., p. 321). See review of Jayatilleke's book in Mind 75, no. 299  (Jul. 1966), 454. A rational structure (sammaadi.t.thi) is a ladder to be thrown away.

 

 

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as the Maadhyamika and Immanuel Kant likewise affirm, is not merely a science of human nature, but, as Hume and others have insisted, even more basic still, a critical investigation of what we have of native psychosomatic equipment and cultural support for any kind of scientific inquiry whatsoever.  The analysis has to begin with ourselves, lest in our investigation of the world we unconsciously project our inner compulsive turmoil and despair onto the pages of books bearing a title on the cosmological history of the universe.  To understand science as simple feedback from an objective world is to completely misconstrue what is in deed and fact occurring. It is easy to see why Whitehead said nearly fifty years ago: "When we consider what religion is for mankind, and what science is, it is no exaggeration to say that the future course of history depends upon the decision of this generation as to the relations between them." [15] And it is easy to see why his student, Charles Hartshorne, would characterize Buddhism and modern science as "very likely the two most fully self-corrective communities of the modern world." [16] One is reminded of social scientists who express the belief held a half-century ago by John Dewey that the future of man's further development lies in Asia. And one wonders in what Buddhist background on the continent of Asia the age of science and automation, which has won such amazing victories in the West, will find the conditions it requires in order to become simultaneously an age of science and spirituality.

    The priorities have never been clear in the West. The history of philosophy in the Occident is the history of one effort after another to attribute permanence and absoluteness to these selective structures which Buddhism from its earliest beginnings always viewed in the transitory mode in which they are understood today in modern science. Efforts to claim universal validity for these relative and one-sided symbolic systems and culture worlds form the core of history of philosophy in the West. We have been told that the axioms of our cultural geometry are rooted in a divinely ordained revelation, or in an eternal structure which the mind discovers in its highest development, or in an organic unity of all that happens in space and time, or in the Power of Being which transcends space and time, or in Absolute Reason waiting in the wings of history to give structure to events and their possibilities, or in a structure that is in sense data independent of any influence of man and his concerns, or in forms of understanding which yield universally valid knowledge of the way existence must necessarily appear to minds such as ours.  There is no reason for thinking that we have seen the last of this jungle


15. Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1925), p. 181.

16. Personal communication, June 3, 1968. Cf. Professor Hartshorne's paper read in Tokyo, "The Buddhist-Whiteheadian View of the Self and the Religious Traditions," Proceedings of the Ninth International Congress for the History of Religions (Tokyo: Maruzen, 1960), pp. 298-302.

 

 

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which has been planted to conceal the transitory character of man's conceptual and social systems.

    Whitehead had various names for what we have been describing. Most of the time he called it "the fallacy of misplaced concreteness." [17] Insofar as any single concept was at fault, Whitehead found it in the concept of substance.  He is said to have remarked at a Harvard seminar that most modern forms of immorality were traceable to the Christian-Aristotelian concept of substance, which any Buddhist would immediately understand. Self, Cause, Matter, God -- all become entities inferred behind functional centers of relation, which are the actual entities emerging and perishing in the process of existence. A universe of fleeting events, all in various forms of functional dependence, is what both Buddhism and modern science actually discover. The tendency to cling to the relative and the fragmentary come to an end in both Buddhism and modern science. According to the Buddhist, it is the substantialist view which corrupts moral responsibility, social behavior, and the movement toward Nibbaana, because it attributes ultimacy to the wrong things. This is what is behind all compulsive egocentricity, all culture-bound behavior, and thus all suffering. It is as though man used his shallow-draft vessels to sail the open sea. Early Buddhists dispensed with all unchanging, imperishable entities, substituting a theory of relations (paccaya) and a doctrine of conditioned genesis (pa.ticcasamuppaada).

    This is the kind of correlative thinking that is central in the Buddha's Enlightenment, where he came to see that what has no independent existence loses its grip over man. Functional centers of relation come and go; any power they may hold can be removed or loosened through appropriate meditation and analysis of what we are doing. The reification and objectification from which man's greatest suffering has originated come to an end when there is nothing ultimate upon which to cling. The Buddha is fighting here against the rich theorizing which characterized the thought world of his day, not out of any poverty of metaphysical imagination, but out of his quickened and utterly rare sense of priorities. [18] The proper use of the mind is therefore the key to the predicament of man, and for this one takes concrete circumstance-changing steps in meditation and analysis.

 

CONCLUSION

It is apparent that neither Buddhism nor modern science has been able to move forward in a line consistent with its nature. Both have had to tack into the wind if they were to move at all in their own general direction. Neither has been able to transform the surrounding matrix of personal and social existence


17. Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, pp. 51, 58 ff.

18. See n. 14, above.

 

 

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in accordance with its own image. Until now, when mobility has become possible, Buddhism has been crippled or obstructed or obscured chiefly by the limited horizons of the Asian village. Most things have purely local significance within the limited horizons of village life, whether the village be in South Carolina or in Thailand. Attitudes of social resignation, or the tendency to forget the A`sokan tradition find their sufficient cause in village isolation.

    Leading Buddhists are now participating with vigor in the developmental problems of South and Southeast Asia. These men understand what was in some ways more sharply understood in the early teachings: namely, that the inner and the outer dimensions of human existence, like the two wheels of the chariot, are both needed at their respective ends of the axle of a truly Buddhist life, that unchecked withdrawal is as depersonalizing as unchecked participation in the whirling world, and that the outer involvement can be creative only as it is an expression of the inner depth.