Dear readers. Ven Dhammasami asked me about 15 months ago (at the UNDV in Hanoi, Vesak, 2008) to be a science advisor to the IABU, and I apologise for not having posted something here before. Mainly overwork on my side I'm afraid. I want to start by saying I know a lot about a science (so far I have written or co-authored about 60 published peer reviewed papers and book chapters, including in some very high ranked scientific and medical journals, including Science, Lancet and PLoS Medicine - anyone interested can search for my work in Google or Google scholar) but I don't know as much about Buddhism. I don't have any formal Buddhist qualifications, however I've had many teachers, read dozens of books (especially until about 25 years ago) and I've done many retreats, in several different lineages (mostly Vajrayana and Vipassana.) I almost got ordained as a monk, in 1976; instead I chose to study medicine, because I thought it would be more practical and that would also suit my personality better.
I finally started medical school in 1980 (in Australia), after several years of trying. But medical school was going so fast I always felt I was skimming over the surface of topics, so in 1982 I accepted an invitation to do an honours degree in medical science (neuroscience). That was my first introduction to scientific research at quite a high level. However I'm not going to give you my life story here, but one thing I want to point out is that the best Buddhism (in my opinion) and the best science (in my view) have a lot in common. Both are concerned with understanding the nature of phenomena. Both are concerned with causes, and the causes of causes. Both can reach a profound level of understanding, and yet both also reach a point at which mystery is reached. Neither science nor Buddhism can explain everything; or perhaps Buddhism can but that understanding can never quite be put into words. Certainly with science there is a vast mystery remaining. Albert Einstein is supposed to have likened scientific knowledge to a grain of sand on a beach. What is unknown is the rest of the beach. Yet, he said, that one grain is very precious.
One thing I think science can learn from Buddhism is ethics .. I think the best science is ethical. I also think Buddhism can be a lot more ethical - but that is another story.
I hope, when I find time, to write more about science and Buddhism. But just in case any of you don't think science is of any value to a good Buddhist, you might reflect that the fact that you can read this is because you have acquired secular knowledge. Or, put it this way. You have acquired knowledge, both secular and spiritual. The world needs both forms to thrive, and even if you may be a monk, some secular knowledge, including of science, can help you to be of more value. Now, if you perhaps think that being Buddhist and being of value are incompatable, then your understanding of Buddhism is different to mine. If, like me, you think Buddhism can help you practice metta, bodhicitta, or loving kindness, then you might reflect that science too - at its best - can also help this practice. After all, if you have ever had an antibiotic, or had a vaccination, then you have benefited from ethical science.