Thursday, April 21, 2011

Book Review: The Universe in a Single Atom-The Dalai Lama

   While it is not mentioned by the Dalai Lama (I don't know how he missed it), the obvious reference point for this book is Fritjof Capra's The Tao of Physics. The primary concept is the correspondence between post-Newtonian science and the ancient Eastern teachings. While he touches on a number of topics in science and spirituality, the core of the issue is the dynamic nature of reality. Instead of the static, mechanistic model of classical physics, modern science presents a universe in flux. To use casual language, it's wide open. This is exactly what the eastern thinkers taught milena ago. From Najarjuna's doctrine of emptiness--that there is no center or stability-to the cosmologies of the Kalacharkra and Abhidharma which tell of multiple universes popping in and out of existence, we are reaching similar conclusions with modern tools. These ideas, I'm sure, don't sit so well with scientists of a standard, dogmatic stripe, but they will resonate for more adventurous thinkers in the tradition of scientists like Werner Heisenberg. Even the most unorthodox of Western, scientific minds, however, might be suspect when the Dalai delves into the Buddhist teachings of Karma and reincarnation. This should not, though, keep anyone from reading this book. It is a fascinating read, bound to spark deep thought and serious discussion.
   Science and religion are often considered to be enemies, but this prejudice arises from its confrontation with dogmatic, theist religions. Buddhism is neither. But what the Dalai Lama attempts to convey is that science does not have to come in conflict with any spiritual tradition. After all, what is more "religious" than contemplating the mysteries at the fringe of the scientific endeavor or the feeling of awe while gazing at the night sky? He emphasizes that science is not the only valid way of looking oat the world--it has its limitations. Therefore there is room for both science and spirituality in our examinations of life. To close, here are words taken from the concluding chapter: "In essence science and spirituality, though differing in their approaches, share the same end, which is the betterment of humanity."

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