Did you know that in the Lalitavistara Sutra, thousands of years ago, the Buddha uses a metaphor to make a fairly rough prediction of the size of a typical atom? Specifically, a typical carbon atom? And it actually turned out to be pretty close?
Well, it’s true. There’s a lot of interesting things in the Buddhist Sutras that’s pretty compatible with modern scientific theories. For example, in the Agganna Sutta, the Buddha actually uses metaphor to propose a cosmology of an expanding and contracting universe which is extremely consistent with the expanding universe model and Big Bang. Following this, the Buddha states that certain “beings” become attached to an earth-like world, and as a consequence of this they are reborn there; remaining there for the duration of its life. As a result of being reborn there, their physical characteristics change as evolutionary changes takes place. This has been taken to be a rough explanation of a theory of evolution.
There have also been attempts to link Buddhist concepts such as non-dualism to concepts in physics such as wave-particle duality, as popularized in some books like The Tao of Physics and The Dancing Wu Li Masters. However, these attempts have so far proved to only be suggestive. In Buddhism and Quantum Physics, Christian Thomas Kohl states that “There is a surprising parallel between the philosophical concept of Nagarjuna (the Buddhist philosopher of India) and the physical concept of reality of quantum physics. The fundamental reality has no firm core but consists of systems of interacting objects. These concepts of reality are inconsistent with the substantial, subjective, holistic and instrumentalistic concepts of reality which are forming the base of modern modes of thought.”
On top of all of this, some modern scientific theories have shown a lot of strong parallels with Buddhist thought, especially in the field of psychology – e.g. Rogerian psychology. Some of the most interesting work on the relationship between Buddhism and science, however, is being done in the area of modern evolutionary biology, especially DNA, with a comparison with Yogacara theories regarding the store-house consciousness. This is because it is thought that the theory of karmic seeds works well in explaining the nature versus nurture problem.
During the 1970s, several experimental studies suggested that Buddhist meditation could produce insights into a wide range of psychological states. Interest in the use of meditation as a means of providing insight into mind-states has recently been revived, following the increased availability of such brain-scanning technologies as fMRI and SPECT. Dr. James Austin, a clinical professor of neurology, has noted in his book Zen and the Brain: Toward an Understanding of Meditation and Consciousness that meditation rewires the circuits of the brain, and that this has been validated by functional fMRI imaging.
Dr. Herbert Benson refers to these changes in the body during meditation as a “relaxation response”. This response is the collective change of metabolism, heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, and brain chemistry. Such studies have also been enthusiastically encouraged by the present Dalai Lama who has long expressed an interest in exploring the connection between Buddhism and science, and regularly attends the Mind and Life Institute Conferences.
The following video also shows Dr. Herbert Benson’s research on the science of meditation. This video specifically demonstrates how the mind can drastically effect the body, such as through the meditation practice of tummo or “inner-heat” yoga.
The next video is the first part of a series that goes more in depth on the relationship between Buddhist principles and scientific theories. There are a lot of videos which propose some interesting parallels between Buddhism and modern scientific theories, including a few interesting documentaries that are hosted at the Open Source Buddhist Research Institute.