Monday, September 19, 2005

• change d'avis

Just back from an event-filled weekend. B and I drove to Westchester County to attend a reunion celebrating the 45th anniversary of high school graduation. I'll blog about that when my head clears. We also welcomed a visitor from out of town and attended the a picnic buffet that our little community puts on each year. It seemed this morning, on returning to work, that I was returning from three or four days off, not just the usual Sat & Sun. At the buffet ('party in the park'), a neighbor said he'd recently been to his 30th high school reunion as was struck by how little people changed -- not appearance but attitude, temperment, personality; particulary he was struck by how they could maintain grudges over the decades. I told him my experience at my 45th was more positive and heart-warming. The subject of changing of minds led me to think about an article I'd recently read. This post is about the subject of that article.

Much of the good stuff in my life has come to me via friends and people (like my wife) to whom I'm related.

Back in the '70's a friend got me to join her to go hear the Dalai Lama speak. The venue was DAR's Constitution Hall, not your usual New Age auditorium. She knew about the water lilies that you'd pass by as you approached the hall from the west, so that's the way we came. He was intelligent, humane, undogmatic. The lilies were quietly bold, coming open in the twighlight. I don't know what intellectual rationale there may be for the lotus symbol in Buddhism, but, then and there, it made emotional, aesthetic sense.

This returns to mind because of a recent artilce in the New York Sun quoting the Dalia Lama on the subject of science and, implicitly, intelligent design. Here's a citation and some extracts:

Science Without Borders
September 14, 2005

In a 1987 lecture on "The Burden of Skepticism," the astronomer Carl Sagan opined:

*In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion.*

Tenzin Gyatso [is] the 14th Dalai Lama, who at the age of 6 was enthroned as the reincarnation of his predecessor, the 13th Dalai Lama, in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa. Born to a peasant family in a small village called Takster in northeastern Tibet, the Dalai Lama ended up in an exile that brought him in contact with many of the world's leading scientists.

He talks about his youthful encounters with science, especially his meetings with some of the world's leading scientists, including physicists Carl von Weizsacker and David Bohm, and the philosopher of science Karl Popper. From these encounters, as well as his Buddhist studies, the Dalai Lama found a way to harmonize science and religion, even while recognizing (and respecting) their differences. Both science and Buddhism, he points out, share a strong empirical basis: "Buddhism must accept the facts - whether found by science or found by contemplative insights. If, when we investigate something, we find there is reason and proof for it, we must acknowledge that as reality - even if it is in contradiction with a literal scriptural explanation that has held sway for many centuries or with a deeply held opinion or view."

Instead of filtering scientific findings through the sieve of his religion, the Dalai Lama approaches science with humility and openness. "As my comprehension of science has grown, it has gradually become evident to me that, insofar as understanding the physical world is concerned, there are many areas of traditional Buddhist thought where our explanations and theories are rudimentary when compared with those of modern science." This book is "not an attempt to unite science and spirituality," he explains, "but an effort to explore two important human disciplines for the purpose of developing a more holistic and integrated way of understanding the world."

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