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Product details

  • Hardcover: 258 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press (14 Nov 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226493121
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226493121
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.8 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,025,759 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"A tour de force. This extremely original and well-written book... provides all the background needed for those unfamiliar with Buddhism to understand the tradition and the perplexing scientific claims made for it." - Richard M. Jaffe, Duke University "In Buddhism and Science, Donald Lopez fills a major gap, and he does so with his trademark rigor, concision, and elan. No serious student of science-and-religion can afford to skip this book." - Jack Miles, general editor, Norton Anthology of World Religions"

About the Author

Donald S. Lopez Jr. is the Arthur E. Link Distinguished University Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Michigan. He is the author, editor, or translator of a number of books, including The Madman's Middle Way, Critical Terms for the Study of Buddhism, Introduction to the History of Indian Buddhism, and In the Forest of Faded Wisdom: 104 Poems by Gendun Chopel, a Bilingual Edition, all published by the University of Chicago Press.

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
You may have come across books claiming to reconcile Buddhism with modern cosmology, quantum physics or psychology and wondered how credible these books are from a scientific or Buddhist perspective. Much might depend on whether they are written by Buddhists with a scientific interest or scientists with a Buddhist interest. Dr Lopez is neither, he is an academic historian of Buddhist and mainly Tibetan Buddhist thinking. This is a very scholarly look at some of the early interactions between Buddhist thinkers and Westerners. One point he makes consistently in the book is that Buddhism received the reputation for being scientific, logical and accommodating scientific discoveries often when the Westerners making those statements knew very little about Buddhism and few traditional Buddhists in Asian countries knew much about Western science. Likewise given that science changes over time, it can be difficult to see what precisely which scientific thinking Buddhism accommodates. Dr Lopez seems surprised that Buddhists in Tibet who first encountered Western science had some fairly strange interpretations of whatever science was salient in their day. The idea espoused in many schools, that when a Buddhist finds themselves holding an idea that can be shown to be untrue no matter how deeply cherished, that view is to be abandoned, does not get aired. He outlines how some Asian Buddhists clung to traditional cosmologies long after the Western scientific view had prevailed elsewhere but gives little sense as to whether this was a "counter reformation" movement in Buddhism or just a few conservatives holding out against change. This section of the book seemed a bit of a "straw man" argument.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I would like to start off by saying this book is a total misnomer. There is nowhere near as much information on Buddhism and actual science as there is on 'the science of Buddhism' and 'race science ' which aren't actually sciences at all but academic studies. This is frustrating for a science and society student - if you want a book that explains biology/chemistry/physics and Buddhism you're wasting your time with most of this book. There are some sections that are interesting and informative on the Buddhism-science relationship but this is the minority. This should be made much clearer: the book should most certainly have a different title or a blurb which explains this. The book is mostly the history of the study of Buddhism with a little science thrown in here and there. As I said, the scientific points are interesting and were useful to me, but there should have been a lot more of them to merit this title.

I found the writing style quite hard to decipher as the sentences run on and some become quite convuluted. Many have to be read several times to be understood. This is coming from a native English speaker who has no trouble understanding Shakespeare.

All in all, some useful points but mostly useless to me and rather poorly written/edited. Not what I expected at all.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 6 reviews
45 of 47 people found the following review helpful
A Necessary Corrective 30 Jun 2009
By B. L. Cloud - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book illustrates how Buddhism has religious elements that are IRRECONCILABLE with science. [If you have iTunes, look up "Saturday Morning Physics," and you can see a lecture on "Buddhism and Science" by Donald Lopez which is not quite a condensation, but perhaps an introduction to this book].

When I first saw this book, I just assumed that it would be about how Buddhism and science are complementary, since most similarly titled books are. If you're a practicing Buddhist, or have a beginning interest in Buddhism, I'm not sure whether to recommend this book or not, because Lopez is to Buddhism what Bart D. Ehrman is to Christianity, i.e. Lopez has a purely academic interest in Buddhism, and is the opposite of an evangelist; whether intentionally or not, he discourages belief in Buddhism. What he says is technically true, but if you're a Buddhist, this book is painful to read. On the plus side (counter-intuitively, perhaps), this book has pushed me to an openness to the more "supernatural" aspects of Buddhism.

In this book, Lopez looks at representative Buddhists from the past hundred or so years who attempted to reconcile Buddhism with science: Anagarika Dharmapala (1864-1933, Sri Lanka), Taixu (1890-1947, China), Shaku Soen (1859-1919, Japan), Gendun Chopel (1903-1951, Tibet), and the Dalai Lama (b. 1935, Tibet).

In the first chapter, Lopez points out that, in Buddhist cosmology, there is a mountain in the center of the world/universe, Mount Meru. Each of the aforementioned Buddhists attempt to reconcile this belief with science. Dharmapala, for instance, "refutes" the Newtonian view as being incorrect. Taixu attempts to reinterpret Mount Meru as a metaphor. Also in this chapter, the fact that the Buddha claimed the world was flat also poses problems for the aforementioned Buddhists.

In the second chapter, "Scientific Racism" enters the picture. If you're familiar with the history of science, you'll know that Darwin's idea of natural selection and competition between races, for almost a hundred years, was interpreted as justifying racism, so much so that scientists claimed that non-whites were inherently inferior. This dovetails into an idea that is prevalent in 19th and early 20th century academia that, early in India's history, it had been invaded by a race calling themselves Aryans, and since Sanskrit is part of the Indo-European language family, Europeans therefore saw the Buddha as being, in a very real sense, racially equal. So, for example, Taixu in 1937 writes a letter to Hitler that, since the Germans are Aryans, they should adopt a religion founded by an Aryan: Buddhism. Now, Lopez notes that Taixu was very likely unaware of Hitler's agenda, and I agree that Taixu innocently bought into the then current "scientific" thinking.

I won't summarize the whole book, but you get the gist of what Lopez is getting at. Science is subject to revision, and so any claims of being in sync with science are going to be provisional and shifting.

In a footnote on page 235, Lopez quotes Hermann Oldenberg: "But any one who attempts to describe Buddha's labours must, out of love for truth, resolutely combat the notion that the Buddha [was attempting the] reformation of national life." That phrase "out of love for truth" I think is applicable to Lopez, I believe that it is his impetus for writing this book. Lopez once described his anthology "Buddhism in Practice" as being "a necessary corrective," and I think that too is applicable here.

I agree and disagree with Lopez's conclusions. Lopez doesn't go back far enough in history to mention that, when Buddhism entered China, for instance, it lost elements and gained elements: Buddhist missionaries omitted offensive concepts, and aspects of Indian tradition that were congenial to Chinese tastes were emphasized; influenced by Daoism, nature became an important concept in Chinese Buddhism as it never had been in India; Chinese social values emphasized family, so the bodhisattva Vimalakirti, for example, became a model of a sage who maintained his loyalty to the family while pursuing the path of the Buddha; none of the schools that were major in China had been major in India. Is the influence of science on Buddhism less valid than the influence of Daoism and Chinese culture on Buddhism?

At the same time, I am against scientism, i.e. the view that natural science has authority over all other interpretations of life, such as philosophical, religious, mythical, spiritual, or humanistic explanations. There are some questions that science hasn't figured out yet, and maybe those questions will eventually be answered, or maybe they never will. In conjunction with Lopez's book, I would recommend reading David Berlinski's "The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions". I think that it's interesting that we live in an age where almost every view has to be reconciled with science, that we live in an age of "scientific pretensions."

I think that Buddhism is an eminently valuable philosophy and practice. I, for one, like the current climate of Buddhism's openness to a dialogue with science, in spite of the checkered history of the dialogue that Lopez has pointed out. The best impact this book could have would be an acknowledgment of, and honesty about, that history.
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Neither Science nor true Buddhism discussed... 13 Jun 2011
By Lal - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In my opinion, rather than being "a guide to the perplexed", this book provides an inaccurate impression of Buddhism.

First of all, the beginning quote presumed to be by Einstein in the Introduction is a set up for a "sucker punch" in the following page. Actually, there is now a published booklet entitled, "Einstein on Cosmic Religion and Other Opinions and Aphorisms" (Dover, 2009) on essays of Einstein. On page 48, "...Indications of this cosmic religious sense can be found even on earlier levels of development - for example, in the Psalms of David and in the Prophets. The cosmic element is much stronger in Buddhism, in particular; Schopenhauser's magnificent essays have shown us".

It was such a surprise to me (being a Theravada Buddhist) that a complete chapter (the first chapter) is a discussion on a mythical Mount Meru, since I was not even aware of a Mount Meru. Even though I was born a Buddhist, I must admit that had not spent much time seriously studying Buddhism until a year ago. I have been reading up on Abhidhamma (the fundamental or higher dhamma) for a year, and it seems to me Buddhism is more compatible with science than any other religion. There are many "add-ons" to Buddhist literature from other religions and other national myths (Chinese, Japanese, and Tibetan) that needs to be weeded out by the interested reader. However, in all these various forms of Buddhism, the cornerstone principles of the Four Noble Truths and Eight Noble Path remain the same.

The second chapter is on "science of race". What has race to do with science? Regardless of what certain Buddhists (even in high positions) may have done or said, it is quite clear that the Buddha considered all human beings at the same level. As the author himself points out, the Buddha stated that, "one is a noble (whether stated as ariya or brahmin), depending on his deeds and not on birth". Furthermore, "ariya" in Buddhism refers to noble and pure and it has nothing to do with race. The cornerstone of Buddhism is the Four Noble Truths (Cattari Ariyasaccani), where ariyasaccani is noble truths.

For the readers interested in learning about Buddha's message, I recommend "What the Buddha Taught", by Walpola Rahula, and at a bit more deeper level, "In the Buddha's Words" by Bhikkhu Bodhi. On mediation, "Mindfulness in Plain English" by Bhante Henapola Gunaratana will clarify to the reader that there is nothing mystique about Buddhist meditation. It is amazing to see that the author has quoted a relatively insignificant paper by Walpola Rahula Thera, and did not even refer to his above highly-praised book (interested readers can look up Amazon reviews on these books).

Buddhism is all about the mind and consciousness. The readers can make up their own mind whether Buddhism offers something useful for the mankind or whether it is a mythical religion as this book attempts to convey. I believe that the Buddha's words will gain more credence with each scientific discovery, especially in quantum mechanics where it is beginning to show the relevance of consciousness. By the way, the Buddha did not directly address questions on the cosmos, but there are two things that are quite clear from his teachings:

1. since the rebirth process (samsara) has no beginning, there is no traceable beginning to life (universes may come into being and eventually be destroyed, but life will always be there). The topic of multiple universes is now being seriously discussed by the scientists.

2. The sentient beings can be born with consciousness in four different planes of existence, but the Buddha did not say where they are located. The newest string theory (M-theory) says our universe is 11-dimensional, and we can observe only four dimensions; so there maybe other dimensions that we cannot access. It is also quite possible that life exists on other planets in this universe and may be in other parallel universes as well. The Buddha did not want people to spend time on the nature of the physical universe (see the above books), but wanted them to focus on the mind and moral behavior. He clearly stated that mind is the primary architect, and matter is secondary.

The above two are examples of what I was expecting to be discussed in a book entitled "Buddhism and Science".
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
A swift kick in the Dharma 10 April 2010
By Daiho - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Buddhism and Science should be on every Buddhist's reading list, especially those who quote the Kalama Sutta.

The book is not about experiments and doctrinal categories of metaphysics, but the history of Buddhism as it intersects the West, transmuting into a "rational" religion, sometimes not even a religion at all but a philosophy, a method of inquiry into the natural laws of the universe. A scientific religion.

Even if you know very little about Buddhism, you may have seen a paraphrase of the Buddha's words from the Kalama Sutta printed on a t-shirt, or posted on a friend's webpage. I was presented with a copy screened on a refrigerator magnet.

[Believe nothing just because a wise person said it. Believe nothing just because everyone else does. Believe nothing just because it is said in ancient books. Believe nothing just because it is said to be of divine origin. Believe only what you yourself test and judge to be true.]

This is an example of what Donald Lopez might call Victorian Buddhism, the religion as presented to the world by 19th century European Sanskrit scholars. Previously what was known of Buddhism amounted to scattered fragments, stories brought back by traders and adventurers from the lands east of India, tales of gods and religious practices that when compared began to look suspiciously similar. Using manuscripts sent back from British India and Nepal, philologists provided the first glimpse of the foundational teachings of Buddhism.

What these scholars thought they found was something unique, a religion that conformed to their own prejudices, a religion confirming the intellect over the emotions, empiricism over revelation, reason over superstition. They uncovered a Buddhism that had no major conflicts with the discoveries of science, which could in fact be seen as predicting those discoveries, an infinite atomistic universe operating on natural laws and requiring no first agent.

In many Asian countries the view was quite different. Modernizers saw Buddhism as a drag on development, a superstitious anachronism whose continued existence could be traced to clerical corruption and low levels of public education. A few forward thinking clergymen, though, saw in this westernized version of Buddhism a means of protecting traditional culture, of inoculating against the spread of Christianity and westernization. If Buddhism were more rational and scientific than Christianity, there would not only be no need to change or get rid of the old religion, Buddhism could be used as a tool to mobilize the masses for national development. At the 1893 Chicago World's Parliament of Religions, the Japanese and Sri Lankan delegates expounded to their mostly western audience on the rational, scientific aspects of Buddhism, feeding back to the west it's European version of Buddhism.

In the years since, as our ideas of science and the universe have changed, proponents of scientific Buddhism have kept pace, finding parallels in psychology, cognitive science, and quantum physics. Is it possible, Lopez asks, that an Iron Age mendicant was able to foresee such discoveries? Or is it perhaps that we are witnessing the latest manifestation of Buddhist adaptation? As it accommodated Taoism and Confucianism in China, as with Bon in Tibet, and Shintoism in Japan, Buddhism is perhaps now undergoing an adaptation to the ethics and ethos of scientific materialism.

If so, what do we stand to loose in the process?

Lopez hints at this with a closing quote from the Buddha, one that runs counter to the idea propounded by modern interpreters of the Kalama Sutta. Perhaps the one thing missing from Lopez' book is a chapter on this very topic, an essay on the Buddhism being left behind. This is otherwise one of the most interesting and challenging books on Buddhism that I have yet come across. Readers might like to supplement the historical details with another excellent volume, Charles Allen's The Buddha and the Sahibs, the story of the European archeological discovery of Buddhism.

[Sariputta ... should anyone say of me: 'The recluse Gotama does not have any superhuman states, any distinction in knowledge and vision worthy of the noble ones. The recluse Gotama teaches a Dhamma [merely] hammered out by reasoning, following his own line of inquiry as it occurs to him' - unless he abandons that assertion and that state of mind and relinquishes that view, then as [surely as if he had been] carried off and put there he will wind up in hell. - Mahasihanada Sutta (The Greater Discourse on the Lion's Roar), MN12]

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Generally quite informative, yet sometimes disappointing 24 Mar 2010
By S. J. Snyder - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Lopez does a solid job of backgrounding the century-plus of dialogue between Buddhists attempting to put their best foot forward to the West, along with some Western acolytes, and purveyors of Western science. (That said, other books cover this part of Lopez's acreage in more detail.)

From the historic overview, Lopez then looks at some specific Buddhist issues, such as meditation, or the idea of whether we can talk about a "science of Buddhism."

He does a good job of presenting Buddhist beliefs and texts in all of this, and explaining where the Buddhist approach comes from.

That said, contrary to claims that he is so academic that, like a Bart Ehrman, he in no way acts as an apologist for Buddhism, he indirectly does exactly that. And, that's where this book gets disappointing.

The dialogue or discourse Lopez presents is actually more of a monologue. Even when science gets to speak for itself, in the last and shortest chapter, on meditation. And, this is part of the book's disappointment.

Reading reviews on this site, I was hoping for more critical analysis of Buddhism's claims to be scientific, such as the Dalai Lama claiming Buddhism and science are totally compatible even as he holds onto beliefs in karma, reincarnation and other matters metaphysical and says he will never surrender those belies. Sure, Lopez tells us this is what the Dalai Lama has said, but, that's it.

Also, I do NOT like the consistent capitalization of the word "Science." To me, it seems like Lopez is implying it is itself a religion.

So, this is a very good book about how Buddhism does -- or, even more, about how Buddhism **wants to** -- interact with science. Except briefly in the meditation chapter, we are given little comment on the other side of the discourse.
3 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Highly relevant 29 April 2009
By James Euclid - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A well researched and presented thesis on the evolution of Buddhism in contemporary science. Though there is a shortage of actual science, this book discusses how Buddhism has evolved into a relevant method of interpreting contemporary life.

Well worth the read.
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